Despite its white sand beaches and lively coral reefs, Tuvalu is the least visited country in the world. That’s not particularly surprising when you consider there is only a single, weekly flight to and from the remote island every Tuesday. The other six days of the week, the runway at Funafuti International Airport transforms into a public park.
The unfenced airstrip is a place for locals to lounge about and enjoy the island sun, typically in the early evening when the day’s temperatures have cooled. Touch football, soccer, and volleyball games are often underway, and residents will ride around the smooth tarmac on motorbikes. The tranquility is only interrupted once a week when a siren blares warning residents to clear the runway for an approaching flight. There used to be another weekly flight to and from the island on Thursdays, but that flight has since been suspended, likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Navy built the Funafuti Airport in 1943 during World War II. In November 1943, the airfield became the headquarters for a U.S. bomber unit fighting Japanese forces. By the summer of 1944, the U.S. had already begun withdrawing from the island as the fighting moved north, closer to Japan. By 1945, the U.S. Army had fully withdrawn from the island. Soon after the war, the military airfield was repurposed into a commercial airport.
In October 1982, Tuvalu welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. They were the first royals to visit the island, arriving only five years after Tuvalu became a fully independent sovereign state within the Commonwealth.
Know Before You Go
There are very limited flights in and out of Tuvalu. Be sure to do your research before traveling here.