It is not down in any map; true places never are.
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Travel Guide: Kiribati

About  •  Understand  •  Regions  •  Get In  •  Get Around  •  See  •  Talk  •  Buy  •  Eat  •  Drink  •  Sleep  •  Work  •  Stay Safe  •  Stay Healthy  •  Contact  •  More »

About

Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bass) is an island group in Micronesia straddling the equator and, until 1995, the International Date Line. Kiribati's 33 atolls, with a total area of only 811 km², are scattered over an area of 3.5 million km². Kiribati saw some of the worst fighting of the Pacific theatre during the Second World War, including the infamous Battle of Tarawa in November 1943.

Kiribati is most emphatically not another Tahiti, Hawaii, etc. where you can go to relax and have nothing to worry about. It has few visitors, and they have to be prepared to "rough it." That said, there aren't many countries where the people are more friendly.

South Tarawa is one of the most densely populated, severely poverty-stricken places in the world. Other islands have far fewer people, but getting to them can be difficult, and conditions are even more primitive. Most tourists, especially from the USA, go to Kiritimati (Christmas Island). It received some attention on January 1, 2000 as the first location in the world to experience the new millennium. Conditions there are somewhat better than in the rest of Kiribati.

Understand

History

Kiribati was inhabited for 2000 years prior to European contact. Under British colonial rule, it was known as the Gilbert Islands. Kiribati was granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati. The name "Kiribati" is pronounced "Kiri-bass", which is the closest local equivalent to "Gilberts".

The Phoenix and Line Islands were generally held to be on the east side of the International Date Line and are in different time zones from the Gilbert Islands group, but on 1 January 1995, Kiribati proclaimed that all of its territory was on the same calendar day (skipping 31 December 1994 in those island groups), effectively extending the Date Line further eastward to accommodate this. This makes the Line Islands the farthest "ahead" of any territory on the planet.

In 1995 Kiribati suspended diplomatic relations with France to protest the latter's decision to resume nuclear testing on Muraroa Atoll. In 1999 the government claimed that two atolls had been lost due to sea level rise and subsequently, in 2002, joined with Tuvalu and the Maldives to take legal action against the US for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The presence of gun emplacements and ship wrecks from WWII battles on South Tarawa makes shipwreck diving a common tourist activity.

Climate

Whoever coined the phrase, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity" may have had Kiribati in mind. Actually, the average high temperatures are quite reasonable compared to other well-known places in the tropics (such as Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, etc.). But the humidity more than makes up for this, making it feel very sauna-like. The wet season varies, but is usually December to March, give or take a month. Severe drought also occurs at times.

Regions

Except for the isolated Banaba (Ocean Island - 6 km², pop.~300), all the main islands are in one of three groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands.

Gilbert Islands

The Gilbert Islands are all in the UTC+12 time zone.

  • Abaiang - 18 km², pop.~5502 - has at least one hotel and a couple of guest houses
  • Abemama - 27 km², pop.~3400
  • Aranuka - 12 km², pop.~1200
  • Arorae - 9 km², pop.~1300
  • Beru - 18 km², pop.~2200
  • Butaritari - 13 km², pop.~3300
  • Kuria - 16 km², pop.~1100
  • Maiana - 17 km², pop.~2000
  • Marakei - 14 km², pop.~2800
  • Nikunau - 19 km², pop.~2000
  • Nonouti - 20 km², pop.~3200
  • Onotoa - 16 km², pop.~1700
  • Tabiteuea (Tabiteuea North - 26 km², pop.~3600 & Tabiteuea South - 12 km², pop.~1298)
  • Tamana - 5 km², pop.~ 900 - the smallest of the Gilbert Islands (too small to construct an airstrip)
  • Tarawa (Tarawa North - 15 km², pop.~5700 & Tarawa South - 16 km², pop.~40000+) - Tarawa South is the location of Kiribati's capital

Line Islands

Eight of the eleven Line Islands atolls belong to Kiribati and are in the UTC+14 time zone, the easternmost zone currently in use anywhere in the world, making them the first places on Earth to start each new calendar day. The other three (all uninhabited) are U.S. dependencies.

Northern Line Islands

  • Kiritimati (Christmas Island) - pop.~5000
  • Tabuaeran (Fanning Island) - pop.~2500
  • Teraina (Washington Island) - pop.~1000

The Northern Line Islands also include Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef which are U.S. dependencies.

The Central Line Islands and Southern Line Islands are all uninhabited.

Phoenix Islands and the Phoenix Island Protected Area

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area is the worlds largest Marine Protected Area. This isolated location has a vast array of undisturbed and pristine eco-systems. The coral reefs and bird populations are virtually untouched by man. The Phoenix Islands were awarded UNESO World Heritage Site status in 2010. The area covers 410 500 sq km of the Central Pacific.

The main island is this region is Kanton Island (Abariringa). While the island has the services of an airstrip and wharf this small number of people are government workers in caretaker mode.

Such is the isolation of the island that it is seldom visited and this is limited to sailing yachts and charters. The government supply ship visits a number of times a year. Immigration is possible on the island for those arriving by sea.

Other islands in the area include Orona, Enderbury, Nikumaroro, Birnie, Manra, McKean and Rawaki. These atolls are the tops of the Seamounts (or seas mountains) which are a feature of the marine protected area.

For more information on the Phoneix Island Protected Area visit .

Get In

Visa Requirements

Nationals and citizens of the following countries are exempted from obtaining a visa before entering Kiribati where the intended duration of their stay is 30 days or less: Belize, Federated States of Micronesia, Macao (only in respect of holders of Macao Special Adminisirative Region Passports), Marshall Islands, Palau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of South Korea.

Nationals and citizens of the following countries specified are exempted from obtaining a visa before entering Kiribati:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Grenada, Greece, Hong Kong (only in respect of holders of British Nationals Overseas passports and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports), Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta,Mauritius, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Bahamas, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United Kingdom Overseas Territories of (Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands), United States of America, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

There are honorary consulates in Rose Bay (near Sydney), NSW, Australia; Honolulu, Hawaii; Suva, Fiji; Hamburg, Germany; Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, Korea; Auckland, New Zealand; and London, United Kingdom. Also, visas may be obtained by writing the Principal Immigration Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, P.O. Box 68, Bairiki, Tarawa, KIRIBATI (Central Pacific). Caution: Do not apply directly to Tarawa within a couple months or so of your departure date, or when you need your passport elsewhere. Usually, it's best to inquire at the nearest consulate abroad. There's no requirement that you be a resident of the same country that the consulate is located in.

By plane

If through tickets are too expensive, get to Fiji anyway you can and go from there. On the other hand, if you've got thousands to spend and extra time, see how a Round the world fare on Oneworld or Star Alliance compares with the fare to Tarawa, and include this on your itinerary.

Air Pacific has two weekly non-stop flights (3 hrs) from Nadi, Fiji with connections from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and the United States including Honolulu (with codeshares on American Airlines, and possibly other ONEWORLD members). If using another airline to get to Fiji, be certain it lands in Nadi and not Suva (unless you're staying a while and can get to other side of the island).

Our Airline and Air Kiribati Services (formerly Air Nauru) connect Tarawa in Kiribati with Nauru, Honiara and Nadi. This service provides an improved access to Tarawa and other Pacific Nations.

Air Pacific commences flights into Kiritimati Island (Christmas) on the 25th of May 2010. These weekly flights will connect Kiritimati with both Nadi (Fiji) and Honolulul (USA). Connects can be easily made with flights fron New Zealand, Australia, and Europe with Air Pacific.

Get Around

Domestic Flights and Airlines in Kiribati Air Kiribati has two turboprop aircraft for inter-island travel. Flights travel to all Outer Islands in the Gilbert group regularly.

A new domestic carrier has also been set up recently Coral Sun Airways. Coral Sun offers a scheduling alternative to Air Kiribati and can also be chartered for private use.

Reliability of internal flights in Kiribati is improving all the time and fares are relatively cheap. It is important to reconfirm your return flight on arrival at your destination. Each airline has different booking and confirmation conditions, you need to ensure you are familar with these to ensure a hassle free trip.

See

The Lagoon is stunning to look at and really beautiful (although swimming is not recommended due to the very high level of pollution). However, Tarawa offers some historic sites, mainly 2nd World War related.

Talk

English is the offical language of Kiribati along with the native I-Kiribati. While English is used heavily in South Tarawa the further away from the capital you go the stronger the I-Kiribati tongue. Most people on Kiritimati Island have some English. Nearly all Kiribatians also speak the local language Gilbertese, derived from the name of the Gilbert Islands named after Thomas Gilbert, the first European to discover the islands.

Buy

South Tarawa

There are a wide number of local handicrafts available. These are generally made by the women groups from around the Gilbert group. Of special note are the colourful tops worn by the local ladies called Tibuta. The Catholic Womens association runs weekly classes in weaving and the making of these tops.

ATM's are located in Betio, Bairiki and Bikenebeu. There is also one located at the hospital. There is also a foreign exchange office at the Airport. ANZ operators in Kiribati.

Most shops will only accept cash and credit cards are used little with the exception of the 2 hotels.

Outer Gilbert Islands Cash only is used on the Outer Islands and banking services are not available.

Kiritimati Island An ATM and bank are both available on Kiritimati Island. The branch is located in London.

Most shops and stores will only accept cash. Credit cards are not widely used.

Eat

The variety of food on Kiribati is limited. If a shipment of imported food has just come in, buy it now, as it won't last long! The variety and amount is increasing and improving all the time as is the number of supply boats that arrive.

While Western style products will always be slightly limited you will find that the basics are genrally available. A lack of fruit and vegetables really being the major concern.

The staple diet of the I-Kiribati is fish and rice and this is reflected in many of the eating outlets on Tarawa. It is always worthwhile trying the local sashimi which is stright from the ocean to your plate.

Western style meals are best found at the two hotels Marys and the Otintaai.

There is also a variety of Chinese restaurants.

Drink

The local drink is toddy made from the sap of a coconut tree. This sweet toddy can then be fermented for a couple of days into the alcoholic sour toddy that is favoured by locals. The orginal sweet toddy can also be cooked into a syrup called Kamaimai. The Kamaimai can then be drizzled on sweet buns or ice cream.

Kava is also easily found throughout Kiribati with a large number of Kava bars appearing throughout Tarawa.

The two main bars in Tarawa are Captains Bar in Betio and the Lagoon Club in Ambo. Friday nights at the Otintaai is dance night. Supply of wine and spirits is limited, however there is a good supply of beer which is always cold.

There is a single night club in Tarawa called the Midtown which is open till late.

Alcohol is not sold on a number of Outer Island in the Gilbert group.

Sleep

The range of accommodation in Kiribati varies depending on which part of the country you are in.

South Tarawa The two main hotels are Marys Motel and the government owned Otintaai Hotel. Both offer motel style accommodation each with a restaurant and air-conditioning. They are located at different ends of South Tarawa and the decision on where to stay is usually made based on your activities while you are in South Tarawa.

There are also a variety of other smaller properties scattered throughout South Tarawa. A full listing including a map showing locations can be found on the Kiribati National Tourism Offices web site

These hotels can get very busy throughout the year so it is advisable to book ahead.

North Tarawa A visit to North Tarawa is the easiest and most convenient way to experience village life in Kiribati. North Tarawa offers a number of guesthouses and traditional style accommodation.

Tabon te Keekee is the closest option, offering traditional Kiribati accommodation in an I-Kiribati family environment. Located at Abatao it is only 10-15 minutes north of the airport.

Biketawa Islet, run by the Otintaai Hotel, offers traditional kia kia accommodation. Run in a similar fashion to a retreat meals and sleeping equipment can be arranged, along with boat transfers.

A council guesthouse is located at Abaokoro.

Gilbert Island Group and Council Guesthouses The Outer Islands are the essence of Kiribati and not enough people make the time and effort to visit these remote islands. Each has a distinctive culture and story to tell of its history.

Each of the outer islands of the Gilbert Group have, at the least, a council guesthouse. Standards vary across the group however they are usual a mix of the local style houses known as Kia Kia’s and a open style guest rooms. Each guesthouse usually has a communal living area where meals are served and the cost is approximately $30 AUD per night including 3 meals a day.

The facilities available vary from island to island, however they are located in isolated communities and expectations should be altered accordingly. Electricity will usually be supplied in the evening and throughout the night. Food will mainly be based on the local fare and it is recommended that you take anything additional you may need. It is also recommended that fresh drinking water is taken. Most guesthouses are perfectly located on the beach or causeway and a lovely spot to stay easy for swimming and exploring.

These guesthouses are run by the Island Councils and it is one of the very few ways the council earn revenue. Each council will normally have a truck and driver that you will be able to hire to help you discover the island. Alternatively many of the locals will be keen to hire out the motorcycles and scooters to you.

For more information on the Outer Islands – get a copy of the fact sheets from

Kiritimati Island This world renowned bone fishing destination has a variety of fishing lodges, guesthouses, and motels to choose from. Accommodation is usually booked in 7 night packages and each lodge will have the services of a fishing guide to assist you in your expeditions. For a full list of accommodation options visit www.kiribatitourism.gov.ki.

The lodges are geared around fishermen and schedule meals and activities around your fishing day. Meals are usually included in the price.

For a full list of accommodation options visit

Work

With very high unemployment, it is unlikely that foreigners will be allowed any work unless they have needed skills not otherwise available. Aid agencies are active in Kiribati and undertake a range of volunteer and contracting programs.

Stay Safe

Kiribati is generally a safe place to travel. However, it may be risky to be outside after dark in Beito or along the beach in South Tarawa, especially for single females. However, virtually all problems are caused by drunk males, not career criminals.

Normal common sense applies when moving around.

Some care should be taken on the roads as the traffic can include pigs, children, dogs and buses all fighting for road space.

Stay Healthy

Don't drink the water without boiling or filtering. Chemical treatment is not recommended as it may not prevent giardiasis . The lagoon (especially around Beito) is heavily contaminated, and may make the entire island segment smell bad at times. Always ask first before going out in the water at each location on South Tarawa -- no matter how inviting it looks. This is a good idea on other islands too. Get a hepatitis A shot, and be up-to-date on all your other vaccinations, preferably several weeks beforehand. Mosquitos can be very bad at times, so use repellent. Be sure to bring your own insect repellent and sunscreen, as these are not available locally. Don't expect any needed medications to be available either. (Some are, but you never know what is or when.)

There's no malaria, but dengue fever outbreaks (mosquito transmitted) do sometimes occur. The fish caught locally may give you food poisoning (ciguatera ), so be extra careful. Ciguatera is not preventable by cooking or freezing the fish. Promptly treat even the smallest cut, sore, or insect bite, as these can become infected very easily.

Medical evacuation insurance is highly recommended for Kiribati. Many outer islands have no airstrip, making any sort of evacuation long and difficult.

Contact

Contact the Kiribati National Tourism Office in the following ways:-

Website: www.kiribatitourism.gov.ki E-Mail: info@kiribatitourism.gov.ki

Facebook: Kiribati Tourism

Phone: (+686) 25573 and ask for the Tourism Office. (Please note that English is not the first language for most of the staff in the office).