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Kiribati

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Kiribati (pronounced Kiribahs) is an archipelago nation in Micronesia, at the equator. Kiribati has 3.5 million square kilometres of sea territory, with only 811 square kilometres of land, divided between 33 atolls.

While the islands are on both sides of the 180th meridian, the International Date Line has been drawn east of them all, placing Kiribati islands in the same day, in time zones UTC +12, +13 and +14. The Line Islands are in the latter time zones, and are therefore the first part of Earth to see every new day.

Kiribati is one of Oceania's poorest countries, and a demanding destination, with few hospitality venues. That said, there aren't many countries where the people are more friendly.

Regions

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

Cities

  • Tarawa

Understand

With few natural resources and geographic isolation, income per capita is very low. Most of it comes from remittance, foreign aid, and fishing.

Half the population, most of them being very poor, live on South Tarawa.

Other islands have far fewer people, and getting to them can be difficult, and conditions are even more primitive. Most tourists, especially from the US, go to Kiritimati (Christmas Island). Conditions there are somewhat better than in the rest of Kiribati.

History

Kiribati was inhabited for 2000 years prior to European contact. Under British colonial rule, it was known as the Gilbert Islands.

In the Pacific War, Kiribati saw harsh combat between American and Japanese troops, with the devastating Battle of Tarawa in November 1943.

Kiribati was granted self-rule by the United Kingdom 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, 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 Second World War 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). 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.

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 Administrative Region Passports), Marshall Islands, Palau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Republic of Korea (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, USA; 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 and go from there. On the other hand, if you've got plenty 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.

Fiji Airways has flights to Tarawa and Kiritimati (Christmas Island). Flights to Tarawa are twice 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 with Oneworld alliance members). Kiritimati is a stop on a weekly flight each way between Nadi and Honolulu. Again, connects can be easily made with flights from New Zealand, Australia and Europe. If using another airline to get to Fiji, be certain it lands in Nadi, 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 Marshall Islands operates scheduled flights every 2 weeks Majuro to Tarawa CW117 returning the same day. The price is USD330 if ticket bought in Marshall Islands. They will not issue a one way ticket unless you can provide proof of an onward ticket or Kiribati/RMI residence/work permit. Air Marshall Islands email amisales@ntamar.net Phone number is +692 625-3733, calling is suggested as emails often go without a reply.

Get around

By plane

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

Coral Sun Airways 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 familiar with these to ensure a hassle free trip.

By ship

For ship connections within the Gilbert Islands you might ask at the harbour in Betio, South Tarawa.

Talk

English is the official 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.

See

Kiribati has some beautiful beach scenery, is a great place for boating or yachting and many of the atolls are lovely to explore on bike or foot. The lagoons are stunning to look at and the white sandy beaches and waving palm trees are a typical holiday brochure sight. Especially on the outer islands you'll find traditional culture is still very much alive. The Kiribati people are generally friendly and welcoming to visitors, and will include you in their celebrations if you happen to be around.

The islands of Kiribati saw some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II and remnants of that war are still all around. Tarawa (and Betio in particular), Butaritari, Abemama and Banaba island are home to the most prominent World War II sights, including coastal defence guns, bunkers and pillboxes. Tanks, ship wrecks, amtracs and plane wrecks are still visible at the coasts of Tarawa and Butaritari, especially during low tide. If you want the full story behind the remains, take a guided tour.

For anyone with an interest in sea life, the tranquil Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area (the world’s largest marine protected area) is a treasure waiting to be discovered. It boasts some gorgeous landscapes combining sandy beaches with coral islands and incredibly blue lagoons. The islands are a bird watcher's paradise and its under water coral life is practically unspoiled. However, limiting visitor numbers is an explicit goal of the authorities. Gaining access to the islands isn't easy and although there are rumours of plans to open the region a bit more for tourist purposes, you probably won't be able to dive there yet.

Do

Buy

Money

Australian dollars, denoted by the symbol "$" ( ISO code: AUD), are used as the official currency. While Australian banknotes are used, Kiribati issues its own coins in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1, and $2.

Bigger stores are only available on Tarawa or Kiritimati.

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 Women's 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 operates in Kiribati.

Most shops will only accept cash, as credit cards are rarely used--except for the two 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 generally available. Fruit and vegetables availability is limited.

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 worthwhile trying the local sashimi which is supplied straight 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 original 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 10-15min 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 an open style guest rooms. Each guesthouse usually has a communal living area where meals are served and the cost is approximately $30 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.

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 Kiribati Tourism's page.

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 Betio) 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.

Respect

Before going to swim it might be a good idea to ask the landowner. There might be stone figures of religious importance that should be treated with certain rules.

Connect


Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Petty crime occurs. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Transportation

Traffic drives on the left. Roads in Tarawa and Christmas Island are poor. Some roads regularly flood after heavy rains. Be extremely careful when driving at night due to limited street lighting.

Passenger ferries go to many of the smaller islands, however carefully consider taking local ferry services due to overcrowding and limited safety precautions onboard.

The main islands have airstrips and are served from Tarawa. Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

You are encouraged to register with the High Commission of Australia in Tarawa in order to receive the latest information on situations and events that could affect your safety.

Tourist facilities and services are limited.

Exercise caution when swimming offshore, as dangerous currents exist, particularly beyond the reef area. Riptides are common. Several drownings occur each year. The lagoon in south Tarawa is heavily polluted and swimming is generally not advised.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Oceanic Pacific Islands. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are limited. In the event of a major accident or illness, medical evacuation to New Zealand or Australia may be necessary. Medical transport is very expensive and payment up front is often required.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Nudity and revealing swimsuits are forbidden by law.

Homosexual activity is illegal.

Importation of firearms, ammunition, explosives and indecent publications is strictly prohibited. Strict quarantine laws govern the import of any part of plants, fruits, vegetables, soil, as well as animals and animal products. Visitors are not allowed to export human remains, artifacts that are 30 or more years old, traditional fighting swords, traditional tools, dancing ornaments or suits of armour. Contact the Consulate of the Republic of Kiribati in Honolulu (see Entry/exit requirements tab) for specific information regarding Customs requirements.

An International Driving Permit is required.

Money

The currency is the Australian dollar (AUD). The Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Limited is the only bank in Kiribati. There are a limited number of automated banking machines (ABMs). Traveller’s cheques are accepted at banks and may be exchanged at some hotels. Visa and MasterCard are accepted at most hotels. Western Union can be used for money transfers.

Climate

Kiribati is located in an active seismic zone.

The rainy (or monsoon) and typhoon seasons in the South Pacific are from November to April. Severe rainstorms can cause flooding and landslides, resulting in significant loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, and hampering the provision of essential services. Disruptions to air services and to water and power supplies may also occur. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities.
 
During a typhoon or monsoon, hotel guests may be required to leave accommodations near the shore and move to safety centres inland. Travel to and from outer islands may be disrupted for some days.

See our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.

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