The town of Wamena, next to its airport, has grown to be the largest town in the Papuan highlands with a population of around 10,000. It is the centre of the Baliem Valley with a market and shops, serving the Dani people from surrounding villages. There is a contrast between the people in traditional attire and those who dress in western clothing, including the Indonesian transmigrants who have settled here and run all businesses. There are hotels, restaurants and even an expensive tourist resort; tourism has become big here.
When the "Act of Free Choice" was conducted here in 1969 it was observed that only 20 of the 175 "selected" Dani people to vote for Indonesia wore the Indonesian colours: only a month earlier 100 Dani men and boys had been executed by Indonesian troops; even as the act of "free choice" was being held at Wamena, large numbers of villagers at the western end of the highlands were still fighting the occupying forces.
The airport is the only one in this region that accommodates the Hercules aircraft of the Indonesian military (TNI), a grim reminder to the Papuan people. A fire however, destroyed all buildings of the airport, including terminals, on 26 September 2011.