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Introduction to Kiribati

Kiribati is more a sprinkling of far-flung coral atolls than dry land, more deep blue ocean than sandy beach, more coconut trees than people, more Catholic church than ancient island beliefs. Kiribati (pronounced kee-ree-bus) is far away, hard to get to, untouristed and deeply religious.

It is also blessed with myriad reefs, billions of gaudy fish swarming over the coral, and plenty of WWII wrecks. The atolls are scattered over the equator so the weather is dependably warm, though often tempered by cool breezes off the sea.

Tarawa, Kiribati's capital, may not be the Venice of the Pacific, but you do have to negotiate the main sights by causeway and inter-island boat. While modernity is rearing its head, locals still welcome travellers as rarely seen curios. Although there's not much organised activity, it's not hard to find diving and game fishing in most places. And idyllic beaches are never far from anywhere if you want to escape with a book or a diving mask.

Full country name: Republic of Kiribati

Area: 810 sq km

Population: 84,000

Capital City: Tarawa

People: Micronesian

Language: English

Religion: Kiribati Protestant Church, Catholic Church, other Christian denominations

Government: republic

Head of State: President Anote Tong

GDP: US$55 million

GDP per capita: US$910

Inflation: -0.6%

Major Industries: Fishing and handicrafts.

Major Trading Partners: Australia, Japan, Fiji, NZ, USA

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of Britain and New Zealand can enter visa-free for a 28-day maximum stay. Citizens of most other countries need visas, which can be obtained from a Kiribati diplomatic mission.

Health risks: diarrhoea (Mostly caused from unsafe drinking water), dengue fever (There are sporadic outbreaks)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +12

Dialling Code: 686

Electricity: 240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Kiribati celebrates all the usual Christian holidays, as well as Independence Day on 12 July and Youth Day on 4 August.

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Best time to Visit

Go any time except the wet season, which is November to February. The weather will be hot outside of that period, but not as humid nor subject to as many tropical downpours.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Australian Dollar


Budget: A$3-7

Mid-range: A$7-25

High: A$25-30

Deluxe: A$30+


Budget: A$20-35

Mid-range: A$35-55

High: A$55-105

Deluxe: A$105+

Prices for groceries are probably a little more expensive than those in Australia or New Zealand, as they have to be imported, but fish is cheap because there's so much of it. If you're on a budget, you could scrape by on US$35 a day by just going to the beach and eating in the markets and cheapest restaurants. A few more creature comforts and a better class of hotel will cost you around US$60-70 a day, and if money's no object and you want to stay in the best hotels, eat out a lot and do some tours, plan on spending more than US$100 a day.

Outside of Tarawa you'll have great difficulty changing money or buying anything with your credit card. It's best to plan ahead and get all the money you need in the capital.

Tipping and bargaining are not practised. According to custom, a tip is seen as a gift and imposes an obligation on the receiver to return the favour. If a price is asked, that's what the seller wants for it and it's bad manners to suggest anything else.

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Robert Louis Stevenson dropped by Abemama in 1889 and his wife designed a silly flag for the island (a shark wearing a crown), which understandably was never used. The British placed the Kingdom of Abemama under their protection in 1892 and the island was declared a Crown Colony in 1911.

It nearly became the post-war capital, but Tarawa finally won out because of the easier access through its surrounding reef. War relics are still scattered over the island, and several villages are worth visiting, although none is geared up to take tourists.


Butaritari is very wet and green, and its name roughly means 'smell of the sea' in I-Kiribati. It lies in the northern Gilberts, placing it just over the line in the North Pacific. Described as 'the land that Time picked up but dropped', Butaritari is not far from Tarawa, but may seem a world away.

One of the main features of the island is the fried breadfruit, a different variety from that found elsewhere in Kiribati. You can get around by canoe to nearby Makin Island via a beautiful passage through the reef. The island is littered with war relics, including downed aircraft.


You'd be wrong if you thought crusades were confined to the 11th-century Holy Lands. During the 1880s, a force from the Christian north led by Hawaiian pastors descended on the southerners 'in the name of the Book' and killed about 1000 non-believers (and also grabbed some more land for themselves).

The name 'Tabiteuea' means 'chiefs are forbidden', and the society of the islands is egalitarian with no nobility to get in the way. It is the largest and most populous outer island, and parts of Tabiteuea South are among the most beautiful in Kiribati.


Tarawa is not a single town but a group of islands surrounded by a coral atoll, and apart from the south (linked by causeways), you'll need a boat to get around the main features. The international airport is on Bonriki in the southeastern corner, which also hosts the new hospital and fish ponds.

The central government offices, Parliament building, President's Office and Residence, central post office, bank, library and archives, and various other official buildings (including the Air Kiribati Travel Agency) are all on Bairiki Island.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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