Whoever coined the phrase, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity" may have had Kiribati in mind. Actually, the average high temperatures are quite reasonable compared to other well-known places in the tropics such as Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, etc.. But the humidity more than makes up for this, making it feel very sauna-like. The wet season varies, but is usually December to March, give or take a month. Severe drought also occurs at times.


Kiribati was inhabited for 2000 years prior to European contact. Under British colonial rule, it was known as the Gilbert Islands. Kiribati was granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati. The name "Kiribati" is pronounced "Kiri-bass", which is the closest local equivalent to "Gilberts".

The Phoenix and Line Islands were generally held to be on the east side of the International Date Line and are in different time zones from the Gilbert Islands group, but on 1 January 1995, Kiribati proclaimed that all of its territory was on the same calendar day skipping 31 December 1994 in those island groups, effectively extending the Date Line further eastward to accommodate this. This makes the Line Islands the farthest "ahead" of any territory on the planet.

In 1995 Kiribati suspended diplomatic relations with France to protest the latter's decision to resume nuclear testing on Muraroa Atoll. In 1999 the government claimed that two atolls had been lost due to sea level rise and subsequently, in 2002, joined with Tuvalu and the Maldives to take legal action against the US for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The presence of gun emplacements and ship wrecks from WWII battles on South Tarawa makes shipwreck diving a common tourist activity.