Majuro, Marshall Islands: Would I go back?

Have you heard of Majuro? Don’t worry if you haven’t, I hadn’t either until I was asked to go there on a work trip. Majuro is the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, slightly north of the equator and slightly west of the International Dateline. That’s to say, it’s smack bang in the middle of the Pacific, miles from anywhere.

Pin it!

majuro marshall islands

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect before I arrived in Majuro. I knew bugger all about the Marshall Islands, except that it was an atoll state (i.e. the country is made up of coral atoll islands) and that the country was somehow affiliated with America. I later learned that the U.S. has a military base on Kwajalein, one of the other atolls, and they shoot down long-range missiles that get launched from Colorado. Crazy, huh!

Flying into Majuro’s tiny airport, I was struck by how skinny the island was. I mean, I’d looked at atolls on Google Earth and seen them on TV, but hell! No more than a couple of hundred metres wide at its widest point, and about 20m wide at its narrowest, but the longest continuous stretch of dry land in Majuro atoll is about 50km. That’s one long, narrow island!

Majuro marshall islands

It’s no wonder these guys are worried about climate change, rising sea levels, storm surges, tropical cyclones, and so on. Actually, I think worried is a massive understatement. This whole atoll and its 25,000 inhabitants could quite easily be devastated – its highest point is about 3m above sea level. You definitely feel quite vulnerable knowing that there’s no high ground.

I hate to say it, but Majuro didn’t really warm to me. Not that I was expecting to love it there, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised – I really had no idea what to expect. Although the Marshallese people were lovely, the place was just a bit one-dimensional. Concrete buildings, lots of cars, bland food (although the fresh tuna was spectacular), and there didn’t seem to be a heck of a lot of culture compared to other Pacific islands I’ve been to.

Due to the American influence in the Marshalls, the locals have adopted American culture as their own, I think. They love American sports, Budweiser is the drink of choice, and the Marshallese have the one of the highest rates of diabetes out of any country in the world (presumably due to a move to non-traditional diets). Most food is imported from the U.S. and walking into the supermarket in Majuro is like walking into a weird version of an American supermarket – all the same brands are there, and they even have cos lettuce from California and Idaho potatoes!

majuro marshall islands

Can I just talk about the fish for a minute though – I know I mentioned it before, but holy shitballs, was it good! Fish, specifically yellowfin tuna, is one of the Marshall Island’s biggest exports, if not the biggest export. It’s friggin’ amazing, let me tell you. I got a whole plate of tuna sashimi for $7.50, which at home in New Zealand would cost probably five times that. We had the best meals at Robert Reimers Hotel, the main hotel in Majuro (There are only two hotels – the one we stayed at, Marshall Islands Resort, had awful food).

majuro marshall islands

Glorious tuna!

But I digress.

As with many other small island states, the Marshalls have issues with clean water and waste disposal, and the Majuro lagoon is quite contaminated around the areas where people live. This meant no swimming while in town, unfortunately. The water looked so inviting though!

On our last day, we grabbed a taxi out to Laura, which is a favourite picnic spot of the locals. Laura is right at the other end of the thin spit of land from Majuro urban area – about 50km away from the town along a straight, narrow road with the ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other. It’s crazy how long and thin the landmass is!

Majuro marshall islands

Laura is waaaay down the end of that island!

Laura is lovely, though. It was so nice to get out of the concreteness of Majuro town. Laura is a small settlement with lots of trees, a big baseball field, and a lovely beach. It’s far enough away from Majuro town to not be contaminated, yay! Unfortunately there was a bit of rubbish on the beach but that’s pretty standard in places like this where cleaning the beach isn’t high on the list of priorities. Lots of locals had portable BBQs and music, and we enjoyed a swim – although the current was so strong it was hard to stay in one place! If I lived in Majuro, I’d definitely live in Laura.

Five days after arriving as a total n00b, I left Majuro with a different understanding of what an atoll state is and some of the issues they face. It was definitely an interesting place to visit! I can’t say I’d rush back (except for the tuna), but it was great to have the opportunity through my work to go there.

Have you ever visited the Marshall Islands? Would you want to? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

15 comments

  1. Just looking at these pictures gives me anxiety! I didn’t even know islands that skinny and narrow existed, let alone had 25,000 people living on them! One big wave could sweep this whole place away…so scary!
    That sunset photo is breathtaking!

  2. Pingback: Kiribati: An unlikely charmer - The Global Couple

  3. We adopted our daughter from Majuro in December 2015. If you ever go back I recommend taking a boat out to Eneko for the day. The water is safe, and crystal clear. Spend the day snorkeling or kayaking. There is also space for volleyball. You can also do the same to a place called Enemanit, which has a wrecked plane you can snorkel over. Also, go to Church on a Sunday, even if you aren’t religious. The Marshallese are very religious, there are churches everywhere. Go to hear the music, and see how people spend their Sundays. Kwajelien, another atoll, has some of the best scuba dives in the world, you can dive WWII wrecks.

  4. M trevor

    We many not be perfect but maybe we would not have to spend our time cleaning beaches if the rest of the world was not working so hard to fill the Pacific with plastic.

    • marc

      so true. I’m not an environmentalist zealot, but it’s critical that we clean up our oceans. If they die….we die.

  5. Anonymous

    Just my opinion but sounds like you’re high maintenance. Obviously there’s going to be pollution problem and waste problem that’s everywhere in the world it’s just noticeable because the tiny island and no where else to put it. And yes the house are not the latest model. But one thing for sure you can’t judge the book by its cover. There are so many other places you could have gone to explore in majuro that are beautiful and many other atolls that NOT polluted and have a beautiful white sand from one end to the other but no they don’t have electricity unless you have solar power and no the houses aren’t latest model either cause of course it’s an tiny islands in the middle of no where and people work with they have appreciate what they have. We do have culture of our own and still carries to these Day and no you will not see that around the Main Island as much cause people there are more depending on what’s right there in front of them. Go to Ebon Atoll or the other atolls that AREN’T Majuro or Kwajalein …you will probly get to learn more about our culture and probly more “warm” welcome. But than again it probly wouldn’t still be good enough cause everything is not up to date. There’s is more to life than materialistic things. Instead of focusing on the bad thing focus on good.

    • Corey

      Keep in mind that he comes from New Zealand, so this is vastly different in many ways, and his was an honest assessment from a first-time visitor. When my wife arrived in the US from the Philippines the first time she wondered where everyone was. No one was on the street anywhere. After 10 years here she could probably still list a bunch of things she doesn’t like about America because it is simply not the Philippines. I won’t take offense. I love my country, despite its shortcomings, and this is where my heart is. You love yours, too, and that is great. He did say the people in Majuro were lovely, so perhaps if he returns again he should make an effort to engage more with the locals. For me, the Philippines was such a different world in so many ways, but the people there touched my heart both times I have been there. Anyway, I find Majuro to be rather fascinating due to the landscape and the location. Sure, if I ever visited I may also come away with many of the same observations the author had.Then again, I’m a Westerner, and my culture has a level of materialism built in that is difficult to push aside. That said, I would indeed focus less on “bland concrete buildings” and more on the people living there.

  6. Anonymous

    A least they didnt send them away for stealing breads, sexually assaulting (rape), etc etc etc. Dont go back again, u r not welcome.

  7. Kevin Akast

    Hi Shaun and Petra
    I have just stumbled on to your blog of places you have visited.
    Its a shame you only got to spend 5 days in the RMI my partner and I were in Majuro.for 2 plus years and to say the Marshallesse do not much of a culture is only just short of a crime.
    If you look at the history of the Marshalls since being discovered and all the different “rulers” they have had to cope with until obtaining their independance like most indeginous cultures including our own they struggle to survive.
    We spent a lot of time working with WAM and other organisations even the local Meico Beach Yacht club helping to revive the Canoe culture which was the primary basis of transport through out the Marshalls canoes ranging from 16 foot to 70 plus feet.
    I am one of the first to admit they have enomrmos problems some of which you have described but I also know there is a dedicated group of Marshallesse that I workimg away at it quietly as from what I learnt it does not come naturally to them to kick and shout.
    I personally know some of these people and the have enormous heart and are passionate in their endeavour to retain culture as well as they know they must also coexist in the modern world and to find that balance is very difficult.
    Yes the people are more reserved than say the Fijians but once you get to know them there a no better peoole.
    In closing I will say the 2plus years in the RMI were the best I have fantastic memories and would gladly reside there again..Its a shame that as westeners we are critical of so much in these places bit in reality we are or at least our forebears are responsible for so many of these issues.
    Kevin

  8. Don A. Rood

    I am learning Marshallese and would like to visit sometime; there is also a large Marshallese community a few hours northwest of my town.

  9. Anonymous

    It is always great to hear about my home. I moved here to the USA just a month before my 8th birthday. My home is considered a “third world country” still to this day. Yes it is true that there is a green side of the fence and one that just a needs a little working on. But at a young age I never thought of that. I am at the age of 26 currently and still dream of my home as the best place in the world. I may go back and see the dramatic difference in the homes, shacks, water, and temperature but I will always feel right at home. I guess I just wanted to thank you for visiting my home, learning the language and also understanding that not all places have the greatest luxury. We are all fortunate for what we have and where we are in life. Take it and run!
    P.S. We sure do love our God

  10. Hank

    I went there back around 1980 can remember exactly what year. A Tsunami went over the island and cause major damage to the entire Atoll. I worked with the local police to try to re-establish communications. The people were very friendly and beside the damage if was tropical paradise. I was there about 1 month, got to hang out at the club in Rita and Laura with the locals.

We love comments... leave one here!