Is Kiribati Safe? How to Travel Safely

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If you'd like a look inside life on Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, from a traveler's perspective, pick up the book "The Sex Lives of Cannibals." The American author came with his wife to Tarawa for a few years in the early 2000s and detailed every cultural difference, quirk and infrastructure problem he encountered. While there's a bit of elaboration inside this travel memoir, some of it does make the mark.

(Xmas Island international airport)

Infrastructure, what infrastructure?

One thing that's made mention of quite a bit in the book is Kiribati's extreme underdeveloped nature. Planes don't travel in and out of the island very often, and the ones that do may look like they're seconds from falling apart. Buildings are of the most basic construction, and houses lack things like toilets.

By the by, privacy is considered differently here, and you shouldn't be surprised to see people roaming through a random house's backyard even if they don't live there. Many people walk around with machetes.

Population density is quite a problem. Though there are 33 atolls that make up the country, more than half of Kiribati's population lives in South Tarawa, which sees a 3-percent growth rate each year.

Social Ills

It's a sad fact that many social problems exist in Kiribati, especially on the heavily-populated Tarawa.

Alcoholism is rife on the atolls, and many of their inhabitants are "bad" drunks who may be friendly when sober, but out of control when they've imbibed.

Drinking is one of the only nighttime activities in which to take part in Kiribati, and locals who do it to excess can get rowdy and violent.

Walking around at night, especially in Betio, in downtown Tarawa, and on the beaches of South Tarawa can welcome random attacks and arguments thanks to drunkenness.

It's not uncommon to see bus drivers and other workers drunk on the job as well.

Partly due to booze, but also partly due to perceived gender roles, women alone may be approached aggressively. Many Kiribati think it's against custom to allow women to travel or walk solo.

Incidences of domestic violence often occur when alcohol is involved as well. In fact, Kiribati carries some of the highest rates of mental, physical and sexual abuse against women in the world. Roughly 68 percent of Kiribati women report suffering domestic abuse at some point in their lives. World organizations have begun trying to put more aid in place for domestic violence victims, educate the community and lower abuse rates, but it's still a problem you might hear or see on your trip.

There are more social and health issues afflicting the island, such as high rates of smoking, 85 percent of residents here puff, diabetes and heart disease and malnutrition.

Poverty and economic strife are other issues with which the Kiribati residents contend.

The unemployment rate is quite high. Aid workers are stationed there, but there's only so much they can do.

Petty crime like theft is also common in this undeveloped land. Travelers recommend taking taxis home when out at night instead of walking to avoid issues.

There are crimes you can commit as a traveler too. Homosexual acts are illegal, for instance, as are nudity and skimpy bathing suits. Fun times.

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