Travel safety: Travelling in the Marshall Islands

Low crime, sunshine, crystal clear water.. what's not to like about the Marshall Islands? Just sunburn, mosquitos, diseases, radioactivity..

Not many tourists visit The Marshall Islands, maybe because they are hard to reach. Or maybe because some of the islands are no-go zones having been used for nuclear testing, the area is enormous, or because they are still a little bit unknown. So actually, they might be an opportunity for intrepid travelers wanting to avoid the regular pacific paradise tourist trap!

In 1986 the Marshall Islands gained independence from the US, but continue to be home to the US Army Post Kwajalein (USAKA), so a number of islands are still off-limits due to US military presence or nuclear fall-out. But the remaining atolls and islands (over 1000 of them) remain a tropical wonderland waiting for exploration.

Crime?

For the most part travelling around the Marshall Islands is very safe. There is a very low crime rate and about the worst you face is petty theft or the occasional act of vandalism.

As always when travelling, use common sense, don't flash your cash around and make yourself an obvious target for thieves. Keep your valuables hidden or at home, and your hotel or residence locked. Be mindful of your safety and security, particularly if you're out late at night.

Beware the sun!

There aren't a lot of risks to your health in the Marshall Islands, except sunburn or exposure maybe! Seriously, be mindful of sun exposure as you will no doubt be swimming a great deal.

(Skin cancer tends to ruin beach time. From flikr.com, courtesy of camillaskye)

Use a broad spectrum, waterproof sunscreen at all times, a hat and sunglasses. Try to reapply every few hours, particularly if you have been swimming.

(Don't attract these while island-hopping)

The Marshall Islands are, of course, in the tropics and do have a significant wet season, and mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue Fever do occur, so you should take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten (insect repellent, long sleeves, try to sleep in a room with insect screens on the windows).

You should also consider the following vaccinations before travelling - particularly TB:

  • Hepatitis A &B
  • Typhoid
  • Tetanus-diphtheria shots are recommended every 10 years
  • TB

Be aware when snorkelling or diving around the reefs that there have been reports of unexploded mines from WWII.

Mother Nature's dangers

The Marshall Islands are low-lying coral atolls and islands and are susceptible to tropical cyclones (also called typhoons and hurricanes). If they occur, it'll be during the wet season and they will be closely monitored.

However they are very unpredictable - they can change in intensity, veer off course, intensify or weaken quite suddenly and seemingly randomly. You should always follow local advice and heed the following

  • monitor local tv, radio and print press
  • keep in touch with your tour operator or a local contact
  • register with your Embassy, Consulate or High Commission
  • keep in mind that airports and hotels may shut down if a large hurricane approaches

The only other risk is feral dogs, of which there seem to be many in and around Majuro Island.

Navigation

Due to US military presence and nuclear fall out from testing in the 40's and 50's, several islands are completely off-limits. However, to get around to the rest of the islands, your best bet is either plane or boat.

The fastest way between islands is by plane as the area is vast - a 40min trip between islands by plane will take around 24 hours by boat! Bear that in mind when planning your island hopping.

(I wouldn't recommend asking catching a ride on one of these! From flikr.com, courtesy of PDZ2009)

On Majuro Island getting around is relatively easy and cheap. Taxis are your best bet, since fares are very reasonable, but there's also a bus that goes to Laura, on the other end of the island, every hour from the Robert Reimers Hotel.

Road conditions on the island are pretty basic. They're paved, but there are no traffic lights and few traffic signals. Dogs, chickens, people, pigs and children tent to roam the streets so be alert for them.

Give it a try!

On paper the Marshall Islands do seem like a tropical paradise - few tourists, basic facilities and vast tracks of ocean and coral reefs. What's not to love?

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4 Comments

  • Paulini.Dilagi said

    Marshall Islands is unexplored paradise.
    People are very friendly and readily offer help.
    Majuro is little America-it is home away from home.
    An incredible place to relax,explore and enjoy the Central Pacific at its best---in everything.

  • James McCarthy said

    Having spent three years yachting around the Marshall Islands helping a retired physician do pro-bono medical clinics, snorkeling, diving and partying with other folk on yachts and voluntary worrkers, I have this to say:
    The Marshall Islands is a wonderful place to visit by yacht as long as one has an open schedule. Travel by government boat from Majuro to the outer atolls is not something I would recommend as their time table is not dependable and one could be stuck for months. The same goes for the local airline which is known locally as "Air Maybe", maybe it will fly and maybe it won,t...more than likely it won't.
    So,if you do go I recommend that you stay on the main Island - Majuro and take an excursion to Arno.
    Getting to and staying in the Marshalls is expensive. The quality of service is third rate and ones list of things to do is very limited.
    Majuro resembles a slum, aid money that comes in gets misappropriated whilst outer islanders are abandoned to fate. I have seen severe cases of gangrene, have known people that have died from it. Have spoken to locals about infants dieing of malnutrition and high peri-natal mortality rate.
    Most of the people are wonderful however some officials are typical third world tyrants (in the minority), wield absolute power and have no care for life or limb of those under them...and that could be you.
    Given the cost to get there and the limited choices for activities I would not recommend it as a holiday destination.

  • Lauri Hamilton said

    There are no hurricanes in the Marshall Islands, it's around the 10 degree north zone.

  • Ida said

    Hi

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