The Archipelago Journal: Jayapura

With its incomparable natural beauty, diverse flora and fauna, and rich culture, Papua has much to offer visitors. Colours ventures to the Lake Sentani Festival and the bayside city of Jayapura.

Words and Photography by Ronaldy Irfak & Wira Nurmansyah

A domestic flight that takes nearly six hours makes me aware of the vast size of Indonesia. In the time it takes to travel from the sprawling, constantly pumping metropolis of Jakarta to the green lushness of Jayapura on Papua’s north coast, we could have reached Perth or Hong Kong.

The hilly island clusters covered in green savannah are clearly visible from the aeroplane window. As the plane begins its descent, I think we are over the ocean, before remembering the name of our arrival airport and realising that the water stretching out below is Lake Sentani.

The view from the flight to Jayapura is truly magical. Because the plane took off from Jakarta in the middle of the night, my morning was welcomed with a superb sunrise over Lake Sentani and with the grandiose Cyclops Mountains providing the dramatic backdrop.

As I arrive at Sentani Airport, the heat hits me. It feels like there is more than one sun in Papua. I immediately apply sun lotion and put on my sunglasses.

It takes about an hour to drive from the airport to the city centre; as the capital and largest city of Papua, Jayapura is home to plenty of malls, coffee shops and of course, congested roads during rush hour.

Neighbouring Lake Sentani is a major tourist destination, not only for its beautiful panorama, but also an annual cultural festival usually held in June, which was first held in 2008.

The Lake Sentani Festival is the reason for my visit. The festival showcases traditional culture in a diverse range of ways: dance performances, culinary exhibitions and folk handicrafts from various parts of Papua – including tree bark painting. Don’t miss the procession of the Isolo dance, a unique dance typically performed on board a large canoe that symbolises harmony between the Sentani villages.

One can also go island hopping. There are many villages spread across several islands on Lake Sentani; the most popular is Abarmvillage on Asei Island, which is a great place to buy handicrafts as souvenirs.

I immediately set off for Khalkote Beach, the main site of the festival. The sound of the tifa, a percussion instrument specific to Papua, can be heard. Not long afterwards, there are shouts, and dancers wearing traditional Papuan costume add their agile footsteps to the beat.

They continue to dance until, suddenly, there is another shout from the direction of the sea, attracting the attention of the audience at the main stage. As a cluster of boats decorated with long yellow leaves draws closer, we see that there are dozens of people standing aboard, wearing traditional costume. They are joyfully performing the Isolo dance, their voices carried to us across the water through loudspeakers. Amazingly, their voices reverberate more than the music at the festival’s main stage.

This dance is usually performed by a traditional chief to present a gift to the chief of a different village. The gift offered is a product considered valuable, such as farm produce or livestock. The dance is usually performed by 30 to 50 people of all ages and genders, in one boat, but during a festival like this, the number of dancers can be in the hundreds!

Enjoying the Hills at the Coastal City

As a hilly city directly adjacent to the sea, Jayapura has many observation points from which to take in the remarkable views from above. However, the most well known are Polimak Hill in the city centre and Ifar Gunung at Sentani.

Polimak Hill is the highest point in Jayapura, at around 265m. It is only a 15-minute drive from the city centre to the peak. While illuminated at night with a giant sign spelling out ’Jayapura City’, the best time to enjoy the panorama is in the late afternoon approaching dusk.

The lofty views from Ifar Gunung are equally worth the journey. From here, one can appreciate the serene panorama of Lake Sentani, surrounded by undulating hills in varying hues of avocado, deep olive and yellow green. For aviation fans, Ifar is a good place to watch the aeroplanes take off and land at Sentani Airport. The MacArthur Monument is located here, commemorating the American five-star general famous for his strategy in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Apart from Polimak and Ifar Gunung, impressive views can also be enjoyed from the edge of Lake Sentani. A popular spot is Emfote Lake, better known by the name Love Lake due to its distinctive heart shape when viewed from above.

Finally, if you’re looking for artworks or other handmade items as a souvenir of your Papuan adventure, head to Jayapura’s Hamadi Market. You will find a wide range of homewares, textiles and collectables, from typical Asmat sculptures, Noken bags from Wamena, Sentani bark paintings, Papua batik and the bird of paradise hat of Raja Ampat. For the latter, check that the hat is not made using real feathers, as the bird of paradise is a protected species.

For further information, please visit

Jakarta to Jayapura

Flight Time hours 30 minutes

Frequency7 times a week to Jayapura

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From Colours June 2019


5 Senses – Sound

The tifa is a type of Papuan drum made from a hollow log. One end is covered with deer skin, while the other end is left open. The tifa is often decorated with a carving that is specific to its area of origin. It is usually played to accompany energetic dances such as the Isolo dance at the Lake Sentani Festival.