Irsam Soetarto 12 Days Sumatra and Papua

  • 12 Days in Sumatra and Papua

    The Cultural Highlights Tour

August 2-13 2017

The start date is fixed as the cultural festivals we will attend are already set and confirmed.

Price to be confirmed

There will be a discount for a companion. To view the terms of booking and to reserve a place, please scroll down to the form at the end of this page.

Group Size

The target group size is from 8 to 14 participants, so that the experience and training is personal. We need a minimum of 4 participants to confirm the tour is a "go".

Full Package

Best quality available in family run hotels, with full amenities for relaxing at the end of the day. Dining in high quality local places with varied menus to suit all palates.

This Photo Tour has sold out and is now closed for bookings. The tour will be run again in August 2017. You can read on and send an enquiry on this page; we will assume it is for the next time this tour is run. Or you can go directly to the program details for the next tour.

Photo tour led by Irsam Soetarto

Two fabulous cultural events in one trip! The first is the famous bull running in western Sumatra called the Pacu Jawi, which is set in some of Indonesia’ most beautiful countryside. The second is the incredible traditional annual festival in the Baliem Valley in the highland of central Papua, where three tribes come together for celebrations and a ritual battle. Twelve days of wonder and delights. A signature tour.


Of course you can bring your companion with you! With our local partners we have created a number of interesting and rewarding activities for them to fully enjoy the time too.


This is the dry season so, though it does rain from time to time. In the plains it is hot, but up high, as we will be, it is very cold at night, even close to freezing, so bring a mix of clothes.


Energetic but not mountain climbing. You do have to be in reasonable health, capable of one hour hikes up hills. Do bring good walking shoes.

Tour Program

Touring Sumatra and Papua is absolutely ideal for the photographer, with the light and shadow playing off hills, trees, buildings and the eternally present lakes and sea. This trip features two wonderful events: the running of the bulls, known as Pacu Jawi, in western Sumatra and the traditional festival in the Baliem Valley in central Papua, with the beautiful landscape angles of mountains serving as a stunning backdrop. We will walk a lot but this is not trekking, as it is still a photo tour.

You will learn and practice several photographic techniques: composition, street photography, unusual angles, portraits, film/shutter/aperture combinations, depth of field, using light and many others. Photo skills will be reviewed "as-you-go" and also at the end of the day so you get the best from these opportunities. Almost everyday we will start the trip before dawn, to be in time of sunrise and the sky’s beautiful orange blue color, and ended up after sunset time for the golden and blue hours. At the end of the day you will also have something to see and enjoy, always with photography in mind.

Day 1 • Arrival in Jakarta and flight to Padang (Sumatra)

We offer a meeting service on your arrival at Jakarta's main airport, from where we take a connecting to Padang in Sumatra, where we stay overnight.

Day 2 • Padang to Paya Kumbuh

After breakfast in the hotel we go to Padang Panjang for a photo session of Pencak Silat, traditional martial arts, then to a traditional house of the Minangkabau. From there we drive to the small town of Paya Kumbuh, where we stay overnight.

Day 3 • Paya Kumbuh to Batu Sangkar

Starting before dawn we travel to a local village for a sunrise photo session of some of Sumatra's wondrous landscapes - and see the local children as they start their day. From there we head to another village for a photo session of local children playing traditional games - and the older folk enjoying cock fighting. In the afternoon we go for another landscape photo session (and yes, kids are involved too). After sunset we drive to the small town of Batu Sangkar, where we stay overnight.

Day 4 • Batu Sangkar to Padang

An early start, to drive to a Pariangan village for a sunrise-and-landscape photo session of Sumatra's highlands with beautiful terrace rice fields cascading down the hills.. Next we head to a nearby village for the highlight of the trip to Sumatra, the Pacu Jawi - a bull run through the mud and water of unsown rice fields. After that we take a long drive back to Padang, where we stay overnight.

Day 5 • Padang to Jayapura (Papua)

An easy start to the day, with breakfast at the hotel and free time* until it is time to transfer to the airport for a flight to Jakarta and then a connecting flight to Jayapura in Papua.

*We suggest going to see the fishermen's morning activities at Padang beach.

Day 6 • Jayapura to Wamena

We arrive at Jayapura around 7 am, and from there we take a connecting domestic flight to Wamena, in Papua's highlands. Obviously we will all be tired after three flights, so the first thing to do is check into the hotel, rest and freshen up. After a relaxed lunch we will go to see the first performance of the traditional Baliem Valley Festival.

Days 7-10 • Wamena

The first day's program is simply to join in with the Festival and shoot anything, everything and everyone.

The second day in Wamena takes us to a local village for a photo session of sunrise and how the tribe makes its preparations for the Festival, and we follow them as they participate in the Festival itself.

The third day we leave before dawn to visit another local village for a “private” photo session of the people and the village itself. Here you will see a traditional welcome, preparation for war, ceremonial fighting and local dances, hot stone cooking and fire making.

The last full day in Wamena takes us before dawn to third local village for a photo session of the people, a local forest and rocky hills from which we have fine views. In the early afternoon we visit another village where there is a 300 year old mummy. Then we head back for a photo session with local tribes people until sunset..

Day 11 • Wamena to Jakarta

After breakfast in the hotel we take a morning flight to Jayapura and then the connecting flight to Jakarta, where we stay over night. (You can connect for home directly if your own departure flight is after 9pm.)

Day 12 • End of Tour in Jakarta

Breakfast is in the hotel. You have free time until it is time transfer to airport for departure home or to another destination in Indonesia.

Photos from Irsam's tour in Sumatra

Visiting Papua

The Baliem Valley is a highland valley, situated about 1200 meters above sea level and located in the middle part of the Indonesia half of Papua. This valley is the home of the popular Dani Tribe. The biggest town in Baliem valley is Wamena (meaning “little pick”) and inhibited by about 50,000 people. The valley is open to the sky and surrounded by mountainous range, with Trikora mountain in the background to the west, the highest mountain in all of Indonesia (5100 meters high).

Although now modernized, the Dani still strongly adhere to their traditions and customs, most notably the dress of the men. Even in this cool mountain climate, men wear only a penis gourd, known as koteka, though complemented with elaborate headdress of bird of paradise or cassowary feathers, while the women wear grass or fern fiber skirts (sali or saly) slung around the waist. To carry pigs or the harvest of sweet potatoes, women carry a string bag, called noken, slung from their forehead.

To defend their villages or to raid others to avenge for tribe members killed, the Dani practiced regular warfare. However, anthropologists note that the Dani wars are more a display of prowess and opulence of dress and decoration rather than an all out war to kill the enemy. Dani warfare displays competence and exuberance, rather than the wish to kill. Weapons used are long spears, measuring 4.5 meters long, bows and arrows. Most often, therefore, there are more wounded than killed, and the wounded are quickly carried off the field.

Nowadays, Dani mock battles are held yearly at the Baliem Valley Festival in Wamena during the month of August. At this feast, which has as its highlight the mock battles among the tribes, the Dani, the Yali, and the Lani send their best warriors to the arena, wearing their best regalia. The festival is complemented with a Pig Feast, cooking in the earth, traditional music and dance.

Each tribe comes with their own identity; one can see clear differences among them and identify tribes according to their costume especially the penis gourds each wears. The Dani men usually wear only a small koteka (penis gourd / penis cover); the Lani tribesmen wear larger kotekas, since their bodies are bigger than the average Dani; and the Yali wear long slender kotekas held by a rattan belt, strapped to the waist.

By attending the massive Baliem Valley Festival, visitors will have a rare chance to learn and experience firsthand the different traditions of each tribe participating in the Festival without having to make the difficult trek to their compounds deep in the hinterland of West Papua.

The festival is aimed at attracting tourists to visit this remote region, and every year many tourists do in fact visit in August for this exciting event, both from Indonesia and from many foreign countries.

What makes this festival so well known, even abroad? The answer is the unique presentation. In the middle of a vast field surrounded by green hills, the communities of Wamena perform mock battles.

Each battle is performed by two groups from different districts in Wamena, each group with dozens of men. Before they go into "battle," they perform a skit that tells about the casus belli, the reason for the battle – typically events that actually occur in daily life, such as animal rustling or thefts from food gardens, land disputes or adultery. These little dramas are presented in a very lively way, as the local people put their souls into these scenes.

Once the misunderstanding has been laid bare, the battle begins. The only weapons used are sege (spears) or bows and arrows, and the military strategies are very simple, yet each group is confident they can defeat their enemies. When an opponent is captured, they pretend to stab him, and whichever side suffers the most "stabbings" is the loser. Even so, the winner is chosen based on the best performance and battle strategy. These mock battles are the main attraction, but by no means the only event to entertain tourists at the Baliem Valley Festival. There's plenty more to learn about the local culture.

One of the most impressive aspects is that the people here still follow their traditional customs, which are not found in other parts of the world. For example, many people go about nearly naked, with men wearing only a koteka, or penis sheath, and women wearing netting woven from root fibers. This unique spectacle shows the strength of their traditions, though some might consider it primitive.

Photos from Irsam's tour in Papua


We provide flights between tour  destinations, transfers, tour transport, accommodation, breakfast, lunch, dinner, light refreshments and soft drinks, museum passes and other related tickets. For indoor photography we have reflectors and light boxes. All fees quoted are inclusive of taxes.

Don't forget!

Other than your digital camera (any type will do) you should bring some lenses, a sturdy tripod and ideally a shutter release cable. There is a fair amount of walking, some in rough patches, so wear sensible shoes and casual clothes with lots of pockets. The sun can be strong; light headgear might be good for some.


If you do not have or do not want to bring a PC with you, we can arrange for you to use one locally. If you do not have imaging software on your computer, we can provide you with a free copy that has basic functionality. If you don’t bring a tripod we have some spares. If you are using a Canon DSLR then we also have some extra lenses.

Reserve your place on this tour

Once we receive your request we will call and email you to confirm details.


Bookings are made directly with the photographer. For more details please contact Irsam Soetarto by email to irsam24@gmail.com.


  • Fees are exclusive of your own travel to and from Jakarta.
  • Fees do not cover international travel and medical insurance.


  • 50% to be paid on confirmed booking.
  • Balance of 50% paid at least 45 days before the tour start date.
  • By credit card or bank wire transfer.


  • 100% refund if made 30+ days before the tour start date.
  • 50% refund if made 15+ days before the tour start date.
  • 25% refund if made 7+ days before the tour start date.

Registration Form

Just to be clear, filling in and sending this form does not commit you to anything or any payment until the booking is confirmed, which will be done with the photographer directly after you both have spoken and agreed everything.

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Irsam Soetarto

Irsam is a long established tour photographer and guide in Indonesia, with more than 25 years experience in the field of tourism. He has been an avid and semi-professional photographer since 2010. Irsam has frequently travelled to many regions of Indonesia and overseas as well. Recipient of the prestigious "Wonderful Indonesia" logo for promoting tourism, Irsam loves to communicate with people and learn new things.

Read more about Irsam and his photo tours
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