The accommodation capacities on Fongafale Island are limited and often occupied by seamen and visiting officials. Book in advance to avoid surprises! Two lodges (Esfam and L’s) are available on Booking.com, but such bookings often do not get through – try to contact the accommodation directly via e-mail!
Funafuti Lagoon Hotel (Vaiaku Lagi Hotel) is the only hotel in Tuvalu. It is popular with seamen and has a capacity of about 20 rooms. The hotel has a restaurant with a terrace, which once had beautiful views onto the lagoon. Unfortunately, it is now obstructed by the new landfill. Rooms are hard to come by without booking in advance (via e-mail or phone).
Funafuti Lagoon Hotel
Filamona Lodge, located directly left of the airport building (looking from the runway), is popular with aid workers and other Western and Pacific expats. After the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, it’s the most decent accommodation and consequently also often booked out. The Filamona has a restaurant (see below) which serves a couple of lunch and dinner options. They mostly serve grilled tuna with onions and rice, regardless of the name on the menu. That’s not much variation, but it’s the best I had in Tuvalu.
Esfam Lodge is a homestay-kind of place on the right side of the airport. It has no bar or restaurant, but there is a basic shop in the same house. The owners are very helpful in organising all tours or moto-scooters, but don’t try that on a Sunday (because nobody is around). Esfam is available on booking.com, but the owners are not happy if you book there.
There are a couple of rather basic homestays north of the airport, but still in easy walking distance. L’s Lodge was an option available through booking.com at the time of my visit, but apparently not anymore. Vailutai Lodge, Militano Lodge and some more small homestays are probably the cheapest options in Funafuti.
Tuvalu uses the Australian Dollar. In the 1980s and 1990s, it minted its own coins (Tuvalu Dollar), at par with the Australian Dollar. A couple of them are still in use and make a good souvenir – especially the pretty 50 cents coin featuring an octopus. Tuvalu’s national bank at the airport’s right changes major currencies, but the rate is not very favourable. There are no ATMs, and credit cards are not accepted – so bring enough cash.
Tourists of most nationalities receive a 30-day staying permit upon arrival with no formalities (well, you need to fill out an arrival card). Entry and departure control is executed simultaneously by a lady of the immigration departments. She sits in a booth, with departing passengers passing on her left and the entering ones on her right. Amazingly, the entry and departure stamps look totally different. Please note that Tuvalu accepts Abkhazian and South Ossetian passports – so if you finally want a stamp in such a passport, this is the place to go.
Tuvalu Passport Stamps (forthcoming)
As of November 2017, there were three Fiji Airways flights per week (Tue, Thu, Sat) linking Suva’s Nausori Airport with Funafuti International Airport. Which is Tuvalu’s only air link to the outer world, making it one of the most remote nations worldwide. Not surprisingly, these planes are always full or overbooked. Prices are high and rise even more in the weeks before departure, when sometimes only business seats are available. A seaman I talked to thus got the pleasure to sit next to the Prime Minister. Make sure to book ahead!
Occasionally, ferries go to Fiji and Kiribati. They travel certainly not more than once per month, probably much less. The trips take a couple of days. Schedules aren’t available online and are fixed on short notice. So ask around the port or the ferry office and bring along a big time buffer.
Funafuti International Airport
In terms of public transport and taxis, not much is available on Funafuti Island. I saw a couple of minibuses and passenger trucks travelling on the island, but not very regularly
Tuvalu consists of eight tiny atolls which are spread out over a substantial portion of the Pacific Ocean. There are no inland flights. The only way to get to the outer islands is by ship, departing from Funafuti’s deep water wharf. These ships are infrequent and have no fixed schedules and tend to have lengthy stops at the ports calling.
Funafuti’s deep water wharf
Tuvalu’s only supermarket is JY Ocean PTY Ltd, about 600 meters north of Esfam Lodge. The selection is rather limited. There are many smaller shops dotted around Fongafale Island.
Tuvalu’s cuisine is probably not bad, but it is not served in restaurants: The locals just eat it at home. Therefore, most restaurants in Tuvalu serve Chinese food of mediocre quality. Regarding culinary, Tuvalu is certainly no highlight.
The restaurant of Filamona Lodge was my favorite. It usually offers a selection of three freshly cooked dishes. They mostly serve grilled tuna with onions and rice, regardless of the name on the menu. That’s not much variation, but it’s the best I had in Tuvalu. It is also a friendly place for a couple of beers in the evening.
The best Chinese restaurant is reputedly 3TS, located on the second floor of the building left of Funafuti’s Town Council – there is no sign, so ask around. Guests particularly appreciate the red snapper. I tried it and found it less exciting, but it was OK.
Funafuti Lagoon Hotels’s restaurant also serves Chinese food, but I haven’t heard enthusiastic comments about it. Its terrace once had a great location over the lagoon. Unfortunately, a land extension is now going on there, so the view just goes onto the construction site.
Two more Chinese options are Blue Ocean and Fast Food, both located on the main road between Esfam Lodge and JY Ocean supermarket.
3TS‘ famous red snapper
Tuvalu has no own beer, locals brew kind of a coconut wine. Interestingly, the only available beer is San Miguel from the Philippines, which comes in three flavours: Light, Pale Pilsen, and the strong Red Horse – the seamen’s favourite.
From Thursdays till Saturdays, locals frequent a loud disco apparently called Matagigali Bar next to the northern part of the runway, and the Lucky Set club somewhere close to the JY Ocean supermarket – ask around. Next to the town council, Tefota Express liquor store has an “amazing beer garden” tucked between shipping containers. It’s open until 10 pm, but I never saw anybody there. Foreigners tend to hang out at the terraces of Filamona Lodge or Funafuti Lagoon Hotel. Note that according to Tuvalu law, alcohol is not sold between 3 pm and 6 pm, even in hotels and restaurants – rather inconvenient when coming back from a daytrip.
Tefota Express liquor shop and beer garden
Tuvalu’s post office is located 200 meters south of the airport. It has branches on all the outer atolls. Numismatics seem to be the major clientele, there is an impressive range of available post stamps on display. It’s a strange trade: The stamps are produced in Britain and shipped to Tuvalu. From here, the post office’s employees send them again to collectors all over the world – mainly to Europe. Many of the stamps have no connection to Tuvalu, with motives such as “New York’s Skyline” or “Star Trek”. The post office also sells post cards – featuring post stamps…
Tuvalu Telecom has no roaming agreements, foreign SIM cards do not work in Tuvalu. In theory, it is possible to buy a Tuvalu Telecom SIM card, in practice they have run out of SIM cards. The only option are Wifi cards, which provide access to several hotspots on Fongafale Island.