Abgelegen | Remote Grenzen | Borders Insel | Island

Border #59: How to get to Kwajalein Atoll as a tourist

Kwajalein Atoll belongs to the Marshall Islands, but its airport is part of a U.S. Army base. Civilians are not allowed to enter the base without a special permission. Nevertheless, visits to the atoll are possible – and they include a very peculiar border crossing. Here is what you need to know.

What country does Kwajalein belong to?

Kwajalein Atoll belongs to the Marshall Islands. The U.S. Army has leased 11 of the 97 islands of Kwajalein Atoll on a long-term base. This includes Kwajalein’s main island and its airport, Bucholz Army Airfield. The islands populated by Marshallese civilians do not have an own airport.

How to get to Kwajalein Atoll?

Bucholz Army Airfield is a stop on the United Airlines “island hopper” route. The island hopper (UA154/155 and UA132/133) flies four times a week from Guam to Honolulu, stopping multiple times along the way: In Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kwajalein, and Majuro. For some of these places, the island hopper is the only connection to the outside world. The route leads through very remote parts of the Pacific, is quite demanding for pilots and very popular among aviation geeks.

P1050385.JPG Kwajalein island with Bucholz Airfield as seen from the island hopper, with Ebeye island in the background.

What documents do I need to enter Kwajalein Atoll as a civilian/tourist?

The only way to enter Kwajalein Atoll is through the U.S. army airfield. Civilians are not allowed to visit the U.S. army base unless they have been invited by a sponsor within the army. However, they are allowed to land in Kwajalein, provided they leave the base immediately for a civilian island, which is usually nearby Ebeye. This is where most of the Marshallese civilians of Kwajalein Atoll live. In order to be allowed to deplane and enter Kwajalein, tourists must be in possession of an onward ticket and a hotel booking in Ebeye for the entire stay.

Kwajalein

How can I book a hotel in Ebeye?

This proved to be the main challenge for me. There is only one hotel in Ebeye, Hotel Ebeye. The hotel does have a website, which enlists several phone numbers and e-mail addresses. However, none of them seem to work. I eventually managed to get in touch with them via hotels in Majuro, the Marshall Islands’ main atoll. It still took more than 20 e-mails within three weeks’ time. As of September 2019, the following e-mail addresses of Hotel Ebeye were actually working: hotelebeye.rsvn[at]gmail.com and taihnersonlonger10[at]gmail.com.

Who does the passport check at the airfield – U.S. or Marshall Islands?

Both the Marshall Islands authorities and the U.S. army do immigration checks at Bucholz Army Airfield. You have to fill in migration forms of both countries and you will get two stamps into your passport: One by the Marshall Islands and another one by the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA). First you have to go to the desk of the Marshallese immigration officers, then you have to hand your passport to a sergeant of the U.S. Navy.

RMI Kwajalein-a.jpg   USAKA Kwajaleinan.jpg Passport stamps of the Marshall Islands (left) and the U.S. Army (right)

How do I get from the airport to Ebeye?

After immigration control and luggage pick-up, tourists are escorted by car to the dock of the U.S. base. This is a drive of approximately 500 metres which allows you to catch a glimpse of daily life on the air base. Unfortunately, despite the short distance, you are not allowed to walk. From the dock, tourists have to take the next available shuttle ferry over to Ebeye Island. The ferries are provided by the U.S. army and are free of charge, they run every 1-2 hours. There is an American style diner (“American Eatery”) at the dock for the waiting time and you can even order Burger King and Subway food from inside the base.

P1050374.JPG View of Ebeye from the U.S. ferry

Is there anything to see on Ebeye Island?

Ebeye is not a touristic place and has no classic tourist sights. It is the place where the local staff of the U.S. base live, and the Marshall Islands’ 2nd biggest urban hub with about 15.000 inhabitants. The tiny island is one of the most densely populated places in the world, meaning there is only built-up area and no nature at all, and no beautiful beaches neither. It was no surprise that me and my brother were the only tourists on the island during our stay. I found it nevertheless worthwhile, if only to get an impression of daily life in this very remote corner of the world. There is plenty to discover on the tiny island, and the locals are among the friendliest people I ever met.

Another attraction is indeed the U.S. base in itself and the whole procedure of getting to Ebeye. Where else in the world are civilians allowed on U.S. army bases, even just for an escorted transfer? It is truly bizarre to see the contrast between run-down, impoverished Ebeye and the neat little U.S. suburb on the other island.

P1050276.JPG Pacific islanders‘ village life on Ebeye island

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