Easter Island (Spanish: Isla de Pascua, Polynesian: Rapa Nui)
Easter Island is one of the most isolated
islands on Earth (located 3,700 km (2,300 miles) off the west
coast of Chile) with a 5 hour flight to get
there. Early settlers called the island "Te
Pito O Te Henua" (Navel of The World).
Officially a territory of Chile, it lies
far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway
to Tahiti. It is most famous for its enigmatic
giant stone statues, built centuries ago,
which reflect the history of the dramatic
rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian
This bit of triangular land, which was born
in the Pacific Ocean as a result of consolidated
lava and ash from three volcanoes (now dormant
volcanoes), keeps in its coasts the most
advanced Polynesian culture. It is important
worldwide as the largest open-air archeological
museum, UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is
also one of the most mystifying places on
Earth, possessing a history that remains
as unclear as it is evocative.
Rapa Nui National Park protects the majority
of the important places. The Moai megaliths
attract scientists and scholars from all
over the world who try to discover the way
the natives transported those sculptures,
which were 250 – 300 tons each, from
the reservoir to their final place on the
Like those huge basalt sculptures, its hieroglyphic
script is also a non-deciphered mystery.
The past of Rapa Nui seems to have seesawed
from ancestor worship, monument building
and population growth, to deforestation and
food shortages, feudalism and in some cases
even cannibalism, and tells about great astronomic
All of the residents of Easter Island live
in the town of Hanga Roa, and it is an easy
day's drive from town around the island
in search of moai and ahu (the rectangular
stone platforms which moai were mounted on).
Aside from the main paved roads in Hanga
Roa and the single smooth paved road to Anakena,
roads to many main sites are of dirt and
quite uneven and potholed,
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.
Menus tend to be limited, as most of the
food on the island needs to be imported.
The range of fish is considerable but does
tend to arrive overcooked and dry.
Pisco, a hard alcohol made from fermented
grapes, is the unofficial drink of the island.
Try a pisco sour, which is pisco mixed with
lemon juice. 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. Tapati Festival
This important festival happens between January
and the first fortnight of February. 2 or
3 young women must compete with each other
and the winner is declared queen. They are
supported by their clan, families and friends,
who through their participation and winning
in the demanding artistic, sports and cultural
events, gain points for the overall score
of the young woman. The winner has the highest
score. The participation is massive –
we watched the dancing with some 180 dancers
on the stage for each candidate.
The biggest tourist attractions on Easter
Island are, of course, the archaeological
Moai which are often placed upon ceremonial
platforms and burials called Ahu. The sites,
which can be visited for free (with one exception),
are mostly found along the coastline of the
island. Each village 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
Two exceptional sites are the volcanic craters
of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku. The slightly
inland quarry at "Rano Raraku"
is where the moai carvings were born, out
of the hillside of the volcanic rock where
hundreds of labourers must have carved full-time.
This 300 foot volcano remnant provided the
stones for the great figures where you can
see various stages of the carving, as well
as scattered partially-finished figures.
A climb to the left side of the crater, over
the top, and into the bowl, is well worth
Similarly, Rano Kau is the remains of a volcanic
cinder cone, which like Rano Raraku, is filled
with fresh rainwater and has a mottled unearthly
appearance that is breathtaking.
Easter Island features two white sand beaches.
Anakena, on the north side of the island
and the second beach is a gem so hidden,
it doesn't even have a name. 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.
An often overlooked but particularily fascinating
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 Ana Kakenga. 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.
Also worth a stop is the Rano Kau. This is a Chilean National Park
site, so you will have to pay an entry fee
to really look around. Even without entering
the park, there is a great view of most of
the island from this vantage point.
The restored village of Orongo offers another
Easter Island mystery. The village sits in
a spectacular setting, between the volcano
of Rano Kao and a sheer cliff drop-off. Rocks
found at the village contain 150 carvings
showing figures with a man's body and
a bird's head. Anthropologists believe
they were part of a religious cult, but the
details on the "Bird Man" are still
Local handicrafts are for sale at most of
the historical sites.