I thought I would start this blog as far away from home as I possibly could. And it doesn’t get much further away than Easter Island; deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I travelled to Easter Island from Chile back in October 2017 as I thought it would be absolutely incredible to see the magnificent Moai statues in their natural environment rather than just as part of an exhibition in the British Museum in London. It’s fair to say that it’s not the easiest place in the world to get to however, as this blog will go on to show, it’s well worth the time, effort and expense. Before we get into the ins and outs of travelling to Easter Island, let’s take a look at some of this wonderful spec-of-lands intricate, and sometimes confused, history.
As I mentioned, Easter Island is in the Southeastern Pacific Ocean at the south eastern most point of the Polynesian triangle located in Oceania. It’s said to be the world’s most isolated inhabited island and, in fact, it’s closest neighbour is its Chilean brother – the Juan Fernandez Islands – which lies some 1,850 km or, if you’re from the UK, 1,150 miles to the east. Yet while it may sit on it’s 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 it’s local name Rapu Nui – is home to nearly 8,000 residents, and despite its remote location, is part of Chile. Formed in the shape of a triangle (as the map below will give testiment) the island is a mere 14 miles long and seven miles wide, and its highest point, Mount Terevaka – one of five volcanoes on the island – stands just 600m above sea level.
Yet it’s not its barren environment that draws people to this far-flung corner of the globe; more the 887 Moai statues that litter its hilly landscape. Much has already been written about how these awesome, awe-inspiring Moai statues were created – and indeed transported – so I will not speak too much about that in this blog. Instead, I will focus on the practicalities of travelling to Easter Island and the main sites to see, places to eat and those that you can perhaps pass on. Enjoy.
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) and 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. Unlike the behemoth that is Santiago International Airport; Easter Island airport, as I will call it for ease, is no more than a mere wooden shack. Stepping off the 747 onto the tarmac for the first time is a memorable moment. Once down off the aircraft, visitors make their way over to the small terminal building.
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. Given that Easter Island is part of Chile there is no need to go through passport control. This means that arrivals to the island go very quickly through the airport and out on to the island itself. This process is helped by the fact that there is usually only one flight arriving each day and then one departing; making this one of the emptiest airports you’ll ever experience.
Other than the fact that flights only depart from two locations, the other issue with getting to Easter Island is the cost. Let’s be fair, it’s not cheap if you are factoring in travel to the mainland of Chilie as well. However, once you’ve arrived in Chile the cost to travel to Easter Island is actually manageable. On average a return trip to Easter Island from Santiago (based on October 2020 prices) could cost as little as £241 per-person for an economy class ticket.
The flight itself with LATAM airlines is a pretty smooth, easy and enjoyable one and given your destination, it’s money well spent. The usual layout of the plane is 3-3-3 seats across the aisle broken up by two gangways. The range of both food and in-flight entertainment is good, but not spectacular, although certainly more than enough to take you through the five hours that you travel across the Pacific Ocean. The films and TV programmes available are ones that you’ve probably already seen, but with one or two new releases to enjoy. Let’s be honest, the TV choices onboard are not really why you’d be going anyway.
Where to stay
Once you’re safely down on Easter Island there is actually a surprising choice of accommodation available ranging in price from campsites all the way up to luxury hotels catering for all price ranges. There are over 200 places to stay on Easter Island – with the vast majority in the island’s only main town (Hanga Roa).
To give you an idea, camping with Camping Tipanie Moana in October for seven nights could cost you as little as £128, while a luxury stay at Hotel Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa can set you back £4,732 for the week. The islands most expensive accommodation however is explora Rapu Nui which can cost an eye-watering £8,652 for a week in October.
With the latter two of these hotels well outside my budget, I plumped for the modest mid-range accommodation of Hotel Iorana; just two minutes from the airport by car and a brisk 20 minute stroll to the docks in Hanga Roa. Costing around £1,167 for a Superior Double Room for the week, Hotel Iorana isn’t one for those looking to travel on a shoestring budget, but it does provide an afforable base just outside of the town.
The downside of Hotel Iorana is that it may appear slightly simple. The rooms are plain wooden affairs with basic bathroom facilities and dated televisions. There is a rule at the hotel (that I believe stretches across the whole of Easter Island) that all toilet paper goes into the bin after use rather than down the toilet. While this may seem unhygienic there is a good reason for this due to the islands rather rudimentary plumbing systems.
There is also no available wifi in the rooms. To get online you have to sit in the reception area and try and connect to the patchy, intemitent signal there alongside the hotel’s other guests. Not a major issue but don’t expect to be streaming any films during your stay!
On the plus side, the hotel is well situated for the town and reception staff, in my experience, were thoughtful and helpful to my needs. The breakfast buffet options were also plentiful and catered for a wide range of tastes and preferences.
The hotel also boasts two outdoor swimming pools. One a ceramic pool by the hotel restaurant which affords a great view of the surrounding ocean, and the other a sea pool slightly sheltered by the rocks.
However, the best thing about this hotel is waking-up in the morning, opening the double-curtains onto the outside patio (all rooms are on a single floor) and stepping in to the fresh clean-air taking in the spectactular coastal views.
In such a small place you can imagine that getting around is pretty simple. Hanga Roa and a number of the Moai sites are walkable from all of the hotels but many visitors also decide to rent bicycles, off-road ATVs or even horses (you’ll notice many wild horses also roaming around the island although I’d advise against trying to mount any of those ones).
There are also regular taxis between Hanga Roa and hotels that can be booked for only a few Chiliean Pesos for the five minute journey.
During my stay I opted to rent a car, which I did from Insular Car Rental which is based on Atumu Tekena (a long road that leads from the airport to the centre of Hanga Roa).
There are a few things you’ll need to know before you rent a car here. The first of which 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 like I did, but, to put it in perspective, if you find yourself behind two cars while driving, that counts as a traffic jam! You’ll have a greater chance being kicked by a wild horse than you will of 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. My advice, just drive sensibly and you’ll be fine.
Parking, as you’d expect, isn’t an issue here. With no parking restrictions drivers can enjoy the entire island at their leisure and pull over to check the sights at their ease without having to buy parking tickets.
Finally, the cost. Most people renting a car here will settle for the compact Suzaki Jimny for a cost of 55,000 Pesos a day (approximately £60 per day).
It’s hard to narrow down the best sites on Easter Island and say some are better than others. 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 whole island in one trip. For the basis of this blog I will pick out some of my favourite must-sees from this incredible place.
The first, surprisingly, is actually the one that numerous visitors either, may not know exists or, may not be able to see. That’s because this Moai statue lies 22m below the surface of the ocean! However, as I’ll explain, those without PADI scuba diving qualifications don’t need to feel too let down about this given that it’s a fake.
Back in 1995, Kevin Costner made the film Water World. Around the same time he also co-produced a movie called Rapa Nui – which was, if you haven’t guessed it, about Easter Island. When this film went much 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 this 700-tonne beast? The answer; dump it on the ocean floor. This original underwater Moai eventually broke apart but the tourists liked it so much that one of the scuba companies decided to construct another – this one out of rock – and placed it closer to the harbor.
So while the origins of this statue are far less mysterious than those above the surface, it still makes for an amazing dive experience. There are a couple of dive school options along the harbor at Hanga Roa but the centre I chose to use was Mike Rapu Diving Centre. This relaxed dive school allowed me to rent all the equipment I required and took me to see the underwater Moai, as well as a submerged anchor.
Stepping back onto dry land, another must-see is the beautiful open sandy beach at Anakena. Located about 20 minutes drive away from Hanga Roa on the far east side of the island, Anakena offers visitors Easter Islands only sandy beach and what’s believed to be the landing spot for the original settlers to the island.
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. However, to get the best views of the beach and the open waters, I’d advise to get there first thing in the morning so you literally have this slice of paradise to yourself.
The waters are very clear and even wading out into the shallows, you’ll often be able to see a variety of fish (including small pufferfish) amongst the rocks.
Arriving at Anakena you’ll notice a small free car park just to the side of the beach which is adjacent to a number of outdoor restaurants and some basic toilet facilities (which I’ll add are not free of charge to use).
Once you’ve walked through the short walkway between the bars, below the trees, you’ll be out onto the beach itself. 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, sits the statues and often – on the grassy banks nearby – locals will rehearse, or perform, traditional dances for visitors to enjoy.
Finally after sampling all this beach has to offer, you should take time to grab some lunch and sample a fruit juice or two at one of the restaurants. Sitting back, sipping on a delicious drink, taking in the scenery and planning my next move for the day still remains one of my favourite memories from this place.
The next stop for all Easter Island travellers is the incredible Ahu Tongariki. This is the first place I’ve 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 and since December 8, 1995, the Rapa Nui National Park was declared a UNESCO Global Heritage site. As such, tickets are required to gain entry to the main sites. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office located at the airport entrance gallery, during flight arrival times, at the central office located at Atamu Tekena Street (next to the Cruz Verde pharmacy) or at the Provincial Office of the CONAF located in Mataveri.
The entry has a duration of 10 days (from first use) at a cost of $80USD for foreign adults and $40USD for foreign children. Tickets can be inspected anywhere in the Rapa Nui National Park, so I’d recommend carrying the ticket with you at all times.
That’s the admin sorted. Now you can enjoy Ahu Tongariki!
Once in front of the 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 of the statues do), these silent giants strike an imposing scene on the bare landscape.
Given their position you can 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 you’ll have seen them clearly from the road. Yet nothing quite compares to standing in front of them looking up at their large sky-gazing faces.
Nothing that is except perhaps watching them at sunrise.
To get this once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity you’ll have to wake up early and traverse the potholes-filled roads to make the short 15 minute drive from Hanga Roa along the coastline.
Take up a central position onsite nice and early as other visitors will be trying to do the same. Then simply sit back and enjoy the show.
Perhaps the best known site on Easter Island is that of Rano Raraku; the birthplace of the great Moai.
Situated on the side of a volcano, it 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 your way along the path the number of Moai you see, either fallen over or buried, makes you almost feel blasé about these wonderful creations. Then you remind yourself the weight of the task the island’s predecessors undertook to create them and then Rano Raraku becomes anything but ordinary. Standing back and looking out over the remains is a special experience.
Make sure you don’t miss 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! Who knows what they were thinking when they created this or how they ever planned to move it. Also follow the path around the hill to visit the unusual Tukuturi Moai in its kneeling position complete with beard. You’ll also get a breathtaking view of Ahu Tongariki in the distance from here.
Finally, as you depart this site, make sure you pull over along the road to get a view back across the whole of Rano Raraku. It’s not to be missed.
The final must-see site is the 324m high extinct volcano, Rano Kau on the south-west side of the island.
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. It sits just south of the airport and can be accessed by a steep, winding road.
Once at the top you will, of course, need your ticket to gain access to the information centre and to look out over the ocean from the stone village of Orongo where the fabelled Birdman cult practiced their activities.
You’ll also get an incredible 360° view of the island from here and be able to see the Pacific Ocean in all directions; further demonstrating just how small Easter Island actually is.
Also of note in this crater is the vegetation growing along the sides of the walls; providing local people with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Where to avoid
Easter Island is such a small fascinating place that it’s hard to name anywhere that you should not try and see. However, if you find yourself short of time then perhaps skip over the Ana Kai Tangata cave paintings. This site is small and free to see but can be done in only a few minutes. If the weather or light is poor, then you may not get the best experience here.
Te Pito Kura is another location that may be visited quickly. The main site here is a face-down Moai statue and a large magnetic stone called Te Pito O Te Henua which means the ‘navel of the world’.
Despite saying this if you can get around all these sites, then do so.
Great places to eat
As you’d probably expect with island culture, its cuisine is based largely around sealife. So for fans of seafood, Easter Island can be a real treat. You won’t find any McDonald’s or Subways here.
One thing you always have to bear in mind with restaurants on the island is that menus can change by the day depending on what food a restaurant has in stock. Don’t be surprised to be told something is unavailable as its run out. However, the food served is both good quality and fresh.
Another thing to remember is that for good quality food in remote locations, you’re going to have to spend a bit of money.
Similaly to its hotels, the vast majority of eateries here are based in and around Hanga Roa and towards its main dock. However, in my personal experience, some of it’s best restaurants are a short walk away from the centre of town.
Just past the harbour, continue down the road that hugs the coastline (Policarpo Toro) and you’ll stumble across Te Moana; a charming little coastline bar and restaurant. Here you’ll get a selection of amazing seafood options as well as steaks, salads and tropical cocktails. Aside from the food tasting incredible, the drinks and the ocean view make this eating experience worth the money.
Moving back towards the centre, and at the end of the Hanga Roa Harbour you’ll find the lively La Kaleta. Seafood is again the flavour of the day here and being just a stone’s throw from the water you can see why. However, the best thing about this little stop is that drinks menu. A wide variety of cocktails are on offer here and the Tequila Sunrise is a personal favourite and one not to be missed. It’s basically a holiday in a glass! Add to that, that you can while away the hours sipping cocktails whilst watching the skillful surfing enthusiasts perfecting their art, it makes for a very pleasant setting. The staff here are also super-friendly and, upon request, will call you a taxi if you’ve had one too many drinks.
If, like me, you want to watch the pennies occasionally while you travel then you need to find some affordable options too. One such place is Pea Restaurant. Situated just beyond the only football pitch on the island (a 3G pitch that once hosted Chilean giants Colo Colo when they played a team of Rapu Nui locals for an exhibition match) this handsome restaurant gives a great selection of burgers and salads at prices that don’t break the bank. If you’re lucky enough you can get a table by the edge that overhangs the ocean giving you a chance to spot a sea turtle swimming by.
My final pick for this blog is also my favourite restaurant on Easter Island. Further away from the centre, Mahia Hotel y Restobar can be found down Hanga Piko – a short 15 minute walk from the harbour.
This wonderful restaurant is small in size and is connected to the adjacent hotel and provides interesting flavours for traditional Chilean dishes and seafood. The time I ate here the chef himself made sure every aspect of my dinner was perfectly prepared to my liking and ensured I enjoyed a calm, hassle free dining experience.
The restaurant is also away from any neighbouring establishments meaning that even the minimal Easter Island foot traffic is almost non-existent allowing you to soak in the combined majesty of the food you’re eating with the scenery you’re absorbing. Time your visit with sunset and this Easter Island meal – alongside this almost fairytale island – will live long in the memory.