So you’ve decided to visit Tuvalu – one of the last unspoiled gems of the South Pacific, way, way off the tourist trail and home to some of the most authentic and intact Polynesian culture in the region. It’s a trip that will be unlike any other for many reasons, not least of which because of a few things you should know in advance.
No one will know where you’re going.
Tuvalu doesn’t have the same marketing budget or cachet as Fiji or French Polynesia, leaving it out of the tourist brochures and guidebooks. So when you tell people that you’re planning a trip there, don’t be surprised if you get mostly quizzical looks and questions.
Tuvalu’s main claims to fame are the domain extension it leases out for millions each year (if you’ve ever visited a .tv website, you’ve browsed a page from Tuvalu), and as the poster case for the effects of climate change. The entire country may be uninhabitable in as little as 75 years due to rising sea levels.
You will be one of very few visitors
In 2017, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation named Tuvalu the least-visited country in the world. Tuvalu gets about 1,000 visitors per year, but the vast majority of those are there on official business and not tourists. Some estimates have out the number of bona fide tourists at about 100 annually, so you may be the only one in the country during your stay!
Tourists are welcomed warmly however, if with a bit of curiosity. The customs official that stamped my passport was genuinely perplexed that I was there just for a visit.
The food will be monotonous.
Seawater infiltration has made the meager soil cover on Tuvalu’s coral atolls unsuitable for growing fruits or vegetables, so fresh produce must arrive on the irregular container ships that resupply the islands. However, the country does have ample marine resources, meaning fish is served at nearly every meal. Usually in one of three preparations: curry, stir fry or steaks.
Expect to have fish and rice as the staple of your diet. This can get pretty tiresome by the third day, but part of experiencing local culture is adopting the local diet, right?
The country is small and basic.
Funafuti, the island where you’ve landed, is comprised mainly a long and skinny sliver of land called Fongafale that is home to nearly half of the country’s population. Life here is very simple, and if you’ve come to Tuvalu for an escape from the pace and noise of modern living you’ve found the perfect spot to truly get away from it all.
There are no five-star resorts, frozen drinks, or organised tours. However, if you’re content to slow down, adopt local customs, and reset your expectations for what a South Pacific holiday looks like, then you’ll have a chance to really see how Tuvaluans live.
It will be unforgettable.
There’s no other country like Tuvalu. Full of small-country charm and quirks, once you’ve been here you’ll have earned serious bragging rights among island collectors and world travellers. And despite the relatively crowded ambiance of Fongafale, the islands around the lagoon are truly spectacular visions of the South Pacific idyll, where sea turtles and seabirds will be your only company on palm-fringed white-sand beaches.
It’s a place that will stay with you long after you’ve said ‘tofa’, and as the whole island turns out to farewell you at the airport on ‘plane days’, you’ll remember fondly the warm hospitality of its people.