General information about Easter Island
Often exploring the unknown, we can describe it as travelling. Seeing new cultures and ways of living. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and trying something different. Going as far away from home as could be though possible.
And it doesn’t get much further away than Easter Island; deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s fair to say that it’s not the easiest place in the world to get to. However, it’s well worth the time, effort and expense.
Easter Island is in the Pacific Ocean at the south-eastern point of the Polynesian triangle. It’s said to be the world’s most isolated inhabited island with its closest neighbour being its Chilean brother–the Juan Fernandez Islands–which lie some 1,850km or, if you’re from the UK, 1,150 miles to the east.
Yet while it may sit on its own in the middle of nowhere, it is far from forgotten, having been first discovered by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday in 1722.
Easter Island–or to give it its local name Rapu Nui–is home to nearly 8,000 residents. Formed in the shape of a triangle, the island is a mere 14 miles long and seven miles wide. Its highest point, Mount Terevaka–one of five volcanoes on the island–stands just 600m above sea level.
Yet it’s not the barren environment that draws people to this far-flung corner of the globe. More the 887 Moai statues that litter its remote landscape.
How do you get to Easter Island?
Getting to Easter Island is far from easy. The only airline I know that flies there is South American operator, LATAM. The easiest route–and I use that term lightly–is from Santiago (the capital of Chile). It takes around five hours to get to the Pacific island. In fact, other than by cruise ship, the only other way to get to Easter Island is to fly there from Tahiti!
It’s perhaps one of the weirdest feelings to be landing on the island at Mataveri International Airport and stepping off the 747 onto the tarmac for the first time is a memorable moment.
Unlike the behemoth that is Santiago International Airport; Easter Island airport is only a mere wooden shack. Made up of an open plan single room, arrivals step through the opening of the airport, past a wooden model of a whale, and on to collect their luggage from the small conveyor belt.
Where can I stay?
Once safely down on Easter Island there is actually a large choice of accommodation available ranging in price from campsites to luxury hotels catering for all price ranges. There are over 200 places to stay on Easter Island. Of course, the vast majority of the accommodation in the island’s is only principal town (Hanga Roa).
How do I get around?
Getting around is pretty simple. Hanga Roa and several Moai sites are walkable from the vast majority of the hotels. However many visitors also decide to rent bicycles, off-road ATVs or even horses. For just a few Chilean pesos, for the five-minute trip, you can book a taxi between Hang Roa and the hotels.
There is also the option to rent a car. However, there are a few things everyone should know before driving away from the hire centre. The first is that there is no car insurance on Easter Island! That means that if you have an accident, you will have to pay for it. That may sound a scary prospect to those travelling from big cities but–to put it in perspective–finding yourself behind two cars counts as a traffic jam! There’s probably a greater chance of being kicked by a wild horse than crashing the car into another vehicle!
The next thing to note is that outside of Hanga Roa the roads are awful. This is probably the biggest concern to drivers here as a sudden pothole could cause you problems.
Parking, as to be expected, isn’t an issue here. With no parking restrictions, drivers can enjoy the entire island at their leisure. They can also stop to see the sights comfortably without having to buy parking tickets.
What do I need to see?
It’s hard to narrow down the best sites on Easter Island. This is especially true given that due to the islands size and it being basically one large outdoor museum (Easter Island as a whole is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) it’s pretty easy to see the entire island in one trip.
Yet the first must-see is one that many visitors either may not know exists or may not see. That’s because this Moai statue lies 22m below the surface of the ocean! However, those without PADI scuba diving qualifications don’t need to feel to let down about this given that it’s a fake.
Back in 1995, Kevin Costner made the film Waterworld. Around the same time, he also co-produced a movie called Rapa Nui about Easter Island. While this film went the same way as his other more expensive big-budget flop, there remained a lone fiberglass and metal Moai statue. The question was, what would the film crew do with it? The answer; dump it on the ocean floor. This original underwater Moai was finally broken. Tourists liked it so much that one of the dive companies built another one, this one out of rock. This was placed closer to the port where divers can descend to see.
Back on dry land, visitors should make the most of the beautiful open sandy beach at Anakena. About 20 minutes’ drive from Hanga Roa on the far east side of the island, Anakena offers visitors Easter Island’s only sandy beach and, what’s believed to be, the landing spot for the original settlers to the island.
Easter Island: very clear water
This pristine landscape is spectacular and, if this beach was anywhere else in the world, would be packed with deck chairs and holidaymakers from sunrise to sunset. Yet even in the peak hours of the day there is still plenty of space on this sandy retreat.
The waters are also very clear and by wading out into the shallows, beach-goers will often be able to see a variety of fish (including small pufferfish) amongst the rocks.
And in true Easter Island style, you’ll not have to look far for a series of statues of various sizes and states of disrepair. Behind the sandy shore, sit the statues and often–on the grassy banks nearby–locals will rehearse, or perform, traditional dances for visitors to enjoy.
The next stop for all Easter Island travellers is the incredible Ahu Tongariki. This is the first place mentioned that you’ll need to have an entry ticket for. Easter Island gained protected area status as a National Park back in January 1935. On December 8, 1995; the Committee of World heritage declared the Rapa Nui National Park an UNESCO Global Heritage site.
Rapa Nui National Park
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office located at the airport entrance gallery. The tickets have a 10-day duration (from first use). Tickets can be inspected anywhere in the Rapa Nui National Park, so it’s recommend carrying your ticket with you at all times.
Once into the grounds of Ahu Tongariki, visitors find themselves in front of 15 giant statues. The first thing that grabs you is their sheer size. Facing inwards to the island, away from the ocean (as indeed all the statues do), these silent giants strike an imposing scene on the bare landscape. It’s possible–and advised–to walk a full 360° around the statues and examine them from behind to get a full appreciation of the magnitude of these sculptures.
On your approach to Ahu Tongariki visitors get a clear view of them from the road. Yet nothing quite compares to standing in front of them, looking up at their large sky-gazing faces.
Nothing, except perhaps watching them at sunrise.
To get this once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity it’s advised to wake up early and traverse the potholes-filled roads to make the short 15 minute drive from Hanga Roa along the coastline. Once inside the grounds, take up a central position onsite. Then simply sit back and enjoy the show.
One of the best known sites on Easter Island is that of Rano Raraku; the birthplace of the great Moai.
On the side of a volcano, Rano Raraku was a quarry for about 500 years until the early eighteenth century, and supplied the stone from which about 95% of the island’s known monolithic sculptures were carved.
Making the way along the path the number of Moai that can be seen, either fallen over or buried, makes it almost a blasé experience. There are just so many! It’s easy to forget the weight of the task the island’s predecessors undertook to create them and then Rano Raraku. Once reminded of this, the site becomes anything but ordinary.
It’s here that visitors can see the largest of the incomplete Moai carved into the side of the mountain that, had it been stood up, would be 21.6m tall and weighing over 270 tonnes! At the far end of the path around the hill sits the unusual Tukuturi Moai in its kneeling position, complete with beard and breath-taking view of Ahu Tongariki in the distance.
The final must-see site brings visitors back closer to Hanga Roa where–just to the south of the town–lives the 324m high extinct volcano, Rano Kau.
Sensation of freedom and peace
This enormous crater (which is almost a mile wide) has become a lake and is one of only three sources of fresh water on the island. Inside the crater grow numerous food-stuffs that provide local people with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Once at the top you can get access–using a ticket–to the information centre and to look out over the ocean from the stone village of Orongo where the fabled Birdman cult practiced their activities.
This elevation gives incredible 360° views of the island from which it is possible to see the Pacific Ocean in all directions.
There are many other sites–small and large–scattered across the island that visitors can explore during a visit, and it’s impossible to say that any of them are not worth seeing.
The pure joy of Easter Island is that with a visit here, the sense of unlimited freedom and peace from the stresses and strains of everyday life seem to fade to black with the magic of this Pacific-haven remaining long after the wheels of the plane lift away from the tarmac on route back to the mainland of South America.