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Introduction

Tarawa is the capital of Kiribati. Sometimes called South Tarawa, it is located on the Tarawa Atoll. It is the administrative centre of the country, but is of no particular interest for travellers. The South Tarawa population center is made up of several small islands and all separated islands are joined by causeways, forming one long island. The Japanese Causeway links South Tarawa to Betio. The country and city are not your typical tropical dream destinations and not many visitors go here. As a result, infrastructure, hotels and other facilities are limited.

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Geography

Tarawa has a large lagoon, 500 square kilometres total area, and a wide reef. Although naturally abundant in fish and shellfish of all kinds, marine resources are being strained by the large and growing population. Drought is frequent, but in normal years rainfall is sufficient to maintain breadfruit, papaya and banana trees as well as coconut and pandanus. North Tarawa consists of a string of islets, with the most northern islet being Buariki. The islets are separated in places by wide channels that are best crossed at low tide. On South Tarawa, the construction of causeways has now created a single strip of land from Betio in the west to Buota in the northeast.

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Events and Festivals

New Year’s Day

Kiribati is the first country in the world to welcome in the New Year, albeit at the Line Islands, and events go off nationwide. All bars and guesthouses have something going on, along with traditional celebrations at the local maneaba (meeting house).

Independence Day

This is the main event on the Kiribati social calendar, celebrating the day the Gilbert Islands gained independence from Great Britain in July of 1979. Though the holiday officially takes place on July 12, the festivities last for several days, starting around the 9th. South Tarawa sees most of the action, including obligatory canoe races, kite-flying and traditional dance, along with wrestling, rugby and other sports ventures.

Youth Day

August 4 sees the forward-thinking government focus its energy on the Kiribati youth, with the promise of better opportunities through various workshops and programs. Churches and meeting houses see most activity.

Christmas

Locals attend church followed by much eating, gift-giving and merriment, just like they do back home. In Kiribati, however, there’s also choir singing, dancing, canoe racing, and a myriad of other sports right up until New Year. Locals also go camping in Taiwan Park and visit nearby islands.

New Year’s Eve

A huge event in Kiribati due to its position in the world, this island nation is the first place to countdown the New Year. There are low-key parties on the beaches and in the towns, while all expat bars and guesthouses put on special events.

Betio Game Fishing Competition

This is a popular event among expats in South Tarawa, with a monthly competition and weight-ins at Captains Bar in Betio to see the biggest catches.

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Weather

Tarawa enjoys 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.

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Getting There

By Plane

From Tarawa's Bonriki Airport, Air Kiribati has international flights to/from Brisbane Nadi, Honiara, Air Marshall Islands to/from Majuro, Fiji Airways to/from Nadi and Nauru Airlines to/from Majuro, Nauru and Pohnpei.

By Boat

Ships travel to all the outer islands from Betio, Tarawa, although you might have to wait a while if you want to go to one of the more out-of-the-way destinations. The MV Supercat is the fastest, most comfortable option available, ph: (686) 22 538 .

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Getting Around

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 Car

It is possible to rent a car on Tarawa, providing you are aged over 17 years old and have a valid overseas driving license. Be aware that driving is on the left in Tarawa 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

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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.

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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.

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Sleep

  • Dreamers Kiribati, Banraeaba (A few hundred meters before the parliament building), ☎ +686 22606, e-mail: dreamerskiribati@gmail.com. Check-in: Flexible, check-out: Flexible. A family-run eco guesthouse. Has three self contained rooms with kitchen. This place is right on the beach with one of the best views on the island. The family that run it also runs an NGO. 60A$.
  • Mary's Motel, Bairiki, ☎ +686 22227, fax: +686 21362, e-mail: valetapu88@gmail.com. A small private motel on Bairiki next to the causeway to Betio. Clean Rooms with hot water. Restaurant on-site and Wifi.
  • Otintaai Hotel, ☎ +686 28084. This government run hotel is the best and most pricey in Kiribati. However, it is at most a three-star hotel, and some people only give it two stars.

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Accommodation in Tarawa

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Tarawa searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Tarawa and areas nearby.

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This is version 10. Last edited at 8:47 on Jul 17, 17 by Utrecht. 9 articles link to this page.

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