Easter Island. Who never dreams to see the mysterious status and discovers their secrets? Most of the tourists stay 2 or 3 days on the island. However, I recommend you to stay at least one week if you have time. This island is full of beauty and secrets. Enjoy it and discover a place completely different from the rest of Chile. My travel on Easter Island will stay as one the most beautiful and favorite moment of my trip to South America.
Access to the island
To access the island, there is only one way: the plane. If you come from Chile, connexions are every day and several times per day from Santiago. You can also come from Papeete (Tahiti). The flights are not daily but there a few per week.
Since recently, your stay on the island must be less than one month. Because of this, you have to justify your departure date from the island with your return flight ticket. Moreover, before boarding, you need to a proof of a hotel reservation. If you’re staying in an inhabitant’s house, be sure the inhabitant provides you an invitation letter. The hotel reservation or the invitation letter is mandatory to get on board and the police officer will ask for it at the airport.
The country’s history
Until 1722, only the Polynesians lived on this island peacefully. After, the Dutch Kakob Roggeveen discovered the island during the Easter’s Sunday. He was very inspired that’s why he named the island Easter Island. Unfortunately, as it usually happens during the history, when a European discovers a population and considers them as “primitives”, he exploits them. The local population (called “Rapa Nui”) are almost extinct because of the diseases brought by the Europeans. They will be also enslaved by the different conquerors. Finally, Chile is the last country which annexes the island. It is divided into two parts: Hanga Roa (6% of the island) for the Rapa Nui and the rest for the sheep breeding. This situation will go on until 1953. After, the Marine will lead the island until 1966. After 1966, the Rapa Nui are finally allowed to live where they want on the island and even have the Chilean nationality.
Since 1967, a commercial flight connects Santiago to Rapa Nui daily. Thanks to it, tourism will grow and becomes the main income of the island.
Nowadays, Rapa Nui have the same rights as the Chileans. However, if you speak with a Rapa Nui, you will quickly notice the differences between a Rapa Nui and a Chilean. The inhabitants of Easter Island are proud to be Rapa Nui and won’t hesitate to remind to a person that he’s a Chilean and not a Rapa Nui.
After 2 weeks living with Rapa Nui people, I can assure you that this island is another country compared to Chile. The culture, the language, the way of life, the mentality, everything is different from the continent.
The Rapa Nui culture
As I told you just above, the Rapa Nui culture is very different from the rest of Chile. First of all, the language is not the same. Of course, Spanish is the official language, and they learn it at school, but Rapa Nui people speak also another language: the Rapa Nui. It’s the historical language of the island until Chile imposes Spanish as the official language. The dialect is close to Polynesian language. Indeed, the roots are the same because the Polynesians were the first on this island. Today, Rapa Nui is also learned at school at the same time as Spanish. November 9th, each year, the Rapa Nui language is celebrated at Hanga Rao. During the celebration, you can try the traditional meals (ceviche, cakes, fried bananas, sweet potatoes, etc.) and each school organizes a traditional singing or dancing shows. Some of these shows tell stories about the Rapa Nui legends. During my visit, the legend was about the bird-man and their extraordinary abilities to swim during several days in the sea while they find their way thanks to the stars.
The Rapa Nui people are extremely welcoming. They are always ready to help you spontaneously. It can be to indicate you the way, to recommend a place, a shop, give you information, etc. For example, I really wanted to watch the stars. One evening, the sky was clear and I said to my host that I’m going out to see the stars. A friend heard it and immediately offered to me and my friends a drive to watch the stars. Less than 5 minutes after, we were in his car. Another example, the 2 others volunteers and I wanted to eat the traditional Polynesian meal (the Curanto). We went to the restaurant but it was too expensive for us (40 000 CL$/pers.). When Maria discovered that we couldn’t afford it, she immediately said that she will cook it for us. We only have to buy the meat. Finally, it costs 8 000 CL$/pers and we saw how to cook it! (see the recipe below).
During my stay on the island, I visited it only by hitchhiking. Thanks to inhabitant’s kindness, it was super easy. Almost every car stopped (~90%) and each driver talked with you. They are interested in you, where you’re from, how long do you stay, etc. But most of all, they are proud o be Rapa Nui and if you’re ask them about their culture or history, they will the happy to answer you and talk about it.
Rapa Nui people live without stress and have a quiet life. On the island, you have to take your time and enjoy your time. If you can do it with your friends it’s even better. At my host’s place, there were always friends or family coming and leaving. Sometimes, it was just to say hello, have a drink or eat dinner together. Every excuse was a good opportunity to spend time together: share a curanto, inaugurate the new barbecue, share the fish of the day, etc.
The traditional meal: the Curanto
The curanto is the traditional meal you will find in all Polynesia, including Easter Island. This meal is very simple: pork ribs, chicken thigh, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. The originality of this meal is how they cook the food. There are several steps:
First, you need to dig a hole in the ground. Next, light a big fire in the hole with lots of wood and stones in it.
When is fire is really hot with nice red embers, remove the wood unburned and put the stones on the side.
Cover the embers with many banana leaves. Put the meat on the leaves and cover again with leaves. Put the potatoes and sweets potatoes on the leaves and cover with leaves. Put the hot stones on it and cover with leafs one last time.
Put a tarpaulin on the leaves and cover it with soil. The aim is to make it hermetic, so the smoke doesn’t escape.
Cook it during 2h.
Remove the soil, the tarpaulin, the leaves and take the potatoes and the meat.
As you can see, the recipe is easy. However, it is delicious. The meat is cooked in its fat and stays tender. The potatoes are cooked with the vapor and the meat’s fat.
Easter Island has only one city, Hanga Rao. This is where you will find the shops, the travel and rent agencies, most of the hotels, restaurants, etc. Everything is at Hanga Rao.
Almost all the places to visit are located in the national park of Rapa Nui. To access it, we need to buy a ticket either at the airport or in the city center. This ticket costs 54 000CL$ and is valid 10 days from the first day you use it. With it, you can enter the park as much as you want. There are only two places you can visit only once: the ceremonial village of Orongo and the Moais manufacture at the Rano Raraku volcano. Otherwise, you can visit all the other places as many time as you wish.
The island is quite small but to move from one place to another, you still need transportation. Many choices are available: renting a car, a scooter, a quad or a bike. There is no public transport on Easter Island. Unfortunately, like the rest of the island, the rents are expensive, except if you are several persons to rent a car. Personally, I choose the free solution: hitchhiking. Before coming here, I never tried to hitchhike. But here, I met a friend during my volunteer experience (you can follow his crazies adventures here by the way: ), and we only did hitchhike to move. To be honest: it was awesome! Usually, we didn’t wait more than 20 mins before someone stops. Most of the time, it was a local person and even when we walked along the road without hitchhiking, a car stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride! So, if you’re looking for an economic solution and a way to meet local people, think about hitchhiking!
Easter Island is famous for its statues (also called Moais). You can see them everywhere on the island lying, standing, completed or not. However, there are some places where the Moais are more impressive and majestic.
Ahu Tongariki: Without any doubt, this is my favorite place. This is where you will see the 15 Moais. For me, watching the 15 Moais, aligned and almost completed was very impressive. There is a little story about how the Moais stood up. A Japanese company came on the island to help the inhabitants to straighten the Maois. But, moreover, it was to promote their new type of hoist. Each Moais weights around 60 tons and Japan wanted to prove the efficiency of his hoist by lifting all the Moais one by one.
Ahu Akivi: Still today, we don’t know how the Moais orientation has been chosen. Most of them are turned toward the lands, a village, but Ahu Akivi Moais are turned toward the sunset. They are the only Moais turned toward the sea. Why them? No one knows the answer. In any case, they are stately and magnificent.
Anakena: Here, you have a beautiful mix between the paradisiac island and the history. The Anakena’s Moais stand up on a beach with white sand and turquoise water. You can enjoy the beach and watch the Moais lying down on your towel. During the weekend, the inhabitants come on this beach to relax and it’s quickly crowded.
Ovahe beach: If you prefer smaller beaches, I advise you the Ovahe beach. This beach is quieter and doesn’t have Moais but there is almost no one. Nobody goes there whereas the sand is also white and the water turquoise.
Ahu Vai Uri: These 4 Moais are next to the Hango Roa cemetery. You can walk to go there (10 mins from city center). They are very special because they stand just in front of the sunset Each evening, tourists go there t watch the sunset with this 4 Moais. I really liked it. I went there several times and hoped to see the most beautiful sunset each time.
Ana Kakena, also called the 2 windows cave: Do you want to feel like an adventurer? This place is for you! The entrance is barely indicated, really narrow (50cm large) but you have to enter! Once you’re inside, the cave is bigger and you can stand up. You need at least a headlamp or your phone to light the cave. Indeed, it’s completely dark for a few meters. In the end, you will see the light from the 2 windows and have a view of the sea. The landscape is breathtaking. You see the cliffs and the waves crashing on them. However, be careful. There is no security, not even a rope, and the ground might be slippery.
Ana Te Pahu: If one cave is not enough, there is a second one. It is also called the banana trees cave. Guess why? Because there are banana trees in front of the entrance! You can enter it (with a headlamp or your phone to light) and go out the other side of the cave. Don’t hesitate to explore it!
Rano Raraku: Here, there are two things to see: the Moais
manufacture and the Rano Raraku volcano. It’s one of the two places you can visit only once, so enjoy it! At the Moais manufacture, you will see Moais of all sizes, finished or not, lay down or stand up. There is even a Moais (unique on the island and on the world) who is kneeling. As usual, we don’t know why this one is different, but some people called him “the Buddha Moais”, because of his posture. The volcano wasn’t one of my favorite places, but if you’re here, you should see it. It’s only 10-15min walking from the manufacturer.
Rano Kau: It’s the second volcano on the island and this time, it’s my favorite one. You can walk until the top. A trail path starts from the airport until the top and is really nice. The crater is huge and it’s possible to walk almost all around it. This is also where the ceremonial village (Orongo) is. It’s the second place you can visit only once.
Terevaka: The third and last volcano of Easter Island. It’s also the highest place of the island: 507m of altitude. If you want to go there, you have to go at Ahu Akivi before 3 pm. From there, you just have to follow the path and the signs! Don’t forget to take a jacket because it’s very VERY windy. At the top, you have a 360° view on Rapa Nui.
Stargazing: The best place to observe the stars is Anakena. There, there is no light pollution from Hanga Rao. However, Orongo is also a nice place to watch the stars. Moreover, you have a view of the city. You don’t need an agency to organize is. You just need a car to go to Orongo or Anakena.
Diving with the Moais: Around the island, there is one Moais in the water. Don’t be fooled, it’s not a real Moais. It’s a copy which was used for a film and was flowed on purpose after the shooting. Despite the wonderful promises from the agencies, this Moais is not authentic and all the inhabitants know it. However, the dive is really nice because the water is clear and has marvelous blue gleams.
As I told you at the beginning of the article, Easter Island is one of my favorite place and memory of South America. I spent 2 wonderful weeks there and they will stay engraved in my memory.
Thank you again to my host Maria and the two volunteers Jun and Lilith thanks to who I had wonderful moments on this island.
And you, did you visit this place or do you plan to visit it? What’s your theory about the Moais?