Tuvalu makes it easy for you in terms of deciding how long to stay. Seeing Tuvalu in 5 days works with the flight schedule and gives you time to explore Funafuti, Tuvalu’s main atoll, beyond its main island, Fongafale. And because there’s not a lot to see and do, you’ll have a chance to relax into Pacific Island time too.
Flights generally arrive in the morning, leaving you the whole day to adjust to the tropical heat and humidity, starting with an early lunch under the swirling fans at the beachfront Vaiaku Lagi Hotel. The hotel is right across the road from the airport terminal and adjacent to the solar-panelled government building.
Do as the locals do in the heat of the day and take some “Pacific exercise” – it’s Tuvaluan for “siesta”. When the day starts to cool down, it’s time to explore. Ask at your guesthouse about renting a motorbike, then head out on a self-guided island tour.
Make sure you end your island “tour” back at the unfenced airstrip (see Airstrip afternoons), where everyone gathers to walk or play sport in the hour before sunset. Then return to your guesthouse for a home-cooked meal in the dining room; chances are you’ll be the only guest there.
To be honest, Fongafale isn’t the prettiest island in Funafuti atoll. To reach those you have to rent a boat (again, ask your guesthouse owner to arrange this) and head across the lagoon to its western rim. A day trip to Funafuti Conservation Area means a day in and on the water: island-hopping, swimming, snorkelling and birdwatching.
Today is a good chance to take in a few of Fongafale’s sights during business hours (remembering to rest during the heat of the day, as always). There’s Tuvalu Post – yes, it’s a post office, but it has a large glass-topped table displaying hundreds of special issue stamps, many of which you can buy.
Then there’s David’s Drill, a hole in the ground with an interesting backstory.
Staying in various family-owned guesthouses is a great way to meet more locals. Try Esfam Lodge and Hotel Filamona throughout your stay. (Filamona is a good place to stay on your last night because it’s right on the airstrip and so close to the airport you can virtually reach the check-in counter from the breakfast buffet.)
And if you have a chance, get along to a “Fatele” traditional dance-song performance; there’s often one going on in the hall across the road from Filamona.
If you flew in on Thursday, today is Sunday, which means one thing in Tuvalu: church. There are several churches of various denominations on Fongafale. Some run their services in English, the rest in Tuvaluan. Not that you’ll have much say: your guesthouse host will take you to their church, usually on the back of their motorbike.
She or he might also invite you to join them for Sunday lunch, called a “tonai”, afterwards. This is a must-do and an authentic Tuvaluan family experience. (Just remember to wait for someone to say grace before eating.)
After some post-prandial “Pacific exercise”, pack your bags for an overnight excursion. A small boat will pick you up for the 10-minute transfer to a small eco-lodge on a tiny island off the northern tip of Fongafale, Afelita Island Resort.
You’re really on island time now. Wake early with a walk on the beach, and maybe a swim, before spending the day at Afelita Island Resort, which aims to give guests a back-to-nature experience, Tuvaluan style, with activities such as weaving and fishing.
In the late afternoon, you’ll head back to “the mainland”, stopping en route to visit Tuvalu Marine Training Institute, where many young Tuvaluans prepare for life at sea.
Flights leave mid-morning and you’ll need to check in two hours before your two-hour flight back to Fiji, so there’s no time to do anything except stroll to the airport and pick up a few last-minute souvenirs, the only kind in Tuvalu.
There’s a Women’s Handicraft stall set up in the shade outside the terminal on flight days, which has a wide selection of locally made handicrafts such as straw-and-feather fans, shell necklaces and woven baskets. If you’re returning to countries with strict quarantine regulations such as Australia and New Zealand, make sure you ask for a “Certificate of Inspection” to help get your purchases through customs.