White sandy beaches and crystal-clear lagoon waters characterise the Republic of Kiribati, which is made up of over 30 coral islands scattered across the Pacific. Kiribati is remote, and the tourism industry remains very much in its infancy – all the more reason to visit sooner rather than later.
They may be relatively unknown, but the isles are peppered with swaying coconut palms, swathed in balmy breezes, and waters glistening in every direction. And so it’s hard to feel anything other than intense holiday escapism. While lazing on desolate beaches is a huge draw, Kiribati does have an interesting population of both human and wildlife.
Capital Tarawa is fast becoming one of the most densely populated areas in the Pacific, while Christmas Island, stretching for almost half the land mass of Kiribati, is carpeted with lakes and ponds great for game fishing, and boasts some of the largest colonies of birds.
Other islands include Phoenix, Line and Gilbert – during British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, Kiribati was known as the Gilbert Islands. In World War II, the islands were occupied by Japan, while in the post-war era the US and UK used Christmas island for nuclear weapons tests. The islands finally became independent in 1979.
Despite Kiribati’s colonial history, many of its islands have remained much the same as they’ve ever been. Locals live off breadfruit, fish and coconuts to this day. The inhabitants of the main island Tarawa also continue to live in raised thatched huts like their ancestors.
You needn’t fear a total separation from civilisation, however, as bars, cinemas, cars and the internet are increasingly a part of life in Kiribati. The people aren’t unwelcoming, but you’re more likely to be greeted by the children than adults, who tend to eye visitors cautiously. Once you break the ice, you’ll find a fascinating culture, and plenty of glorious nature to explore.
The tiny nation is only 800 km sq, but if you include the many atolls, this rises to a 3.5 million km square-swathe of the Pacific. Better get the swimming costume on.
811 sq km (313 sq miles).
114,405 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
President Taneti Mamau since 2016.
Head of government:
President Taneti Mamau since 2016.
240 volts AC, 50Hz. Australian-style plugs with three flat pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
You can hire a car using a full, clean UK driving licence. Residents should obtain a Kiribati driving licence. Road conditions are poor on Tarawa, but driving standards are reasonable. Minibuses can be dangerously overloaded at times.
It’s not always possible to travel directly from one part of Kiribati to another. If you need to get to Kiritimati (Line Islands) from Tarawa (Gilbert Islands) you have to fly via Nadi, Fiji.
Don’t swim in the lagoon in south Tarawa as it is highly polluted. Take great care when swimming in the sea around Kiribati, as there are very strong rip tides along coast and reef areas. You should wear safety equipment at all times during boating trips. Squalls can occur at very short notice. Some people have drowned in recent years.
The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is an independent republic within the Commonwealth. It is a full member of the United Nations and Pacific Islands Forum. Politics are stable.
Internet and mobile phone services are available in some parts of Kiribati. Not all of the outer islands are connected however. Telecoms services can be unreliable and expensive due to the country’s remote location.