Smallest Multiple Time Zone Countries

Sometimes I come up with a simple question and I think I’ll get, and even want, a simple answer. Writing these Twelve Mile Circle articles is a lot easier when I’m able to come to a conclusion quickly. Then I can move on with my weekend. Other times the story gets a lot more complicated, like today. I wanted to know the smallest country with more than one time zone. Simple, right? Not so fast. Things turned convoluted very quickly.

Federated States of Micronesia

Sunset on Chuuk
Sunset on Chuuk. Photo by Matt Kieffer on Flickr (cc)

I supposed, technically, that honor should go to the Federated States of Micronesia. Its land area covered only 702 square kilometres (271 square miles) split into two time zones. For purposes of my little quest I considered land area only. Who really cared about water? Nobody lived on the water except for a few passing boats and they could follow whatever time they wanted to observe. So I looked at land area. Micronesia had the least land of any multiple time zone country.

However, this nation didn’t include any time zones crossing over land as one would observe in larger countries. FSM stretched 2,700 km (1,678 mi) across the Pacific Ocean along the Caroline Islands archipelago. Two of its states, Yap and Chuuk observed Coordinated Universal Time +10:00 (UTC+10:00). The other two, Kosrae and Pohnpei, observed UTC+11:00. Half of its hundred thousand citizens lived on Chuuk (map).

FSM seemed like a bit of an artificial creation, controlled by Portugal and then Spain until Spain’s defeat in the Spanish–American War. Spain then sold the Caroline Islands to Germany who lost them to Japan as a result of the First World War. Japan held onto the islands until its defeat in the Second World War. Then it became a United Nations Trust Territory administered by the United States. Finally the Federated State of Micronesia gained its independence in 1986 in a Compact of Free Association with the U.S.

In spite of its arbitrary origin and its crazy geographic spread, I supposed it still met the definition of the smallest nation with more than one time zone. That didn’t really leave me satisfied, though.


Cyprus. Photo by Dan Nevill on Flickr (cc)

Cyprus also seemed problematic. The nation consisted of a single land mass, an island in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Two time zones definitely existed there in a manner of speaking. However that occurred only because of Northern Cyprus.

Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. The island included significant Greek and Turkish settlements so establishing sovereignty required skillful negotiations. This resulted in a tripartite treaty between the UK, Greece and Turkey called the Zürich and London Agreement. Then, in 1974, a military junta staged a coup intending to unite Cyprus with Greece. Turkey responded with force, invading the island and seizing about a third of it. Turkey established Northern Cyprus and evicted about two hundred thousand Greek Cypriots. The international community, with the exception of Turkey, did not and still does not recognize the sovereignty of Northern Cyprus.

Nonetheless, the Turkish army stationed in Northern Cyprus, created a de facto situation that split the island. Both sides established their capital in Nicosia (map), on separate sides of a U.N. buffer zone.

Every other nation may claim that a single government covers the entirety of Cyprus and the Cypriot flag may show a unified nation, however Turkish troops enforced a different reality. Cyprus observed time zone UTC+02:00. Northern Cyprus followed UTC+03:00, the same as Turkey. Half of the year, during the summer, they followed the same time because Cyprus observed Daylight Saving Time and Northern Cyprus did not.

Bottom line, if only a single sovereign Cyprus existed without a de facto Northern Cyprus, only one time zone would exist there.


Punta Arenas Chile. View across the city.
Punta Arenas Chile. View across the city. Photo by denisbin on Flickr (cc)

Alright, so I still wanted to find the smallest contiguous nation with more than one time zone. I didn’t want something with a bunch of far-flung islands and I didn’t want something arising out of an international dispute. Chilé seemed to be the next best solution.

I wouldn’t actually call Chilé a "small" nation. It ranked 37th in size with a land area of 743,812 square km (287,187 sq miles). Even so, one would expect something fairly large geographically to justify more than one contiguous time zone. Chilé,by the way, also had a third time zone for Easter Island although I ignored it for this purpose.

Most of Chilé, both by land and people, fell within UTC-04:00. Its southern portion, the Region of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica observed UTC-03:00. This included the provinces of Última Esperanza, Magallanes, Tierra del Fuego, and Antártica Chilena. Looking at the map, that made sense.

Much of Chilé followed a narrow north-south alignment along the western cost of South America. However it curved distinctly east at its southern end. There it hugged the bottom of Argentina, with a small portion even bordering the South Atlantic Ocean. Most of the people of this region lived near Punta Arenas (map), deep within that southeastern curve. It meant that a large portion of people of the Magallanes Region would be inconvenienced if they followed the same time zone as the rest of Chilé.

This actually happened fairly recently, with the Magallanes Region making the time zone switch on May 14, 2017.


Good geo-topics can be found everywhere. Often I derive inspiration from anonymous Twelve Mile Circle visitors who sprinkle digital trails behind them as they travel along. Every one of us leaves our fingerprints whenever we tunnel through the Intertubes. It’s innocuous for the most part and we don’t think much about it as we jump from one site to another, but it’s all there and it’s available. I can’t and don’t use any of it to identify individuals (nor do I want to) but I do use it to generate plenty of great story ideas.

One trekker arrived from Ushuaia, Argentina looking for information on New Zealand Ferries. That’s what I believe, anyway. The incoming IP address geolocated to that rare spot. This person thus became the southernmost visitor to my website totally unbeknownst to him or her, an honor likely to be held until someone from Antarctica decides to call.

Ushuaia sits at 54.8° south of the equator. There aren’t many places of significance further south than Ushuaia.

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Ping around the Internet for awhile and it won’t take long to find a variety of sources that consider Ushuaia to be the southernmost city in the world. "City" is such a subjective word. Does 60,000 people make it a city? Punta Arenas in Chile has double that population a little further north. Puerto Williams has a couple thousand people a bit further south. Which one is the southernmost city?

Argentina and Chile have a history of one-upmanship at the continental tip, jockeying for control of trading routes, tourism and access to Antarctica. I guess Ushuaia has as good a claim to being the southernmost city as the others but it’s really more for bragging rights than anything else.

In fact the strategic location of Tierra del Fuego and the geopolitical situation with Chile led to the founding of Ushuaia in the first place. It doesn’t have Sixteenth Century roots like many other towns and cities in Argentina, not at all. Rather Ushuaia dates back only to the 1890’s when it started as a penal colony. Those early convicts literally built their own prison and then a town around it. Ushuaia provided a remote, confined location for the more troublesome members of society and a means to establish Argentine sovereignty over their southern domain. That sounds a lot like the Australian model and indeed it took inspiration from that source according to many of the sites I consulted.

Ushuaia gazes upon the Beagle Channel, with Chile to the south and west. It anchors Argentina’s triangular corner on the Island of Tierra del Fuego, isolated and detached from the rest of the nation.

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Airlines and ships provide the most direct access to and from the Argentine mainland. It is possible to arrive by automobile but this journey requires crossing into Chilean territory and taking a ferry across the Strait of Magellan. In theory one should also be able to travel there by bus but it would require several distinct transfers and lots of time.

Trains do not reach this far south. However there is an antique 8 kilometre narrow-gauge steam railroad called the End of the World Train (Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino) into the Tierra del Fuego National Park that serves as a major tourist attraction. It was designed originally to carry timber into Ushuaia as the prisoners built the town. Today it’s considered the world’s southernmost railroad although it’s self-contained and has no outlet to the outside world.

I didn’t know anything about Ushuaia until I noticed that small dot on my website access map in Google Analytics. This sounds like another great place to add to my every-growing list of towns that I someday want to see in person.

Do you know of a peculiar place or location you’d like me to feature on the Twelve Mile Circle? Maybe your home town? Please let me know in the comments below or in a separate email message. Don’t let me know why you believe it’s a geo-oddity though. I’ll figure that out on my own. The answer may be completely different than what you expected. Learning is part of the fun.