Ever seen images of picture perfect strands of beach surrounded by aqua blue shoreline of unimaginable beauty? Your eyes close as you fantasize about being in that warm crystal clear water bathed by the hot equatorial sun. Yup, that is Kiribati a true beach lovers paradise.
Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) consists of 33 coral islands divided among three island groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. All of them are atolls (ring shaped islands with lagoons in the middle). The majority of the atolls are barely more than six meters above sea level. And are surrounded by barrier reefs creating picturesque blue lagoons for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and other water activities.
The Gilbert Islands
We spent the majority of our time on the Gilbert Islands. Namely Tarawa (the main island) and Abaiang. The Gilberts are a chain of 16 atolls and coral islands which cover approximately 780 km along a north to south line above and below the equator.
We flew into the main island of Kiribati called Tarawa. I immediately knew we were in a different world. The tiny shack like airport sees very few tourists. Most of the people on our plane were either locals returning home or journalists coming to understand this unusual and tiny nation.
Since this was a smaller plane we had to hand over our backpacks to baggage prior to boarding the flight. Waiting for our bags the few westerners congregated. “You think you are going to get a visa to Nauru?”, the Dutch journalist said sarcastically. “Good luck! No one gets visas there. Especially people who write blogs.” The German journalist chimed in with similar thoughts. My heart sank a little. Our flight to Nauru was coming up in a few weeks.
The conversation continued for what seemed like hours. The airport didn’t have fans let alone air conditioning. So we sat on the floor in 35 C stagnant air waiting in a pool of sweat. Our bags were trapped underneath whatever goods were piled on top of them. It is customary for these islands to ship in goods from larger islands. Our bags were under a ton of mattresses that were being transported into Kiribas.
Tarawa is the main island of Kiribas. It is an atoll, meaning that it is a thin strip of land that forms a circular shape. The circle does not fully connect and in places is linked by long bridges or causeways. The average width of the land is 440 meters which is not very much. There is a road that stretches down most of the island with one lane per direction. On each side of the road are small wooden raised shacks with enough room for a mattress. Most of the people on the island live like this. They have an outdoor “kitchen” behind the structures. Questionable water is drawn from a water lens from below the ground. Beyond the shacks is the beach of either the blue lagoon or the ocean. Oddly, the water is calm on both sides.
There is an incredible amount of dogs on the island. They are mostly large and beautiful. To us they would be considered homeless. Although they do seem to “belong” to one tiny patch of land or another. Since the humans have so little, the dogs have even less.
Where to Stay on Tarawa
There are only a few good options for accommodations on the main island of Tarawa. Much of the main island’s waterways are quite polluted so you need to be careful about where you end up. But be warned, if you are looking for luxury, check out New Caledonia and forget Kiribas. If you want simple living, in a fascinating land and are seeking a beach lovers paradise then these places in Tarawa Kiribati should be a good fit:
Dreamers: Located in South Tarawa this small guest house quickly became our new home in Kiribas. Located on the tranquil blue lagoon side, these rooms were spartan and charming in their own island way. During low tide, the lagoon was one of the best places to swim in. Walking out of our room into the crystal clear warm water between the two islands was my favorite activity. Richard and Beta were great hosts and chefs. My vegan meals were delicious as were Rob’s fish and chicken options.
Tabon Te Kee Kee – Located in North Tarawa this eco – friendly accommodation was highly recommended by many other travelers. Although we did not stay here, given the accolades we would be remiss not to mention it.
Getting Around Tarawa
Since Tarawa is one long strip, there are buses that run up and down the island frequently. On the most part, these are small passenger vans. There is a driver and a fare collector (usually the wife of the driver). Some buses only go as far as a particular point – so make sure to ask.
You can flag a bus at designated bus stops. To get off the bus just simply shout the word “I-kai” or “Taiaoka I-kai,” meaning “stop here.”
If they sound their horn or flash their light it means they are full. On South Tarawa, buses travel from Betio to as far as Tanaea and Buota in North Tarawa.
Bus fares on Tarawa range from 60 cents to $2.00 AUD depending on how far you are travelling.
One day we were returning from the ferry terminal to Dreamers and all the buses were full. They were full for over an hour, so we decided to walk. After 2 hours of walking in the dark Rob flagged down a pick up truck. Since Kiribas is considered relatively safe, hitch hiking is a mode of transport that is accepted here.
What to See on Tarawa
The culture of the island and it’s people were the most interesting aspects of this island. But here are a few more things that you can see and do on the island:
- Battle of Tarawa – if you are a war buff, there are quite a few remains of this WWII 3 day battle which took place on November 20 – 23 1943. There is a small park past the southern causeway which haphazardly showcases some of the remnants.
- North Tarawa – if you are staying in the south, a visit to the northern, cleaner and more beautiful side of the atoll is a must.
- Use Tarawa as a jump off point for one of the other amazing islands.
If you are coming to Kiribati for pleasure, then a visit to one of the other islands is a must. We decided to go to the island of Abaiang. A true beach lovers paradise of Kiribati.
- Ferry – All of our research showed that there are 2 ferries that go to Abaiang, however we were only able to find one. Times that are listed on the Kiribati website also seemed to be quite off to what we experienced. The ferries go according to the tides and typically that is between 10 am and 11 am from Betio to Abaiang and only on certain days (Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday). The cost is about $25 AUD per person one way. It takes about 2 hours. The best thing to do (based on our experience) is to book your ferry through the place that you are staying in on Abaiang.
- Flights – There are flights from Tarawa to Abaiang. These flights depart on Friday, Sunday and Wednesday at 5 pm and only take 15 minutes. The cost when we were there was $67 AUD per person one way. The best way to schedule is to call or email: Phone: +(686) 75021188 Email: email@example.com
Where to Stay
From our perspective, there is only one place to stay on Abaiang and that is Terau Beach Bungalows. This place is absolute heaven and to us was the #1 beach lovers paradise in Kiribati. This ecolodge is run by Kaboua and his family. These are the most accommodating and friendly proprietors that we have ever met. At $20 AUD per person per night ($40 AUD per bungalow), the experience and price could not be beat.
There are 5 beach bungalows with stunning westerly views facing the turquoise water and sunsets. A family style open air palapa stands in the middle of the property ready for amazing meals and lively discussions. All of the structures are built out of organic materials found on the island. Rainwater is used for drinking and energy is harnessed from solar panels.
The meals at Terau were top notch. At $5 AUD per meal, the vegan options that Sinai prepared for me were extraordinary. Rob and the other guests enjoyed their fresh caught fish dishes along with locally grown organic vegetables and legumes.
Abaiang is a skinny long atoll (37 km of land) with 2 water sides. Terau is situated on the blue lagoon side. The calm crystal clear warm water is filled with fish and coral. The snorkeling and swimming straight out of our bungalow was out of this world.
On the other side of the thin strand of the island (which is a 5 minute walk) the water is turbulent with big waves and much more action. Large turtles live on that side and crabs frolic in the sand.
The land between these 2 water sides is where Kaboua grows organic vegetables and teaches others how to grow coconuts in an organic and sustainable way.
Activities on Abaiang
The food at Terau is exceptional. This is known by many. Therefore the palapa around meals would fill up with other travelers wanting to sample Kaboua’s and Sinai’s amazing meals. We had the pleasure of spending time with a couple from Germany who were sailing around the world for their 5th year. Another couple from Switzerland who moved to Abaiang a few years ago. As well as Matt our Scottish friend who had decided to spend as many weeks as he could on Abaiang and these bungalows. The stories that were shared will stay will us for a very long time. Other activities that we enjoyed on Abaiang:
- Swimming and snorkeling were my absolute favorite things to do here
- Cultural tours are available for $50 AUD per person
- Trips to a neighboring uninhabited island for snorkeling is highly recommended
- Bicycles are available to rent for $10 AUD per day – great way to see the island
Things to Consider in Kiribas
- The equatorial sun in Kiribati is nothing to joke about. A sunburn is inevitable without good sunscreen. Make sure to bring some as it is not sold on the islands.
- Because not every place uses clean water for cooking be vary careful about what and where you eat. As a precaution bringing activated charcoal as well as some ciprofloxacin (if charcoal does not work) is recommended.
- ATMs with Australian dollars can be found in Tarawa, however they often run out of money. Plan accordingly as very few places take credit cards (if any).
- Internet is surprisingly good in Terawa. There is a kiosk just outside the airport to buy a sim card.
We fell in love with Kiribati, a true beach lovers paradise. I still imagine myself lying at the Tenaru Beach Bungalows, listening to the shells dancing under our mattress and the sound of the water gently lapping against the shore. A place we hope to return to soon.
Have you been to Kiribas? We would love to hear about your experiences there. Planning on going? Do not hesitate to ask us questions.