South Tarawa is the capital of Kiribati, a scattered group of islands in Micronesia. The capital’s island, Tarawa, lacks the luxury of other island destinations like Hawaii or Tahiti, but there are few places on Earth with a friendlier population. The capital itself is one of the world’s most densely populated and poverty-stricken places, but it is also historically significant, vibrant and friendly.
South Tarawa is actually made of a number of small islets. At one time, the village of Bairiki was the center of government. The Parliament has since moved to another village, Ambo, about halfway between Bonriki and Bairiki.
Bairiki is also home to the National Stadium, home to Kiribati’s national soccer team. The pitch surface of the stadium is unique because it is made of sand, not grass. This prohibits the stadium from hosting international matches, but local groups often play exciting games there.
The Battle of Tarawa was one of the Pacific Theatre’s most brutal and bloody battles during the Second World War. Remnants of the war still abound throughout the island, including bunkers, coastal defense guns and pillboxes. During low tide, you can even spot ship wrecks, plan wrecks, tanks and amtraks tanks off the coasts.
Local handicrafts are available throughout South Tarawa, and most are made by women. The local ladies traditionally wear colorful tops called “tibuta,” and you can purchase them or learn how to make your own through the Catholic Women’s Association.
Restaurants are few and far between in South Tarawa, and Western-style products are generally limited. There are a handful of places in town where you can feast on the Kiribati staples of fresh fish and rice. Try the local sashimi that comes straight from the ocean to your plate, then follow it with a “toddy,” a traditional drink made from coconut tree sap. The sweet drink is a favorite of the locals, and it has even been turned into a syrup used to top ice cream and sweet buns.
There are two main bars in South Tarawa, and although the supply of spirits and wine is limited, there is usually a good supply of cold beer. There is one night club in the city, and you can dance there until the sun comes up.
South Tarawa’s location means that it enjoys stable temperatures year-round. The average temperature always hovers around 89 degrees Fahrenheit, and the low temperatures average about 77 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. The amount of precipitation, however, varies widely. The atoll gets an average of 3.5 inches of rain each September and October, then is pummeled by eight to ten inches each December and January. During the rest of the year, the average precipitation ranges between five and seven inches.