How to travel to Tuvalu and best things to do in Tuvalu
One of the least visited countries in the world, Tuvalu only receives about 2000+ visitors per year. The official tourism website comes with the tagline, ‘Timeless Tuvalu’ – perhaps it’s a hint to expect a much slower pace once you arrive. Either way, if you’re planning to travel to Tuvalu, you’ll be among a very small number of curious travellers to reach this part of the world.
On the flight from Suva in Fiji, the 64 seater plane was only half full. There were a few visitors travelling to Tuvalu for business and only five people visiting for tourism. The rest were locals probably seeking medical assistance, visiting family or studying in Fiji and returning home for a break.
Since not many people travel to Tuvalu each year, there is little information available online. As of Jan 2020, there are 3 flights per week with Fiji Airways that connect Tuvalu with Suva in Fiji (please note Fiji has 2 airports, most other flights arrive at NAN airport). This is the best flight to travel to Tuvalu.
The flight leaves Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday early morning and returns to Suva in the afternoon.
Fiji Airways is reliable and if you’re lucky to have QF frequent flyer points, you may be able to use them as this flight is expensive (flat fare of USD $300-$500 each-way)
The only other airline flying to Tuvalu is Air Kiribati connecting Tarawa (Kiribati) flying every Wednesday. Unfortunately, this flight is very unreliable and we do not recommend that you travel to Tuvalu with this airline.
As it turned out, we had confirmed seats with them to move on to Kiribati from Tuvalu, however, the flight was cancelled. I’ll explain more about that later. For this reason, we’d recommend paying the extra money and booking seats back to Suva with Fiji Airways. It will save you many headaches in the long run when you travel to Tuvalu. You can find the best-priced fares on Skyscanner.
Landing in Tuvalu is quite the experience. The small island nation appears in the middle of the Pacific and you’re able to see the lagoon on your left (hint: get a seat on the left side of the plane coming in).
Approaching the airstrip, it feels like you’re going to land in the water. Then a couple of palm trees and a tarmac appears and you brace yourself for a quick landing.
Once we had landed and the plane was moving towards the terminal building, we could see local women waveing at the plane before we step off.
As expected, the airport is very small and while the luggage is offloaded, it’s a breezy clearance through immigration, as one guy processes all arrivals. There aren’t many tourists that travel to Tuvalu, it’s mostly people travelling for work or locals.
As we retrieve our luggage, we walk outside to find many smiling locals and some with signs of the few hotels/guesthouses to stay at while on the island.
As mentioned, there are only a few places to stay in Tuvalu and we were very happy with our stay at Esfam Hotel. This family-run hotel feels more like a welcoming guesthouse.
Rooms have A/C, good beds, kettle with tea/coffee and they’re very clean.
Room rates are (AUD $100 twin/double) per night or from A$75 single comes with a decent breakfast. The rates are very similar for other accommodation options on the island. The hotel is very conveniently located only a few minutes walk from the airport and the main hub of town.
Esfam hotel can also provide you with home-cooked meals for lunch or dinner of chicken/fish served with rice for AUD $15 AUD, you just need to give them a few hours notice. Overall, the staff were fantastic here. In saying that, the people of Tuvalu, in general, were super friendly. But if you are planning to travel to Tuvalu, we suggest you stay here.
Other accommodation options in Tuvalu are listed below:
Filamona hotel – Located just on the other side of the airport and another popular option. Rates here are A$120 per night for a double room.
L Lodge – This is also another good option, however, you must walk about 10-15 min to get here in the high heat and humidity. Room rates are A$70 single room or A$100 double room with breakfast.
To make a reservation at any of the above accommodation options, you need to email or call them. You will find that they are currently not listed on booking.com – this is the website we’d usually use to reserve ahead.
Getting online in Tuvalu
If you thought travel to Tuvalu is different to what you were used to, well get ready to be offline. Wifi is not common in Tuvalu. If you want it, you gotta pay quite a bit for it.
Hotels and guesthouses don’t have it, but they will tell you that the best way to get connected in Tuvalu is to go to the Telecom office and buy a voucher.
These start at AUD $5 for 250 MB or A$20 for 1GB.
Things to Do in Tuvalu
1. Hang out on the airstrip
The main sight in Tuvalu is the airstrip (the airport runway). I’m not kidding, the runway is like the social hub of the island in the evenings, as during the day it is very hot. If you only have one time to do when you travel to Tuvalu, then this is it.
As there are only 3 flights per week arriving here, there is a loud siren that is blasted before any flight lands or departs to alert all the locals below to clear the airstrip.
In the evenings, locals come here to play football, rugby and volleyball and kids ride their bikes here. They even have their own unique sport called Te Ano. Make sure to come here one evening to chill out and see all the activities going on.
2. Day trip in the lagoon
A visit to the conservation lagoon would be another major highlight. You need to organise a boat with a fisherman (about AUD $70) and also pay a conservation fee of AUD $150.
The maximum number of people in a boat is up to 7 people, so if you can organise a small group of people, the costs above can be shared. You can try to talk to other people on the flight or guesthouse when you travel to Tuvalu to see if they are interested in sharing the coast.
Ask your accommodation provider to put you in contact with the fisherman. Maybe keep your eye out for any travellers on your arrival flight and ask them if they’re interested in sharing costs for this day trip before you arrive. A day trip in the conservation area is from 08:00 – 16:00.
3. Hire a scooter
You can hire a scooter and drive around the island. There is only one main road – you can’t get lost. Your accommodation provider may have one for you to hire. If they don’t, they’ll refer you to a place nearby that will hire one for you. Everybody knows each other in Tuvalu, the sense of community here is strong. We loved it.
What to eat in Tuvalu – and where to find it
You probably didn’t travel to Tuvalu for food. As with other small island nations, options for good wholesome foods and fresh produce are scarce. The cooked food that you will find is mainly Chinese food or deep-fried fish and chips. Many locals live on imported goods such as 2-minute noodles, rice, canned meat and frozen food as there aren’t too many other choices. It costs more to eat more nutritious food here.
If you have the budget, I’d recommend that you eat the home-cooked food from your accommodation provider during your stay. If you’re travelling on a budget, we found a few places to eat for less below:
The small takeaway shop near the airport – Once you exit the airport and turn left, there is a small colourful hut with 2 wooden picnic tables out front. Ladies inside here cook deep-fried fish and chips for A$4 per serve (we ate this, it was good). I saw steamed rice with chicken curry and chicken sandwiches too.
It’s affordable food and the portions are generous. This place was buzzing at lunchtime with locals stopping by to collect lunch to take away. A good option in my opinion.
Blue Ocean Chinese Restaurant – A small place with plastic chairs and plates of Chinese food that ‘will do’. Don’t expect anything great here. We ate here when we arrived on the island (only a 5min walk from Esfam Hotel) and ordered combination fried rice for A$6.
It wasn’t great, but it did the job. We didn’t return again during our stay in Tuvalu.
The supermarket – We found two supermarkets on our travel to Tuvalu, but this one was by far the best one. It’s a 10-minute walk from Esfam Hotel down one road, you can’t miss it.
The best thing about this place is that they cook hot Australian meat pies for A$2. This is a cheap dinner option and filled the spot. You can also find the usual suspects such as packets of biscuits etc to get you through.
You can buy a cold beer here or from the little shops around the island for about A$2.60.
Our experience in Tuvalu
Overall we really enjoyed our time spent in Tuvalu. The people were lovely, there’s a nice tropical vibe and hanging out with the locals on the airstrip was kinda cool.
Unfortunately, due to the cancelled flight from Air Kiribati (to take us to Kiribati), we got stranded here. The flight was cancelled due to mechanical reasons and it wasn’t operating until the following week.
It was looking like we were to be stuck in Tuvalu for another 8 days which would affect the rest of our flights and plans through the Pacific nations.
We spent a day going back and forth with the Air Kiribati representative over the phone trying to arrange how we were to get off the island. In the end, we were able to get on a waitlist for the fully booked flight the following day with Fiji Airways.
Miraculously, we made it onto the flight back to Suva. We took the flight link to Nadi (where we were forced to spend two days) then onwards to (kind of) catch up with our planned itinerary.
In saying that, we never did get to Kiribati, so that has to be rescheduled for another time.
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A coffee lover, history junkie, former tour guide, and endless optimist. The mastermind of logistics and chief navigator for Very Hungry Nomads, two women on an adventure to visit EVERY country in the world. Marty is a social butterfly who describes her life as “just livin’ the dream".