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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.