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Travel Guide Oceania Micronesia Kiribati



Kiribati (pronounced kee-ree-bus) is a collection of coral atolls lying just east of the date line and just south of the equator. While Western hands have had their sphere of influence, Kiribati is yet to be overrun by tourists and has managed to maintain traditional aspects of its culture. The result is a unique holiday for those few travellers who head to Kiribati. This is certainly not the place to expect a brilliant package tour: part of the adventure of Kiribati is that you have to get out there and arrange your own activities. But with a wealth of WWII relics dotting the islands and an abundance of aquatic beauty to enjoy, it shouldn't be too hard finding things to do.



Brief History

The islands that make up Kiribati were inhabited from 3,000 B.C. onwards. The first sighting of Europeans came in the 18th century. From the early 19th century the islands were visited regularly by merchants, whalers and slave traders. The first settlers arrived here in 1837. In 1916 the Gilbert Islands and the Ellice Island became a British protectorate under the name of the crown colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1916. Kiritimati was included in the crown colony in 1919 and the Phoenix Islands were added in 1937.

During World War II some of the atolls were occupied by Japan, and in 1943 a bloody battle was fought to liberate Tarawa. A battle that took place near to the former capital of Kiribati: Betio. During the process of gaining independence the Ellice Islands separated in 1975 to form the country of Tuvalu. The Gilbert Islands gained independence on the 12th of July 1979, and named itself Kiribati. In 1999 Kiribati became a member of the United Nations. In the near future Kiribati will be one of the first countries to feel the effects of global warming.




Kiribati consists of 32 atolls and one island scattered over all four hemispheres in an expanse of ocean equivalent in size to the continental United States. The islands lie roughly halfway between Hawaii and Australia in the Micronesian region of the South Pacific. The three main island groupings are the Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands, and Line Islands. On 1 January 1995 Kiribati moved the International Date Line to include its easternmost islands and make it the same day throughout the country. Kiribati includes Kiritimati (Christmas Atoll; in the Line Islands), the largest coral atoll (in terms of land area, not dimensions) in the world, and Banaba (Ocean Island), one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific. Most of the land on these islands is less than two metres above sea level. A 1989 United Nations report identified Kiribati as one of the countries that could completely disappear in the 21st century if steps are not taken to address global climate change. Owing to a population growth rate of more than 2% and the overcrowding around the capital of South Tarawa, a program of migration was begun in 1989 to move nearly 5,000 inhabitants to outlying atolls, mainly in the Line Islands. A program of resettlement to the mostly uninhabited Phoenix Islands was begun in 1995.




Kiribati can be divided into three groups of islands.

  • Gilbert Islands comprises 16 atolls some 1,500 kilometres north of Fiji
  • Phoenix Islands comprises 8 atolls and coral islands roughly 1,800 kilometres southeast of the Gilberts.
  • Line Islands comprises 8 atolls and a reef roughly 3,300 kilometres east of the Gilberts.

The largest of the atolls, and the largest atoll in the world is Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island. The island is situated in the northern part of the Line Islands. Another island not included in those groups is Banaba, an isolated island between Nauru and the Gilbert Islands.




  • South Tarawa, the capital, located on Tarawa Atoll



Sights and Activities


Abaiang which basically means north land is the most easily accessed of the outer islands. Still, like many island of Kiribati it offers a fantastci remote experience. For example, children shout a mauri to an I-Matang (white person) and women can be seen weaving thatch or salting clams to send to Tarawa. Activities include a bit of hiking or biking towards the Catholic church, which has rainbow-coloured window frames. It is a 15-minute plane ride or a 4-hour boat ride from Tarawa.


Abemama almost became the capital of Kiribati after WWII when the islands were still called the Gilbert Islands. In the end though, Tarawa won out because of the easier access through its surrounding reef. The island has its own royal family and apart from culture, there is nature to explore as well. For example a meeting with a rare species of tiny yellow 'barking' frog, which probably was introduced from Tuvalu to prevent the mosquito population growing to fast. In 1889, famous Robert Louis Stevenson dropped by and the British placed the Kingdom of Abemama under their protection in 1892, and it was declared a Crown Colony in 1911.


Another, Butaritari is one of the Outer Gilbert Islands and is in fact the greenest island of Kiribati. You can see breadfruit, coconut, pandanus and other fruit-bearing trees flourishing on its rich soils. Apart from nature, Butaritari also has something to offer for fans of culture and history: there is a lopsided wreckage of a Japanese seaplane near Butaritari village.

Other sights and activities

  • Christmas Island - good for the so-called bonefishing.
  • Taiwan Park - views across the ocean, swimming.
  • Ambo Lagoon Club - South Tarawa, relaxing, lounging, swimming at beautiful white beach.




The islands of Kiribati enjoy a pleasantly warm, but humid tropical climate. Daytime temperatures hoover around 30 °C yearround with little variation throughout the year. Nights are still pleasantly warm and generally above 20 °C. The wetter period lasts from December to May and concentrates more on the northern part of the island chain. Trade winds blow from March to October. The most pleasant time, weatherwise, is from May to September. Tropical storms can hit the islands during the wet season, but are rarely a reason not to visit the islands during this time, although the humidity and heath combined with the absence of tradewinds from December to March makes this a slightly less pleasant time to visit.



Getting there


Kiribati has two international airports, Bonriki International Airport (TRW) on Tarawa and Cassidy International Airport (CXI) on Kiritimati (Christmas Island).

  • Our Airline (formerly Air Nauru) has flights to Tarawa from Nadi (Fiji) and from Nauru.
  • Fiji Airways flies to both Christmas Island and Tarawa from Nadi.

By Boat

Supply ships might visit Fiji and Tuvalu occasionally. Contact Kiribati Shipping Services Ltd ( for prices and information about any planned departures to Tuvalu and Fiji. Otherwise, a yacht is the way to go with the islands of Tarawa, Christmas and Fanning having formal harbors.



Getting Around

By Plane

Air Kiribati, the national airline provides regular services to most of the major islands from Bonriki International Airport (TRW) on Tarawa. The airline currently operates two aircraft, a CASA C-212-200 and a Harbin Y-12 II [1]

By Car

It is possible to rent a car in Kiribati, providing you are aged over 17 years old and have a valid overseas driving license. Be aware that driving is on the left in Kiribati and the speed limit is 40 km/h in the towns and up to 60 km/h on the highways.

You can try the following rental agencies.

  • Toyota Rent-a-Car, Bairiki, Tarawa. Phone: (686) 21 090.
  • Mary’s Motel, Bairiki, Tarawa. Phone: (686) 21 164 Fax: (686) 21 362.
  • Otintaai Hotel Bikenibeu, Tarawa. Phone: (686) 28 084.

By Bus

Privately owned buses provide a cheap and efficient way to get from the airport to the main centres on South Tarawa. Flag one down on the main road and get off at any point. Shout out "I-Kai" to let them know you want to get off. If they sound their horn when you are trying to get a ride, it means they are full.

By Boat

Most of the outer Gilberts are serviced by supply ships from Tarawa every month or two, and ships go occasionally from Tarawa to Christmas Island (Kiritimati), and the Fanning and Washington Islands. There is a regular boat from Tarawa to Abaiang the nearest of the outer Gilbert Islands.



Red Tape

Nationals and of the following countries do not need 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, 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, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, 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, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The following countries have the same requirements, except for the fact that the maximum stay is 30 days:

Belize, Micronesia, Macau, Marshall Islands, Palau, Taiwan and South Korea.




See also Money Matters

Kiribati uses the Australian Dollar (AUD). Australian Dollar notes come in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and coins come in 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and $2.




Gilbertese is the main language spoken in Kiribati. It is an Austronesian language. The roman alphabet is used, but note that the pronunciation of some letters is not necessarily the same as in English. There is no 's' in Gilbertese. Instead, the combination 'ti' is used. So Kiribati is actually pronounced "Kiribas" and Kiritimati is pronounced "Kirismas" (Christmas Island).

There are several dialects of the language, the two main ones being Northern Gilbertese and Southern Gilbertese. The primary differeces are in pronunciation.




See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Kiribati. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Kiribati) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Kiribati. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.




See also Travel Safety



Keep Connected


See also International Telephone Calls



  1. 1 Sourced September 2008: Air Kiribati's about page

Quick Facts

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Map of Kiribati


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This is version 32. Last edited at 10:35 on Jan 21, 14 by Utrecht. 16 articles link to this page.

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