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Easter Island (Spanish: Isla de Pascua, Rapa Nui: Rapa Nui) is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. Early settlers called the island "Te Pito O Te Henua" (The Navel of the World). It is a territory of Chile that lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, about 3,600 km away from the mainland and roughly halfway to Tahiti. The island is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone statues or moai depicting oversized heads. Carved centuries ago, they're reflecting the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.
Today's Poike Peninsula in the east was created by a volcanic eruption about three million years ago. Two million years later, Rano Kau came into being, and 250,000 years ago Maunga Terevaka between these, forming the current Easter Island. The English name of the island commemorates its European discovery by a Dutch exploration vessel on Easter Sunday in 1722.
After Thor Heyerdahl and a small party of adventurers sailed their raft from South America to the Tuamotu islands, far to the north of Easter Island, a controversy raged over the origin of the islanders. DNA testing has proved conclusively that the Polynesians arrived from the west rather than the east, and that the people of Easter Island are descendants of intrepid voyagers who set out from another island thousands of years ago. Legend says that the people left for Easter Island because their own island was slowly being swallowed by the sea.
In brief, the prehistory of Easter Island is one of supreme accomplishment, flourishing and civilization, followed by environmental devastation and decline. Although it is not agreed when people first arrived on Easter Island (with estimates ranging from 300 to 1200 CE), consensus seems to be that the first people were Austronesians arriving from Polynesia. Rather than being inhabited by mistake or chance, evidence has suggested that Easter Island was colonized deliberately by large boats with many settlers—a remarkable feat given the distance of Easter Island from any other land in the Pacific Ocean (4,231 km to Tahiti).
The first islanders found a land of undoubted paradise—archaeological evidence shows that the island was covered in trees of various sorts, including the largest palm tree species in the world, whose bark and wood furnished the natives with cloth, rope, and canoes. Birds were abundant as well, and provided food for them. A mild climate favored an easy life, and abundant waters yielded fish and oysters.
The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the religion which sprouted in their leisure, which had at its centerpiece the giant moai statues, that are the island's most distinctive feature today. These moai, which the island is littered with, are supposed to have been depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing or watchful safekeeping eye over each small village. The ruins of Rano Raraku crater, the stone quarry where most of the moai were carved and outside which many still sit today, is a testament to how central these figures were to the islanders, and how their life revolved around these creations. It has been suggested that their isolation from all other peoples fueled this outlet of trade and creativity—lacking any other significant way to direct their skills and resources. The bird-man culture (seen in petroglyphs), is an obvious testament to the islanders' fascination with the ability to leave their island for distant lands.
However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island's environment. Deforestation of the island's trees gradually increased, and as this main resource was depleted, the islanders would find it hard to continue making rope, canoes, and all the necessities to hunt and fish, and ultimately, support the culture that produced the giant stone figureheads. Apparently, disagreements began to break out (with some violence) as confidence in the old religion was lost, and this is reflected partly in the ruins of moai which were deliberately toppled by human hands. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, and the residents—with little food or other ways to obtain sustenance—resorted sometimes to cannibalism and a bare subsistence. Subsequent slave raids by countries such as Peru and Bolivia devastated the population even more, as did epidemics of western diseases, until barely a hundred native Rapa Nui were left by the late nineteenth century.
The island was annexed by Chile in 1888, though the inhabitants didn't receive full citizenship until 1966. Until those times the island was relatively isolated from mainland Chile and was leased to foreign companies for sheep farming. Regular flights to Santiago started in 1967 with the inauguration of the airport. Nevertheless the natives weren't too keen on becoming part of Chile, one of the reasons being that their traditional laws didn't allow for private property.
When democracy was re-established in Chile in 1986, the mainland authorities slowly started developing the island in the direction the natives wanted. In 2007 the Easter Island was given a special administrative status, together with the Juan Fernández Island.
Today, Rapa Nui National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its residents rely much on the tourism and economic links to Chile and daily flights to Santiago. As with many native peoples, the Rapa Nui seek a link to their past and ways to integrate their culture with the political, economic, and social realities of today.
Culture and traditions
Together with the natural beauty and the mystical archaeological remains, the people and their rich culture and traditions is another reason for visiting the Easter Island.
Dance and music are important cultural expressions, just like elsewhere in Polynesia. Traditional dance performances are frequent around the island, but the 10 day Tapati festival taking place each February is definitely the highlight in the island's cultural life. The festival is about ancestral ceremonies such as bodypainting (takona), recitation of epic tales and legends (riu) and competition downhill descent on banana tree logs (haka pei). It culminates in the election of the queen of the island, which takes place on the full moon of that month. Tourists are more than welcome to partake in the celebrations, though you should book your accommodation well ahead if you want to visit during that time as they sell out quickly.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The climate is humid subtropical, with the ocean keeping moderating the temperature differences between day and night and around the year. The average temperature around the year is 20.5°C, with the highest daily average of 23.7°C in February and lowest daily average in August at 18°C. Usually the temperature stays below 30°C and above 12°C; with the coldest temperature ever recorded being 3°C, and the hottest +36°C. The water temperature usually stays above 18°C.
Overall the rain is quite evenly distributed over the year, and humidity stays permanently above 80%. Another permanent thing are strong winds, usually coming in from northeast.
With just 48 plant species, the Easter Island has a poor plant diversity. It's explained by its remote location, the facts the island never had a connection with the mainland, waves come in predominantly from the west where the nearest coasts are even further away, and that migratory birds have carried relatively few plant seeds. As such its the settlers that have brought in new plants, deliberately and by accident. Local legend tell about Polynesian settlers bringing in seeds and plants to grow food for themselves and their livestock.
There are few endemic plant species. Fifteen types of fern grow here, four of which are endemic. Perhaps the signature plant is the hau hau (triumfetta semitriloba), a shrub in the tiliaceae family that according to studies grew here already about 35,000 years ago. Back in the day, fishermen used it to make nets.
The landscape is mostly grassland, with species of poaceae (grass), cyperaceae (sedges) and asteraceae (asters). Eucalyptus trees imported from Australia have been planted in an attempt to create eucalyptus forests. Several species of potatoes are grown for food. Sensitive plants can't really be grown here because of the windy climate, and farmers have taken some creative measures to protect their plants from the winds. One example include banana trees growing in calderas of extinct volcanoes.
The fauna too has been mostly influenced by the presence of humans on the island. Studies have shown that 25 land animal and six bird species lived here before human colonization. All of them are now extinct, and out of the original marine life just one species has survived.
Intentionally introduced species include horses, sheep, cows and pigs. Polynesian settlers brought with them Polynesian rats (rattus exulans) for food, Europeans in turn the brown rat which was more successful and made the former extinct.
The one reptile species living here is the ablepharus boutonii, named moco in the local language. It's a light brown skink, usually about 12 cm in length. There's also a sea snail species living just here and on the Sala y Gómez island, cypraea englerti, named after German missionary Sebastian Englert who lived and worked on the island from 1935 until his death in 1969.
The island is formed as a triangle with the sides 16, 17 and 24 km in length. Formed through volcanic activity, the three corners of the island are inactive volcanoes. In the north is Maunga Terevaka, the highest point of the island rising 511 m above sea level. The eastern corner is Puakatiki, 377 m ASL and the main volcano of the island. Finally, in southwest Rano Kau with a height of 324 m. Other important hills are Rano Aroi and Rano Raraku.
Overall the whole island is made up of hills and slopes and the coasts are steep and rocky.There are many tiny islets along the coast, except the coast in front of Hanga Roa and Anakena, where there are proper beaches. The vegetation comprises grassland and palm trees, the big forests that once covered the island have been gone for centuries.
The capital Hanga Roa is in the southwestern corner of the island and home to almost 90% of the its population. The rest of the inhabitants live in huts scattered around the island but much of it is practically uninhabited. Avenida Policarpo Toro, the main street of Hanga Roa is lined by shops, lodging, restaurants and the island's only pharmacy. Attractions include an museum about the Easter Island and the town's Catholic church which is an important meeting place. There are several Internet cafés in town as well as an ATM.
Far west from the mainland, the time zone is two hours behind mainland Chile meaning UTC-6 in the winter and UTC-5 in the summer (daylight saving time) from September to April - the DST change takes place simultaneously with the mainland.
As the island is part of Chile, the government language is Spanish. The indigenous people speak the Rapa Nui language (sometimes called Pascuan or Pascuense), a Polynesian language closely related to Māori and Tahitian.
Due to the isolation for more than a millennium, the language has developed in a different way and there are just a few words that are common with other Polynesian languages. Still, for the natives it's easier to learn for instance Tahitian than Spanish. They are one of the few indigenous peoples that have kept using their traditional language in everyday life and you can hear it spoken both publicly and on private occasions. Interestingly, rapa nui is pronounced pretty much as Spanish, though it has just 10 consonants including one mute consonant ʻ.
While Spanish is an official language (as elsewhere in Chile), many locals only learn Spanish at school and regard it as a foreign language. People working in the tourist industry are often proficient in English and/or French and occasionally German.
Some words in rapa nui
- Hello: Iorana
- Thank you: Maururu
- How are you (sg.)?: Pehe koe
- How are you (pl.)?: Pehe kōrua
- Good: Riva
- Yes / No: E é / Ina
Easter Island had the same visa requirements as the rest of Chile. This was tightened in 2018 in an attempt to protect the natural environment and island heritage from an influx of voyagers. Maximum stays were limited to 30 days (instead of 90) with requirements that visitors fill out a special form, show return tickets and provide a copy of a hotel reservation or letter of invitation from an islander.
- 1 Mataveri International Airport (IPC IATA) (at Hanga Roa in the southwest of the island). The island's only airport, with non-stop service from Santiago. It's right next to Hanga Roa, with the town core a 15 minutes walk away. Built in 1967, Mataveri is the passenger airport furthest away from the next one (Mangareva in French Polynesia, 2603 km away). From 1986 to the canceling of NASA's space shuttle program in 2011, this was an emergency landing site for space shuttles.
As of December 2022 the only scheduled passenger services are two flights a week from Santiago on LATAM, taking about 5 hours. With no competition for fares on a lengthy flight, fares are expensive. As there are no longer any flights from Tahiti, the Easter Island isn't even "conveniently located" on a South Pacific crossing by plane. They may be reintroduced in the future. If leaving the island for a non-Chilean airport, there used to be a small exit fee.
Coming from Santiago, it is a good choice to reserve seats on the left side of the airplane. Easter Island's runway has a west-east orientation. Even though the plane comes from Chile (to the east), it is likely it will circle the north portion of the island and land from the west, so seating at the left side (both landing and taking off) will give you a great view of the island.
If you want to take the intrepid route Tallship Soren Larsen sails to Easter Island from New Zealand once a year. The voyage takes 35 days, crossing the point on earth furthest from land.
Trans-Pacific cruises occasionally visit the island, cruise ships anchor at a distance and visitors are shipped to the island on tender boats. Be prepared for rough seas.
A still more exotic way to arrive is with the Chilean Navy that makes two supply trips from Valparaíso to the island every year, generally in May and September. If they have space onboard they can take a few passengers. It's cheaper than flying, but don't expect the seven day sailing to be a luxury one, and you need to sail back on the same ship (leaving you a couple of days on the island) or have flight tickets out. Contact the Commander of the First Naval Zone (Primera Zona Naval) in Valparaiso if you're interested.
Ocean sailors can sail their own craft to the island. The nearest inhabited islands are the Pitcairn Islands, equally isolated but just accessible by boat.
Easter Island is small, though there are just a few roads, the terrain is hilly and not all paths are marked. Only streets in Hanga Roa and the road to Anakena are paved. There are rental cars, generally jeeps, available from a few rental agencies in Hanga Roa, as well as a few dirtbikes.
The most common point of entry is Mataveri airport next to Hanga Roa. There shouldn't be any problems walking to your hotel from there. Indeed there may even be someone from the hotel to meet you at the airport. The other option is taxi, a trip to anywhere in Hanga Roa shouldn't cost more than 1500 pesos, for other locations on the island you should negotiate the price with the driver.
Getting around by tour can be an efficient way to visit the archaeological sites, tours to all the notable sites usually take two days (meaning a stay three nights or more). See the Do section for details.
With a car, it's possible to explore the island at your own pace, even see the main sites on the island in a day or all in two. Most hosts will also rent out their jeep to you (at a very competitive rate) if you ask. You will not get insurance with your car hire, and any damage will be charged from your credit card. Check the vehicle carefully for already existing damages beforehand, especially when renting from someone else than an official rental agency! It's best to rent a terrain vehicle - which is what most rental cars are (and they usually have manual gearbox).
When driving, watch out for livestock - cows and horses can often be encountered on roads both day and night. There's no street lighting outside Hanga Roa, and just the town's streets and the main road to Poike peninsula are paved.
There are no micros or colectivos that you would find in mainland Chile. The only way to be driven (other than by tour) is by taxi, and while taxis are readily available it's rather expensive compared to other ways of getting around.
Bicycles can be rented on a daily basis. But as mentioned above, aside from the main paved roads in Hanga Roa or the single smooth paved road to Anakena, roads to many main sites are of dirt and sometimes quite uneven and potholed, so the benefit of a car cannot be overstated for some parts of the island. In addition the terrain is demanding, and you can expect strong wind, heat and high humidity, so biking outside Hanga Roa is more of an adventure than a practical way of getting around.
For motor scooters and motorbikes, a valid driver's license specifically for these vehicles is required. Otherwise, driver's licenses for cars will allow the use of cars or 4x4 quad bikes.
Places closer to town (like Rano Kau, Tere Vaka, Ahu Akiwi) are easily accessed by foot. If heading out in the wilderness, tell your host where you're going just in case.
The #Do section below has some suggestions for trekking.
Some example prices (all in Chilean pesos):
- Bicycle (24 hours): 10 000, (8 hr): 8000
- Motor scooter (8 hr): 23 000
- Small Jeep/car (8 hr): 20 000
- Larger cars (8 hr): 25 000-40 000
One reliable, friendly, and relatively cheap rental location is "Paomotors", found next to Supermarket Eixi. It seems the closer you get to Farmacia Cruz Verde, the higher the prices for various rentals.
It's not an exhaustive list. Allow for a week to explore the island thoroughly with the mode of transportation you like - by foot, horse, bike, scooter, car, quad...
To visit for instance Rano Raraku and Orango you need to buy a national park ticket. You can buy it at the airport of the CONAF airport. The same ticket is valid for all sites that require a ticket to enter, so don't loose it. Other sites can be visited freely.
Virtually all of the ahus are arond the coast. There are a lot of them, and depending on the time of the year and of the day you might get a site all for yourself to explore.
Moai and ceremonial sites
The biggest tourist attractions on Easter Island are, of course, the moai. The moai are archaeological features and should be treated with care as they are far more fragile than they seem. Often moai will be placed upon ceremonial platforms and burial sites called ahu. Do not walk on the ahu as it is an extremely disrespectful gesture. Even if you see others walking on the ahu, do not do so yourself.
Most of the sites require a park pass which can be purchased online and a local registered guide (effective February 2023 - contact your property rental contact who should have a list of guides that you can connect with through WhatsApp) to escort visitors, and are found along the coastline of the island. First-time visitors may be struck by how many archaeological sites there are around the island, where you can be virtually alone as the only people visiting. Each village or clan typically had an ahu if not several moai, and thus on a drive around the south coast of the island, every mile contains several sites where you might see ruins.
1 Orongo. in the south of the island is a village of a 30 or so boathouses on the edge of a cliff next to the Rano Kau volcano. It faces the Motu Nui and Motu Iti islets, where the birdman ceremony took place. This restored site has a large number of petroglyphs depicting among others the god Make Make. Entrance with the same ticket as to the other sites that costs to enter. From Orongo there are views to the islets of 2 Motu Nui. , 3 Motu Iti. and 4 Motu Kau Kau. .
At the eastern end of the airport runway is the 5 Ahu Vinapu. , a platform made of stone blocks that fit perfectly together, all the other ahus on the island are more or less coarse with gaps between the blocks. Entrance with the same ticket as to the other sites that costs to enter.
Along the northern coast there are further ceremonial centers. At 10 Ahu Tepeu. you can see the remains of hare paenga, ancient settlements that have an elliptical form. Near it is the 11 Ahu Akivi. which is unique in two ways - the only ahu inland and the only with the moais looking towards the sea. The five standing moais have been very well preserved.
Further east is a large concentration of ahus, including the biggest one 12 Ahu Tongariki. with 15 moais surrounded by other archaeological remains and petroglyphs. This ahu measures almost 150 m in length and 4 m in height. Entrance with the same ticket as to the other sites that costs to enter.
Nearby is the crater of Rano Raraku, similar to Rano Kau but the main quarry of the island. Here you can see the very largest moais, though there were never finished and as such stand as an exemple of the rapid collapse of the native society. It described in the Volcanoes section.
In addition to these, there are many more ahu sites along the coast.
Two exceptional sites are the volcanic craters of Rano Kau and.
15 Rano Kau. is the largest crater on the island, 1600 m across, and contains the largest freshwater lake/marsh on the island. It marks the southwestern corner of the island.On its lip at the point where sea cliffs and crater cliffs meet is the sacred village of Orongo, once the destination of the race that formed the heart of the birdman cult and an incredible viewpoint to see the islets of Moto Nui and Rano Kay and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Every part of the rocks at Orongo are carved with birdman motifs, and the views are spectacular.
The slightly inland quarry at 16 Rano Raraku. is where most of the moai were carved, out of the hillside of the volcanic rock. This 91 m (300 foot) volcano remnant provided the stones for most of the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as scattered partially-finished figures. The approach takes you past several moai partially buried on the outer slopes - some with only their heads above ground. Rano Raraku also contains the very largest moai, far larger than any that were completed and transported around the island. A climb to the left side of the crater, over the top, and into the bowl, is well worth it. Hiking to the opposite lip of the crater, where the most moai are found, is one of the most dramatic sites on the island. Ahu Tongariki nearby is the largest ahu. Entrance with the same ticket as to the other sites that costs to enter.
Both Rano Kau and Rano Raraku are the remains of volcanic cinder cones and contain fresh rainwater fed lakes. The entry fee is US$80 for the two sites (see the National Park section below). Make sure you keep your ticket. For hikers Rano Kau is a pleasant day trek from Hanga Roa, it is possible to trek from town to the lip of the crater and down to the edge of the lake. If guava are in season one can graze on feral guava as one walks through the guava scrub.
- 17 Mount Tere Vaka. Another extinct volcano, the highest elevation on the island with great views.
- 18 Poike. The third "corner" of the island, and extinct volcano featuring the smallest moai (1.13 m in height).
- 19 Puna Pau. From the crater of the Puna Pau volcano, material for the pukao, the red hats of the moai statues was excavated. One can still see unfinished pukaos in the crater. Entrance with the same ticket as to the other sites that costs to enter.
In Hanga Roa
Any trip of the island begins at Hanga Roa. The town contains many of the services on the island but also has a couple of interesting sites.
- 20 Iglesia Santa Cruz. Parish church where the local traditions are fused with Catholicism (songs, sculptures). Every Sunday there's a Mass at 10:00, gathering the whole community and worth visiting.
- 21 Pater Sebastian Englert anthropologic museum, ☏ , [email protected]. An interesting collection of the Rapanui culture and history. Visits need to be booked beforehand by e-mail or phone.
At the 22 Caleta de pescadores. (Fishermen's cove) with its colorful boats you can have a look at an important part of the island's economy and there you can see some moais as there's an ahu next to the cove. Another cove where you can see fishermen working is the 23 Hanga Piko. .
- 24 Tau Kiani botanical garden, Ara Piki. Garden with 1200 flowers and plants from all over the world but with a focus on Polynesia's native flora.
Rapa Nui National Park
The 1 Rapa Nui National Park covers several areas of the island. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most (if not all) of the sites you will visit on the island are inside the National Park, so you will need a ticket to enter them. Tickets can be bought at the entrance, but the most practical choice is to buy them at the airport. Right after you leave the plane and before you reach the baggage claim area, you will find a booth selling tickets. Price is US$80 per person. Park tickets are usually not included in tour packages. The park is open from 9:00 to 18:00, from December to March to 19:00.
Pay attention to how the ticket works: you can only enter once at Rano Raraku (the quarry) and once at Orongo (the village at the top of Rano Kau crater). If you want to enter those areas again, you need to buy another ticket. All other areas (Anakena beach, Ahu Tongariki, etc.) you can enter as many times as you want, but you will be asked for your ticket. So keep it with you at all times.
At the entrances of the park, you will find rules for tourists. It is forbidden to walk away from the path, to climb on the statues, to pick up rocks, and other actions that may seem obvious for most tourists. These rules are important because they help preserve the statues and the landscape, as weather and erosion are already wearing them away. At Rano Raraku, following the path is also important because some moais are buried, and you may be stepping on (and damaging) one if you leave the path. So if you find animals on the way (like horses or cows), just wait for them to move. There are security personnel at the sites and they do pay close attention to what tourists are doing. If you follow the rules, you will have no problem and you may even talk to them and find they are very polite and interested in where you are from. But if you misbehave, you may be expelled and/or charged a fine.
Recovery areas such as the Poike Peninsula and Terevaka may only be accessed on foot or on horseback to protect the trees that have been planted there. Most of the west coast can't be accessed by vehicle as there are no roads.
While mostly thought of as a cultural and natural destination, Easter Island features two white sand beaches where you can tan and swim for instance. 1 Anakena beach. , on the north side of the island, is an excellent shorebreak bodysurfing location with a bit of north swell. Even the 2.5 cm (1 in) waves barrel (it's also possible to surf in the harbor at Hanga Roa and many of the locals do so). It can be described as a postcard-perfect place with its white sands and cocos palms overlooked by moai.
The second beach is a hidden gem called 2 Ovahe beach. . Found along the southern shore of the island near Ahu Vaihu (along the road from Hanga Roa to Ahu Akahanga), this beautiful and desolate beach is much larger than that at Anakena and is surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. A special phenomenon on Ovahe occurring every few years is large waves washing away the sand and smaller waves washing it back ashore little by little. Note of caution: the path leading down to the beach is somewhat treacherous and unstable and best reached by foot - driving off-road (contrary to the misguided and somewhat callous actions of some tourists) on most of the island is illegal anyway. Some sources recommend staying overnight in a cave near Ovahe but you should not do this as water may enter caves. Indeed it's a bad idea moving about in this terrain after dark without a guide.
In addition, north of Hanga Roa there are several small beaches a short walk away from the hotels.. One can surf also at the Hanga Roa port, something that many locals do. There's a small parking lot, cabins to change clothes (carries a usage fee), some small bbq joints with fresh drinks and a communal picnic area.
Scuba diving and snorkeling is popular near the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti (well known for "the bird man culture") which are located about 1 km south of the island. There are three shops where it is possible to rent the equipment and from there get on a guided tour to the islets: Atariki Rapa Nui, Orca and Mike Rapu Diving. You can see beautiful corals and sea turtles, especially near fishing boats
An often overlooked but particularly fascinating and "otherworldly" aspect of Easter Island is its extensive cave systems. While there are a couple of "official" caves that are quite interesting in their own right, there is also real adventure to be had in exploring all of the numerous unofficial caves on the island, most of which are found near 3 Ana Kakenga. One of the caves here is the 4 Caverna de Dos Ventanas. (the cave with two windows).
While the openings to most of these caves are small (some barely large enough to crawl through) and hidden (amid a rather surreal lava strewn field that has been likened to the surface of Mars), many of them open up into large and inhibitingly deep and extensive cave systems. Note of caution: these caves can be dangerous in that quite a few run extremely deep. A person left without a torch/flashlight will be immersed in utter blackness with little hope of finding their way out soon, if ever. The caves are also extremely damp and slippery (the ceilings in some have collapsed over time from water erosion). Go with someone who knows their way around.
The site near 5 Ana Te Pahu. contains several caves, some large, some narrow. Some are hard to find, but you can't miss Ana Te Pahu (you follow the road from the entrance and soon you'll find signs). At the entrance, you'll find steps that take you down to an open area. From there, you can take a left to explore narrow (and dark) caves. If you are not feeling that adventurous, the cave to the right is worthy a visit. It has another opening some 50 m ahead, so you don't need a strong flashlight (your cell phone light will do, or even you can wait until your eyes get accustomed to the low light). After this second opening, you can turn around and return to Ana Te Pahu's entrance, or follow another system of narrow and dark caves.
Another famous cave is the 6 Cueva de las vírgenes (Ana O Keke). on the Poike peninsula in the northeast.
The island is also famous for its beautiful nature. You can explore the hills by foot or horse. A common trek is up the 7 Maunga Terevaka. , the highest point of the island at 507 m ASL, for a view of the whole island. It takes about 1.5 h to get up from Ahu Akivi, and another hour to get back down, alternatively you can reach the summit from Vaitea. If you prefer to go with a guide, there are guided treks every day, weather permitting.
The Poike peninsula in the east is characterized by its wild nature and requires a full day or two to explore in full. According to legend, during the collapse of the civilization, a battle were fought between the two social groups of the island, Hanau Momoko and Hanau Eepe. Here you can see a big ditch visible from that time which was intended as a mass grave but not used.
Rano Kau is easily accessible by foot, once you've reached the foot of the volcano, take the path to the eastern side to see fantastic sceneries that you cannot see by vehicle.
The hike from Anakena beach along the northeastern coast to Hanga Roa is a true voyage in solitude - the likelihood to meet livestock is higher than meeting other people. Bring enough water and snacks. At Hanga Oteo you will see a farmhouse set between a high hill and the ocean. You will also see fireplaces about 1 meter in height made of stones that provide shelter from the wind. A word of warning: the rocky surface isn't too comfortable for your ankles.
There are a few tour companies that do guided tours to Easter Island, a wonderful way to explore the best of the island and its culture without having to worry about breaking any local rules. A well-respected tour guide can show you aspects of the location and culture that you might otherwise never see or understand. Tour are usually half-day (3h) or full day (6-7h) and tours are given in Spanish and English, occasionally in French, German or Portuguese.
A great option is to make a reservation for a tour on the first day you arrive, and then rent a vehicle for the next days and explore the island by yourself.
- Aku Aku Turismo, ☏ . Tour operator mainly for Spanish speaking groups. Their office is near the reception of Hotel Manutara.
- Kia Koe Tour, ☏ , . The largest tour operator, in business since 1984, with its office on the main street. There are group tours or private tours for your party in English, Spanish, French and German. They also have offer charter and cruise services.
- Mahina Tour, ☏ , . One of the older operators, specializing in tours in French.
- Rapa Nui Travel, ☏ . Tour operator mainly for German groups.
In addition the tourist information may help you get in touch with freelance tour guides. That said most of the guides work for tour operators. With freelance guides, confirm the prices and what you will see and do on the tour beforehand.
Some tour operators described in travel guides don't exist any longer. Such businesses are often operated by foreigners that come to the island, function for a year or so, doing more marketing than guide work, and then leave.
Most, if not all of the commerce on this island occurs in the port town of Hanga Roa. There are a number of small shops geared toward tourists, as well as an open market. If you join an organized tour, expect to see the same souvenir-sellers at each site selling the same items; generally a plethora of moai-inspired trinkets. The island's currency is the Chilean peso, but, unlike on the mainland, transactions can be performed in US dollars. Very rarely euros can be used also, but don't expect any other currencies to be accepted including the CFA Franc of Tahiti.
Iconic souvenirs to bring home from the island are tikis (wooden statues), reproductions of rongo rongo (ancient scripts), moais and petroglyphs in rocks. When buying souvenirs it is best to use cash, and prices are often negotiable. While ATMs exist, it's a better idea to get bills and coins beforehand. Currency change is also non-existent. Often the vendors will have a very high minimum charge or will tack on a service fee for using a credit card (about 10-20%). This is only if the vendor accepts credit cards at all; many small vendors will only accept cash.
At least four ATMs are available on the island: one from Banco Estado on Tu'u maheke, Hanga Roa, which only accepts Cirrus, Maestro and MasterCard branded cards but not Visa. The other one inside the bank Santander, a bit further, on Policarpo Toro, which accepts Visa, Cirrus, Maestro and MasterCard. There's also an ATM in the departure hall of the airport, and also at least one at the gas station near the airport. The local bank can do cash advances against a Visa card, but the bank opening times are limited and the lines can be long.
Barter is common on the island, so if you're brave you can bring pieces of clothing and foodstuff (far from everything is available in the island) to swap with locals. Never bring medicines, with or without prescription for this purpose. Probably the easiest from the mainland, as opposed to from outside Chile (no customs hassle).
Eating out is considerably more expensive than in mainland South America because of the island's isolation - many ingredients cannot be sourced locally and need to be transported over long distances. Even in cheap restaurants appetizers start at US$20.
There are around 25 restaurants catering to tourists on the island. A few can be found close to the dock in Hanga Roa, with a few others scattered in the surrounding areas. As a result of the increased number of tourists, some of the restaurants may be a kind of "tourist trap," so don't hesitate to ask your guide or your host for advice where to go. There are not that much differences in what the restaurants offer, as most of the food on the island needs to be imported.
The big exception is fish and seafood, which is a central part of the island's cuisine. The most common fish is tuna, and there are a wide range of dishes including this fish. Local tuna is known for its white meat and is delicious. There are two species of lobster; the larger is known as normal lobster and the smaller is locally named "rape rape". However, there are restrictions on lobstering because of overfishing concerns and therefore it may not always be on the menu. Octopus is also common.
Chilean empanadas are widely available also. Vegetables and fruits growing on the island include sweet potatoes, avocados, guavas and bananas and many dishes include these. A specialty is the banana cake po'e. There are also a few "supermarkets" where visitors can pick up snacks, limited sundries, booze, etc.
Like the souvenir vendors on the island many restaurants do not accept credit cards or will have a high minimum charge. Also tipping is appreciated but should be done in moderation, usually spare change or less than 10% works.
Those on a backpacker's budget or seeking simple food can try the following options:
- next to the main Kai Nene supermarket is an empanada shop, where a variety of cheap and tasty made-to-order on the spot empanadas can be had, prices are in the 1,200-2,500 pesos range, including Atun y queso, camarones, champignons, etc. Closes 20:00?
- at the end of the main street walking towards the east, are several food stands, which prepare hot dogs with many toppings, chicken sandwiches, to slightly more elaborate meals such as mashed potatoes and steak, in a pleasant outdoor seating area. 1,200-3,000 pesos. Open until 22:00.
- 1 Empanadas Tía Berta, Atamu Tekena (main street). Different empanadas ready or made to order. Try our one with tuna.
- 2 Club Sandwich, Te Pito o Te Henua. Specializing in sandwiches but they have great empanadas as well. They have good banana and orange juice. Not open for breakfast.
- 3 Mahina Tahai, Atamu Tekena. Makes a classical menu with bread, butter, soup, fish, rice, juice and dessert.
- 4 Aringa Ora, Av Hotu Matu'a s/n con Atamu Tekena s/n. This restaurant, one of the largest, is easily recognised because of the two Moai facsimiles that stand either side of its front door. Its location at the southern end of the main road and its simple and low-price dishes mean its often quite busy.
You can also go to a local bakery and make your own sandwiches. There are also some grocery stores and supermarkets in town for self-catering.
- 5 Mamma Nui. A family-operated restaurant with traditional cuisine. They specialize in tunu ahi (food prepared on hot stones).
- 6 Tataku Vave. A bit away from the main tourist drag. They specialize in lobster and the cuisine, service and views are comparable to the finest restaurants but at a lower price.
- 7 Te Ra'ai. Outside town, it offers a package with transportation from your hotel and back, a Polynesian dance show with Brazilian influences and dinner. As it's a really popular place, you should make reservations beforehand.
- 8 Te Moana. The tuna sandwich is particularly good. A live band is often playing on Wednesdays and the weekends. Get to Te Moana early or it is likely that you will not get a table.
- 9 Kuki Varua, Atamu Takena. A new restaurant with all the classics to be found on the island at good prices, plus an excellent value Menu del dia (starter, main course and fruit juice for 9,000 pesos). Service and food are excellent.
- 10 Hetuu Restaurant (Hetu U), ☏ . 10:00-23:00. Great food and staff. Try the shrimp, tuna, and sopaipillas. US$15-40.
- 11 Kotaro, Cam. Vaitea Anakena. Great Japanese restaurant, it's a small place entirely operated by one chef. You need to make a reservation. According to its website, children are not welcome.
- 12 La Kaleta. Great food and splendid ocean view. It has the reputation as the best restaurant on the island with prices to match.
- 13 La Taverne du Pêcheur. A small restaurant in the port section of the village held by a resident of Rapa Nui who lived for some time in French Polynesia. Very good seafood, the most expensive restaurant on the island. Some consider it to be a lot of money for not much value.
- 14 Au bout du Monde. A nice Belgian restaurant overlooking the sea. Pretty expensive but the seafood is really good. During certain nights, you can also watch a Polynesian dance for an hour or so. It costs 10,000 pesos but it is definitely worth it.
The nightlife is not too lively. The principal attraction in this respect is the shows of traditional Polynesian dances in Hanga Roa. Restaurants 1 Kari Kari. on the main street, 2 Vai Te Mihi. neat the cemetery and Te Ra'ai (see the Eat section) outside town are places to see these shows during much of the year. There are tourist shows mostly on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
Pisco, a hard alcohol made from fermented grapes, is the unofficial drink of the island though it originates on the mainland. Try a pisco sour, which is pisco mixed with lemon juice. There are also versions with papaya, mango or guava. Another common cocktail is the piscola - pisco and coke. Drinking pisco straight is possible, as it has less of a kick than vodka, although Chileans would not advise it.
The island has a brewery named Mahina, making pale ale and stout and the beer is both sold on the island and exported.
Relative to the size of the island, there's a large number of lodgings to choose from in all price classes. Nevertheless they tend to be higher than on the mainland as the cost of living is higher because most things need to be transported from the mainland.
There are three properties of international standard on the island. Most of the rest of the accommodations on Easter Island are "guest houses". Representatives of the guest houses will generally come to the airport to greet travellers who may wish to stay with them. Rates are usually quite reasonable. The proprietors of these guest houses will be happy to help you find places to eat, drink, hire cabs, and generally get around.
Some guest houses describe themselves as hotels, and certainly would pass for them elsewhere in the world. These hotels frequently have restaurants offering breakfast, and often dinner.
Finally, many locals rent out a room for guests. This may not have all the comforts of a hotel, but it will for sure be a memorable experience and allow you to get to know the local culture and life.
In Hanga Roa there are plenty of lodgings, starting at about $25 per person and night.
- 1 Petero Atamu, Petero Atamu s/n, Hanga Roa, ☏ , (mobile). Rooms of many types, transport to/from the airport, free Wi-Fi.
- 2 Inaki Uhi, Atamu Tekena, Hanga Roa, ☏ . A great place to stay on the main street in the centre of town, close to restaurants, supermarkets, pubs and services. There are 15 rooms with a variety of configurations with private bathroom and two self-contained apartments. Fully equipped kitchens are available for guest to prepare their own meals. Alvaro (the son) offer excellent full day tours in English mixing his own experiences, his grandfather's (former Major Pedro Atan) and his grandmother's (the oldest woman on the island) with facts and oral traditions. Four-wheel drive vehicles are also available for rent. Alvaro Atan Sr. (an islander) and his wife Isabel are the owners and they do a great job to keep guests feel at home. Prices are very reasonable and the place is very clean.
- 3 Tekarera Kainga Ora, ☏ . Cell. Excellent accommodation close to the center of the town, but not on the main street. It is a 2-bedroom 1-bath cabin/house with a fully equipped kitchen, a washer (for clothes), TV, and other amenities. Breakfast is included in the price (and very filling). The owner, Paul, knows English and Spanish (and some Rapa Nui) and has been living on the island for quite some time, and even helped out with the restoration of a group of moais. Paul also gives tours, and it is highly recommended. A discount can be obtained for booking the cabin/house along with the tours, and also if it is off season. Perfect for families, couples, or friends. Price is reasonable, around US$100 a night depending on exchange rate for 2 people.
- 4 Kona Tau, Avaraipau, Hanga Roa, ☏ . A very nice hostel, and quite cheap taking the island in mind (10 000 pesos per night). The rooms are very basic, as is the breakfast. Scooters are rented out and they have a table football game. One of the guys employed at the hostel (he mainly cleans) cooks cheap empanadas (1000 pesos) most nights. They offer free airport pick up and upon arrival, they have pretty leis for you.
- 5 Tupa Hotel, Sebastian Englert, Hanga Roa, ☏ , [email protected]. A larger 30-room hotel with a spectacular ocean view, two blocks from the main street. Free breakfast and hotel transport and free wifi in the lobby. The hotel staff can easily arrange for private tours and excursions throughout the island. They are constantly running price specials for different seasons.
Another alternative if you are traveling with family or groups is to stay in cabanas.
- 6 Cabanas Morerava, Vai Kia Kia SN, ☏ . Nice architecture, clea,n spacious, Hot water from solar panels, ecological. Four cabanas with BBQ area, WiFi and bicycles for the guests. They offer free airport pick up and upon arrival. Book up in advance. They can help you with tours and car rentals.
Pitching a tent is illegal anywhere on the island, except on the one camping grounds and on private property with permission of the owner.
- 7 Camping Mihinoa, Avenida Pont, Hanga Roa (at the sea). The only camping on the island is in town as well, on the coast just south of downtown. You can rent tents too.
Average hotels sometimes use the adjective "superior", mostly meaning the rates are higher. Many of these claim to be "close to the beach". They would then refer to the small beaches in Hanga Roa, rather than the famous Anakena Beach, 20 km north of town (where you will find no hotels as its part of the nature reserve).
- 8 Hotel Iorana. One of the older hotels, associated with Kia Koe Tour.
- 9 Hotel Gomero. Near the main street, this hotel is also associated with Kia Koe Tour.
- 10 Hotel O'Tai, Te Pito o Te Henua, ☏ , [email protected]. One of the most popular hotels, across from the post office. Forty rooms, all with air conditioning, private terrace, and ensuite bathroom. Beautiful gardens, lovely pool, nice people. A range of prices depending upon the room.
- 11 Hotel Manutara. Calm location, associated with Aku Aku Turismo.
- 12 Hotel Puku Vai, ☏ . Associated with Kia Koe Tour and offers discounted packages if you book tours with them.
- 13 Hotel Rapa Nui, Avareipua s/n, ☏ , . Single, double and triple rooms. Rates include breakfast and Internet.
- 14 Tauraa Hotel, Atamu Tekena, Hanga Roa, ☏ . Very clean guest house, less than 5 minutes from the airport. Bill and Edith are very nice to talk to, and they can talk about the island for hours. Good breakfast, different everyday. Together with the hotel is a tour company, which offers visits of basically the whole island in 2 days. A bit on the pricey side however, US$150 per night.
- 15 Explora, Camino Vaitea-Anakena s/n (6 km outside town). The most expensive and luxurious hotel by far, and the only one outside of Hanga Roa. While this means that you won't be bothered by the noise of the town, it also means you need to take a tour or other transportation to get anywhere else. Has a restaurant and a bar. rates from USD 2500.
- 16 Hotel Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa, ☏ . Perhaps the island's grand old hotel, that has been "renovated to international standards". However it's a bit impersonal or similar to hotels elsewhere in the world (but with higher rates).
- 17 Hotel Altiplanico, Lote E Sector Hinere, ☏ , [email protected]. Has a pool and Wi-Fi in common areas. USD 350.
The island has a pharmacy and a hospital that can emergencies and accidents. Serious cases and rare ailments require transportation to the mainland which will take several hours.
This means it's even more important to avoid risks and follow instructions. Not all caves and similar places that are dangerous are signposted as such. When in doubt, contact the CONAF staff or don't go there.
There are stray dogs but they're not aggressive, and you just need to raise your voice and gesticulate to get them to leave.
The native people have great respect for their traditions and culture and as a visitor you should never make fun of these. They also don't like to be referred to as Chileans - while they do share some cultural traits nowadays, they still identify with their island heritage (and after all, the island is really far away from the mainland). At the archaeological sites, don't walk where it's disallowed and don't touch or move anything. These are holy places to the native people and you will be fined if caught. Overall, the influx of tourists in the 21st century has made many locals uncomfortable so the least you can do is to behave respectfully.
There are Internet cafés on the island, many lodgings offer Wi-Fi and there Chilean government has set up some free Wi-Fi spots in Hanga Roa, named Zona ChileGob.
Entel is the sole mobile phone operator, and their network only covers Hanga Roa, and even there the network is not as reliable. Of course, a satellite phone is your other option. The Chilean post operates here, so why not send a postcard (or several) from a exotic place with a moai stamp?
As of late 2022, the only scheduled passenger planes are the LATAM services to and from Santiago, twice a week. For more eccentric options, consult the Get in section.
If you've managed to sail to Easter Island on your own, a logical next stop would be the infamous Pitcairn Islands (of "Bounty" mutiny fame), one of the island's "nearest" neighbors and another contender for "most isolated", with no air access and little tourism at all.