Tarawa is not a single town but a group of islands surrounded by a coral atoll, and apart from the south where causeways link the islets, you'll need a boat to navigate around the main features. The international airport is on Bonriki in the south-east corner, which also hosts the new hospital and fish ponds. The central government offices, Parliament building, President's Office and Residence, central post office, bank, library and archives, and various other official buildings including the Air Kiribati Travel Agency are all on Bairiki Island.

Betio Island, probably the most populous in Kiribati, has the port, shipyard and main power station, and it's where you'll go if you need to cool your heels overnight in jail. Betio also has a large number of war relics, after fierce fighting during a major marine assault in November 1943. On Ambo Island the 'greens' of the golf course are rolled sand. Tarawa is one of the most densely populated areas in the Pacific, with a population density similar to Hong Kong's.