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Swimming is good on the ocean side of Tarawa. I wouldn't swim in the lagoon, after what I witnessed there many times. Frankly, the people use the lagoon as a toilet. You see them run out there in low tide to empty their bowels. I suspect they have the tide times memorized, since they synchronize their ablutions to the low tides
Updated May 19, 2007
Bring your own mosquito repellant and sun screen. Despite being very sunny with a lot of mosquitoes, you can't buy these two items in Kiribati!
Mosquitoes are plentiful both in the day and at night. There is no malaria in Kiribati, but occasional outbreaks of dengue fever, which is carried by daytime mosquitoes, so don't skip the repellant just because the sun is shining. On one afternoon, I was bitten over 100 times in Tarawa, which even if I didn't caught dengue, was still a major annoyance!
All parts of Kiribati are very close to the equator, so it is very hot and the sun's rays are very strong. Take appropriate care, especially if swimming or out at sea.
There are no hospitals outside of Tarawa or Christmas Island so don't venture to any of the outer islands if you have even the slightest doubt over your health and fitness. Even in Tarawa and Christmas, the hospitals are of a relative standard to Kiribati's position as the world's 10th poorest country, so don't have anything but the most basic treatment there. It's a cliche, but "when in pain, get a plane" is definitely appropriate. But also remember there are only two international flights per week.
Don't drink the tap water and be tardy in your consumption of sour toddy, the coconut sap homebrew which is widely available. It is naturally fermented i.e. rotten, so those without strong constitutions should be wary. Bottled water, soft drinks and canned beer is widely available.
Finally, the usual notice about rare dangers such as sharks, jellyfish, stonefish etc. You're highly unlikely to come to harm at the hands of any of these, but just know that they are out there. Somebody caught a three-metre shark while I was in Butaritari!
Updated Nov 15, 2006
Betio in South Tarawa is notorious for several reasons, and rightly so.
First of all, the sea there is HEAVILY polluted. This much is obvious just looking at it, but just in case you were thinking of taking a dip anyway - DON'T! On Betio's Red beach, also look out for human and dog excrement on the sand, as well as all manner of debris including broken glass and metal on or under the sand, so make sure not to walk barefoot around there.
Second, not so much a danger, but definitely an annoyance. When the wind blows the wrong way, you will get a good lungful of aroma from said pollution.
As with most Pacific islands, particularly the poorer ones, dogs can be a problem, and this especially applies to Betio, where I was actually chased by a pack of them.
Finally, the nightlife is of a "rough and ready" style, and while most people come to no harm, and Kiribati people are very hospitable and friendly, they are very big drinkers and that can lead to the usual fisticuffs.
Written Aug 4, 2006
The number one thing that anybody will warn you about in Kiribati is DON'T SWIM IN SOUTH TARAWA LAGOON! It looks lovely, but simply put, there are 40,000 people in South Tarawa and the majority of them use the lagoon as their toilet. As the water is very still, it doesn't get much of a wash-out, so while the effluent dissolves, its "qualities" are still there. For the same reasons, don't eat anything that comes out of the lagoon, especially shellfish or anything else that eats off the sea floor.
North Tarawa is perfectly OK, though. It's bigger than South Tarawa but has a tenth of the population, so while they have the same toilet habits, there's not enough to pollute the water. You can swim in North Tarawa and eat its inhabitants without fear!
Written Aug 4, 2006
There is no ATM on the airport! If you have not already got a visa, you have to buy one at the airport, the cost was 50 AUD in 2001. Kiribati use Australian dollars as their currency.
We had neither cash nor visas, but they let us into the country anyway. They took our passports, and we had to come to the presidents office the next day to pay for the visas and get the passports back.
We did not have any cash for transportation either, and approached a group of foreign residents to ask them how to get to the nearest hotel. They gave us a couple of coins for the bus and told us about the transportation system :-)
Written May 25, 2005
Here's the tip I was given. "If you ever find yourself in the jungle surrounded by wild dogs and they start circling you, always try to determine which is the leader. He's probably the most aggressive one. Try to keep your front to him, since pack will want to take you down from behind and the leader will usually start the attack."
I was ten and impressionable so this advice pretty much kept me out of the jungle.
Updated Aug 30, 2002
Falling Coconuts: I'm not kidding! If you hear rustling in the palm fronds of the trees above you don't assume it's a bird. Cover Your Head! Since there weren't any hospitals on the island (just a drunk doctor) the last thing you need is a gaping head wound. I was never hit but there were a few close calls. The heavy thump of a coconut hitting a few inches from where you're standing can wake you right up!
Written Aug 25, 2002
Be very careful with the water you drink. Tarawa has a huge problem with Hepatitis A which undoubtedly has something to do with the only water source on the atoll being a small lens of fresh water just under the surface coupled with densely packed humans with few sanitary plumbing facilities. Bring a good filter or plan on buying bottled.
Written Aug 23, 2002