Easter Island has stolen my heart. It is paradise, history, beauty & calmness all rolled into one.
“Blessed are the curious for they shall have Adventures”
We visited in April and it was beautiful sunshine (with the odd few showers), peaceful & quiet. The sights have quite literally been breath-taking and there have hardly been any other tourists to share with. We hired bikes and it felt like we were the only two people on the roads for miles. Talk about feeling free.
Brief History of Easter Island
The name Easter Island comes from the first recorded European visit to the island on Easter Sunday in 1722.
It is estimated that Easter Island was first colonised in 1200 AD with the first settlement being at Anakena. However, this has many contradictions and is only theory. According to the missionaries from 1860 the Rapa Nui had a hierarchy system. There was originally one high chief and nine other clans. The Moai constructed was believed to represent ancestors and important figures in the Rapa Nui community.
In total 887 Moai have been inventoried on the island. The Moai were quarried from the Ranu Raraku volcano and then transported to their final destinations. There is still no evidence as to the exact method used to transport the Moai. There are plenty of theories however.
It is written that the Rapa Nui had a strong connection with the dead and the spirt life. One story suggests that there was a magical woman who was able to command the Moai at her will. She was able to walk them all over the island. This also supports the theory that the Moai were physically ‘walked’ by rocking them back and forth.
From the 1700’s when the Dutch visited up to 1860 battles broke out for power over the island between the tribes. This led to the toppling of the statues in an attempt to gain control and diminish any spiritual power the statues represented. When the French missionaries arrived in 1860 there were no Moai left standing apart from those on the hillside of Ranu Raraku.
The power hierarchy then took place in ‘Birdman’ Competitions rather than through the Moai.
By this point the ecosystem was deteriorating due to deforestation and the introduction of the Polynesian rat. Between this, famine, slavery by Peru and disease the Rapa Nui population diminished drastically.
The population decreased to as little as just over 100 people. Although the population recovered the cultural knowledge was lost.
The Moai were erected at various different points around Easter Island. However, as I didn’t know the history beforehand, I was surprised to see that a great deal of them had been knocked over. Just bear this in mind when you go around to see all the sites on the map. As the majority have been knocked over they lay face down into the ground. The land has started to grow over them they have been there so long.
Please respect their wishes and not touch the structures. As little as a touch may seem, it will be contributing to the erosion of these structures. One of the park rangers told us that people STILL try and chip little parts of the Moai away to take home. Crazy, I know.
Arriving at Easter Island
You need to get a flight from Santiago (hence our stay in Chile) over to Easter Island. We used the airline LATAM and I would highly recommend them. I have found their flights and service to be really quite good and have booked them for other parts of my journey too. On Easter Island there is a LATAM office if you need them to assist you once you are there. If that is the case though, make sure you get down there early and get a ticket. They seem to be the only travel agents on the island, so it does get busy.
I didn’t have a window seat on my flight and, regardless of my neck craning abilities, I wasn’t able to see a lot on the way over. However, maybe that made the landing that much more of a surprise for me. I’m not sure what I expected but landing on a strip surrounded by such greenery was quite the shock. I had to wonder where the airport even was.
Once you get off the plane, make sure you get in the queue for your park tickets. This is the easiest and cheapest place to get them. You can use cash or card. I paid roughly £65 for a 10-day park ticket. This gives you access to the Moai sites as many times as you wish during the 10 days and 1 visit each to the Orongo Village and Rano Raraku Volcano.
We were met by the owner of the campsite and greeted with flower necklaces, making the experience that much more special.
Our camp site was literally two blocks away from the airport and we were just next to the town. We stayed at Camping y Hostal Tipanie Moana (check it out on Booking.com).
There are plenty of historical sites such as Tahai, Vinapu, Rano Kau & the caves that are within walking distance. There are also plenty of other means of transport available. We hired two bikes for 20,000 Chilean Pesos (around £25) for 24 hours. We used these for a day out to Anakena Beach which was well over a 20 mile bike ride. Another day we hired a moped for 24 hours at 30,000 Chilean Pesos (around £35). This came in handy when we were trying to visit lots of the smaller sites and wanted to quickly get from one site to the other.
There were options to hire quad bikes and cars but they got more expensive and I didn’t really find it necessary unless there are quite a few of you going. There are also tour operators available but again everything is so easy to get to that we didn’t feel like that was needed either. Unless you want to do a sunrise tour, then I would recommend using a tour company. There are plenty to choose from.
Walking along the shore & Tahai
If you take a walk down to the shore area you will find your first Moai. This is a great way to start your journey off. You will notice that all the Moai are cornered off understandably, but this is not always depicted in the pictures you see online. There are various ones dotted along the shore line and then a row of them at Tahai. This is a very popular place for tourists to come and watch the sunset at night. So pack a towel and a drink and get down there early for the best seat. It is a beautiful sight to see the sun setting behind these marvellous structures. In April the sunset was around 8:30 so we went down around 7:00pm and secured a good seat.
Also along the shore line is a small pool where you can go and swim with the sea turtles that turn up. They are not enclosed and can come and go freely. There is no charge for this but it can get quite busy.
There are plenty of shops and restaurants in this area and places that will take you scuba diving and on boat rides.
If you are staying in Hanga Roa, which is the main town area, then you are roughly a 2-3km walk to the Vinapu site. This is a really good one to start off with as not only are there the traditional Moai but there is also a rather interesting monolithic structure. This precise workmanship is unlike any of the others on Easter Island.
The amazing craftsmanship of this structure really needs to be appreciated with the eye and I highly recommend taking a visit here. Also if you have time, look up some of these structures (also found in Peru) as it will really make you think. Maybe become a little bit of a conspiracy nut too.
Rano Kau (Volcano) & Orongo Village
Another site which is within walking distance is the first of the volcanos; Rano Kau. You can walk to the bottom of the ‘Te Ara o te Ao’ Trail and hike up to the top through the very well directed trail. There are seats and view points on the way up to take pictures and this takes you straight to the crater. This view is truly something else. Pictures just don’t do the size justice. If you stood on one side of the crater you would be extremely hard to see from the other side. The top of the volcano was destroyed in an explosion.
This part of the experience requires no ticket. However if you head over to the village area of Orongo then you will be required to show your ticket and this will be your one visit here. This is filled with the huts and old living remnants of the Rapa Nui people and gives a brief description of the Birdman competition. Again, you need to stick to the paths and not touch any of the structures.
Rano Kau is also accessible by road and just before you reach the top there is an amazing view point over Hanga Roa Town. Here you can get a picture of the full island with the water on both sides.
Once you get to the signpost for Vinapu you can also go left up to Anakena Beach which is a further 16km. This is well worth the journey. Easy to bike but I wouldn’t recommend walking it. The beach is pristine, the only one on Easter Island they recommend swimming in (except for the sea turtles pool). It literally has everything you could want. Clear bright blue water, golden sand, palm trees & Moai. You can come to Anakena Beach as many times as you wanted. Get in that water, swim, sunbathe and relax. There are little places to eat and get a drink and there are toilets close by which you can use for 500 Chilean pesos.
Remember that the sun is really strong here! I kept my factor 50 on me. If you are going in the water with marine life I recommend The Green People Products.
On your journey back to town from Anakena Beach you must stop at Tongariki. This is one truly amazing site. The sheer size of the Moai lined up here is unbeatable. You can also get a view point of Rano Raraku Volcano on the other side but I would save that for a separate day as you are going to want to spend some time there.
There is also another beach close by, Ovahe, but you are not able to swim there and it is very rocky. An incredible sight nonetheless.
Rano Raraku Volcano
We took a trip back to Rano Raraku for a full day as this also uses your one time ticket entry. I highly recommend leaving this site to one of the last you do. Although each and every Moai and site is in itself beautiful, this is the number spot in my eyes. It is the quarry where all the Moai were dug from. You can even see some that were still in the middle of the process, in the side of the volcano, not yet fully completed. This is the place the most famous pictures are taken from. It is what we were expecting when we arrived at Easter Island, row and row of Moai dotted all over the place. You can get some amazing pictures here, I have never seen greens and blues so accentuated until I came to Easter Island.
You can take a walk up to the Crater to see the Volcano although it isn’t as breath-taking as Rano Kau.
If you carry on from Tahai you will be able to take a walk through the caves where you will find cave paintings and amazing views out to the ocean. The openings are a bit on the small side so make sure you duck down. Bring a torch and some good solid shoes. Although we did see one guy in his flip flops so it is not impossible.
This route will take you all the way up to Ahu Tepeu and I would only recommend walking this due to the rough terrain.
From Ahu Tepeu you can get to Ahu Akivi which is another row of Moai and a must see. However, if you don’t fancy walking that far you could leave Ahu Akivi for another day, possibly on bike.
Once you see a map of the island just remember that it is bigger than it seems. The trip back home from a site is always harder after a day in the sun and lots of adventure.
We stayed at Camping y Hostal Tipanie Moana and used their camping facilities. They also had rooms available if you didn’t fancy camping. Check out my camping essentials blog post.
There were however various places to stay and it seemed like more upmarket places were being built all over as tourism picks up. Our campsite, however, did have everything you needed. From hot showers to a kitchen area and Wi-Fi. The money we saved by staying here was 100% worth it. All the sites and the beauty of the island completely made up for camping 10 nights. It worked out well as the park tickets lasted for 10 days anyway.
We didn’t have to rush anything and we could really take the time to be in the moment (I really had to practice my mindfulness here). I had an overwhelming sense of peace and gratitude being at Easter Island. For anyone thinking of going, just do it, you wont regret it.
A word of warning – do no pet the dogs. They WILL follow you. I mean don’t even make eye contact with them. There is an abundance of stray dogs roaming the streets and if they latch on to you they will follow you for miles. We made this mistake on our first venture out and one dog followed us all the way to Vinapu and back. We didn’t even have any snacks to give him but he followed us nonetheless. They do seem well looked after though and must get food and water. They just spend their days following tourists around and barking at the cows. One dog even tried running after us on our bikes.
There are also wild horses and cows to admire on your journey around the island.
I would highly recommend Easter Island but secretly I want to keep it the little paradise that it is rather than being spoilt by too much tourism.