Kiribati Travel Guide
Sitting just a few metres above sea level in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is a nation which is living on borrowed time. A series of tiny coral islets scattered over the expanse of the world’s biggest body of water, it has been helplessly watching over the decades as the high water mark has crept up its beaches and has threatened its sweet water reserves.
While much has been made of this isle’s plight, it is not clear whether it will be around before the end of the century. Getting to one of the poorest and most remote nations in the Pacific is not an easy task, but if you want to understand the impact climate change is having in our world today, there are few destinations more poignant than this one.
Currency: Kiribati Dollars
Languages: Kiribati, English
What To Do
Start your time in this tiny island nation by paying a visit to the Kiribati House of Assembly. It is here where 34 islands and atolls spanning over 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean (with a collective land area of only 80 square kilometres) are governed.
Within its curvilinear walls, the 46 elected representatives of this country debate the issues facing one of the world’s poorest countries, the most ominous of which is entirely out of their control: rising sea levels.
While you may not be able to watch legislative sessions in progress, the unique shape of this building makes it worth photographing during your time in Ambo, the capital of Kiribati.
Next, head over to the Kiribati National Library and Archives. This seemingly ordinary building (at least by Western standards) is revered by locals as a centre of learning and a repository of knowledge of all things Kiribati.
Many foreign volunteers from NGOs can be found here reading to local kids. It’s not clear from our standpoint whether casual visitors can join in, but if you ask, they might say yes.
Make visiting Ambo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral the next stop on your tour of Kiribati. While it is a house of the Lord like any other church in the world, it is notable for its lack of pews. The faithful sit on the tile floors as they take in the mass, which can be a bit different if you are accustomed to sitting normally back home.
The cultural experience makes taking in a service here worth it, though, and the locals love having foreigners in their midst, so don’t be shy about attending. The design of the church is beautiful in a humble way, with stained glass windows creating a special atmosphere for religious services.
Before departing Ambo Island to explore other islands in the Kiribati archipelago, take time to wander the towns which make up this cramped corner of Oceania. While it isn’t the tropical paradise other isles in the South Pacific are, you’ll get a sense for how people can have so little, yet still be happy.
The beaches along the lagoon here look spectacular, but avoid swimming in the water, as it is heavily polluted. There are some spots on Ambo where the locals will swim, but foreigners should strongly re-consider their desire to swim in water which is untreated due to the lack of government revenue to put towards wastewater treatment.
There are plenty of isles you could set sail to in Kiribati, but if you are stuck on which one to choose, we recommend calling on Fanning Island. Also known as Tabuaeran Island, it is home to just under 2,000 people living simply on a tiny atoll in the middle of vast South Pacific.
Apart from making a modest income from selling crafts to tourists who arrive via sailboat or cruise ship, they get by catching their own fish and harvesting coconuts. Few societies function like this anymore, so it is a rare treat to see it in the flesh.
What to Eat
If you have a chance to eat at a local restaurant during your time in Kiribati, try to get your hands on some Palusami. Put together from taro leaves, seaweed, coconut cream, and curry powder, it is a radical departure from what many of us Westerners are used to, but eating some is an easy and quick way to bridge the cultural gap.
At any local eatery or gathering, fresh seafood will figure prominently on the menu. Milkfish, tuna, crab, and shrimp are brought ashore daily by subsistence fishers, so supply to restaurant owners will depend on whether families in the area have caught more than enough for their own needs.
Once you have finished your supper, try a dessert unique to Kiribati if you have the chance. When available, many locals love to have the fleshy insides of the Pandanus Fruit for dessert. Drenched in coconut cream, it is a sweet way to end any meal on this remote South Pacific isle.