This tiny cluster of nine Polynesian islands in the Pacific Ocean has been inhabited since the 14th century, but few people know about it. Ringed with coral and topped with palm trees, Tuvalu is pure paradise but it takes a long time to get there, with just two direct flights from Suva in Fiji every week. It also has one of the most liberal visa policies in the world, but hardly anyone visits – it’s the least visited country in the world. Intrigued by this idyllic island nation? Why not brush up on these interesting facts about Tuvalu first?
Interesting Facts About Tuvalu
1. It’s one of the world’s smallest countries
By population, Tuvalu is the world’s smallest sovereign country. While Vatican City is technically smaller, it isn’t a UN member state. By land area, Tuvalu is the world’s third-smallest sovereign nation; only Monaco and Nauru are smaller.
It took a while for Tavulu to become part of the UN because for years it couldn’t afford the entrance fee. However, when internet domain names were first assigned to countries, Tuvalu received the sought-after abbreviation of .tv. The country negotiated a 12-year $50 million lease of its domain in 2000, and again in 2012. It used the profits to join the UN, install electricity on the outer islands and create a scholarship program.
2. It has one of the world’s lowest elevations
Tuvalu has a mean elevation of just two metres, which means it’s under severe threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change. Coastal erosion is already swelling up two of Tuvalu’s nine islands. There are also talks of moving the entire country to New Zealand or Fiji.
The country is home to just 11,000 people and most of them live on Fongafale – the largest island. At its narrowest point, the island stretches just 20 metres with its population fighting for space.
3. You won’t find any ATMs on the island
There are no cash machines in Tuvalu. Restaurants, cafes and hotels do not accept credit and debit card payments either. If you’re travelling to the islands, you’ll have to bring Australian dollars for the entire duration of your trip.
4. It was once known as the Ellice Islands
The Spanish explorer Alvaro Mendana de Neyra was the first European to ‘discover’ the islands of Tuvalu in 1568 and 1595. Then, from 1892 it became part of the British protectorate and colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. The islands were named after British MP Edward Ellice who also visited the islands. In 1976 authorities divided up the islands to create Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) and Tuvalu (Ellice Islands). Tuvalu means ‘eight standing together’ – a reference to the eight original inhabited islands. In 1978 Tuvalu gained independence from Britain.
5. It has a history of blackbirding
Like several other Pacific islands, Tuvalu has a history of ‘blackbirding’. In the 19th century, people were kidnapped for use as forced labour on plantations in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Samoa and Peru in response to major commercial activity of the 1860s. A few signed up willingly but most were tricked or enticed aboard by sailors dressed as priests. Blackbirding devastated many Polynesian populations. In 1872 Britain’s Pacific Islanders’ Protection Act finally outlawed the practice, in response to persistent lobbying by missionaries.
Some islanders returned but many remained.
6. It has no standing army
Tuvalu has no standing army. It is one of 22 countries without one, including Andora, Dominic, Aruba and the Cook Islands.
7. It has one of the world’s smallest economies
Due to its size, lack of resources and remote location, Tuvalu has one of the world’s smallest economies. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is $42.59 million. Tuvalu earns around 1/12th of its annual gross national income from licensing its domain to tech giants such as Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch through the Virginia-based company Verisign.