Mount Hagen vs Goroka Cultural Show

Posted by Crooked Compass

Mount Hagen vs Goroka - Two incredible cultural shows, both in the spectacular lush highlands of Papua New Guinea embracing fascinating tribal traditions and rich culture of the local clans against a beautiful backdrop of jagged mountains. Both cultural shows explode with colour, pride, passion and heritage but how do you know which one to choose? We will help you make the best decision based on your style of travel.

Goroka Cultural Show - Crooked Compass
Incredible colours of paint made from the earth at the Goroka Cultural Show Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

1. Does size matter to you?

It's a fair enough question... some people want over the top action, large crowds, deafening chants of local hollars and booming speakers and to see hundreds of tribes sashaying and kundu beating. Whilst others prefer a smaller more intimate experience, with a more authentic flavour.

Goroka Cultural Show is one huge festival. Always on the weekend celebrating Independence day, it draws crowds in the thousands of both locals and tourists. There are food stalls, music thumping from speakers, a huge stage with local acts, flower competitions, and the cultural show to the side in an enclosed area only accessible for those with VIP passes (until midday when they open the gates and locals flood in).

Mount Hagen is on a much smaller scale. Very few tourists, a handful of locals, no drama, no carnival fuss, just tribes, culture and in my opinion, a more raw and authentic experience.

The huge crowds at the Goroka Cultural Show - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
The huge crowds at the Goroka Cultural Show - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

2. Time of year

As mentioned above, Goroka Cultural Show runs in conjunction with the celebrations surrounding Independence Day which is mid September and also a special time be in Papua New Guinea. The locals are so patriotic and their energy is infectious. Mount Hagen Cultural Show takes place in late August.

Western Highland tribe at Mount Hagen Cultural Show - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Western Highland tribe at Mount Hagen Cultural Show - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

3. Do the same tribes go to both?

A lot of the tribes do go to both cultural shows with Goroka Cultural Show attracting more tribes as it is the larger show. Goroka naturally attracts those tribes in the Eastern & Central Highlands with Mount Hagen attracting the tribes from the Western and Central Highlands. The Asaro Mudmen, one of the big draw cards, are the famed tribe at the Goroka Cultural Show, but now also attend the Mount Hagen Cultural Show too.

Asaro Mudmen - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Asaro Mudmen - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

4. Can you watch the tribes getting ready?

Witnessing the tribes getting ready for the festivals is absolutely incredible. Seeing them paint their faces with such incredible concentration, lather pig oil on their skin and the leaves in their skirts, gently slide exotic feathers into their headresses is something you simply need to see to truly appreciate how special this festival is. At Mount Hagen, this experience is incredible. Outside the arena where the cultural show takes place, there is an open field littered with hundreds of tribes getting ready. You can walk amongst them, chat to them, take photos freely or simply sit and watch them. This experience is one of the absolute highlights of the Mount Hagen Cultural Show and something which Goroka does not offer.

Mount Hagen Cultural Show preparation - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Mount Hagen Cultural Show preparation - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

At the Goroka Cultural Show, tribes get ready in houses and simply walk to the arena to then dance, sing and chant. Unless you have a local connection, finding these houses is a tricky deal and most tribes rent a house for the few days of the festival and then move on. Should you find a tribe and be granted permission to enter the house, witnessing the tribes prepare here is great, but the limitation is you only have one or two tribes instead of the whole field full in Mount Hagen.

Tribes preparing for the Goroka Cultural Show - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Tribes preparing for the Goroka Cultural Show in the yard of a private home - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

5. Can you talk to the tribes?

At the Mount Hagen Cultural show, due to it being much smaller with fewer crowds, you have more of an opportunity to chat to the tribes and learn directly from them about their traditions and folklore stories. At Goroka, you still have this opportunity, however the crowds are larger and the tribes are approached more making it a little more challenging to have your turn.

Chatting with the Asaro Mudmen at Mount Hagen - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Chatting with the Asaro Mudmen at Mount Hagen - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

6. Is one more touristy than the other?

Mount Hagen Cultural Show has a much more low key, local feel to it. The tourist numbers are low and your engagement with the tribes is high. Goroka Cultural Show is extremely well promoted with hotels and flights booking out over 12 months in advance.

Huli Wigmen at Mount Hagen Cultural Show - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Huli Wigmen at Mount Hagen Cultural Show - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Watch our Mount Hagen Cultural Show video

Wanting to add one of Papua New Guinea's festivals to your bucket list? View our range here.