An Island In the Middle of Nowhere
Mention Easter Island to an avid traveller, historian or archaeologist, and the first thing that comes to mind is the image of those mysterious stone statues called moais that surround the island for over a thousand years. Many historians have wondered how these peculiar statues have come to being, and how the local tribes have managed to carve and bring down those heavy figures from the top of an extinct volcano and transport them throughout the entire island. Moreover, the island is thousands of miles away from the nearest land mass, and with such a distance, scientist have often wondered how ancient Polynesians have migrated to this island and lived with its seamingly limited resources. So many mysteries, so many theories, yet still unsolved until today.
Where Is Easter Island?
It’s been a childhood dream of mine to see the mysterious stone statues of Easter Island. I’ve read and seen photos of these strange statues and I’ve always thought that it would be such a dream to be able to visit them. And lo and behold, fast-track 25 years later and I had the great opportunity to visit this mystical island paradise.
The island was named after the feast day when it was first discovered by Europeans, Easter. Easter Island (Isla de Pascua in Spanish, Rapa Nui in the native language) is a special territory of Chile, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is located 3,510km from mainland Chile, 2000 km from the tiny island of Pitcairn, and around 4,000 km from Tahiti (to its west). It’s considered to be the most remote inhabited island in the world (inhabited by non-incestuous people, that is – Pitcairn Island can be the most remote, but everyone there is related).
Though it is a small island, Easter Island has enough attractions to see for a couple of days at least. Most people tend to stay between 3 to 5 days and enjoy the island’s rich archaeological sites, as well as its unique Polynesian culture and laid-back lifestyle.
What To See On Easter Island
Here are some of the things you have to check out while on Easter Island
1.) Moai Statues
This is the most obvious attraction, and the main reason most people from all over the world have for coming to Easter Island. The mystery of the Moai has become one of those legendary wonders of the world, at par with the mysteries of the Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids in Egypt. There are several sites to view the moai. Some of the moais have been re-erected on to their ahu (altar), while some have been left in its original state, as found by the European explorers when they first arrived, or as it was when the 1960 tsunami hit Easter Island and toppled some of the moais.
Here are some of the sites to view the moais:
- Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki is the biggest set of standing moais on the island. It was re-erected by the Japanese in 1960s using cranes, and in return, to thank the Japanese, the island lent them a moai for the World Expo 1970 in Japan.
- Ahu Akivi
Another great site for viewing moais that have been re-erected. This ahu is slightly different from the others in that this is erected inland (unlike the others that are along the coastline) and the moai statues are looking out to sea, instead of looking inland like the other ahu’s.
- Ahu Nau Nau
This ahu is one of the 2 ahus that you can find on Anakena Beach.
- Ahu Akahanga
This site is where you will find fallen moais and remnants of an ancient Rapa Nui village, just as how it was when the early European explorers discovered the island. It is a fascinating place in that you will see how the people who carved the moais used to live.
2.) Beach and Volcano Crater
- Anakena Beach
Anakena Beach is the biggest beach on the island, and the most swimmable. It has white sand, crystal clear waters and palm trees that were introduced into the island from Tahiti.
- Rano Raraku
Rano Raraku is an extinct volcano from where most of the moais on Easter Island have been carved from. It is declared a national park in itself, and there is a trail where people can walk up the volcano to view all the remaining moais that were left unfinished by the Rapa Nui people. Some of the moais were only half carved and some have been left facing down.The place looks like how the early European explorers found the moais on Easter Island, abandoned and lying face down.
- Rano Kau (volcanic crater)
This extinct volcano has a viewable crater with a lake in it, and around the area was where the strange “birdman” cult started and thrived on the island. The cult was known to worship a “birdman” who was chosen from childhood and the chosen one is pretty much kept in captivity. The selection process of the birdman is a cruel one. A few boys are challenged to race over rough seas and swim to the nearby steep rock formation where a certain type of bird lays its nest at the very top of this high steep rock. The boy who manages to climb the steep rock successfully and bring back the egg of this bird intact back to the volcano and offer to the “Birdman” becomes the next birdman.
Other Things To Experience On Easter Island
Ahu Te Pito Kura
Though it is called an Ahu, it doesn’t necessarily have any moais on it. Ahu means “sacred place”. This site is unique in that it contains a round stone. This mystical stone is believed to possess healing powers and energy(mana). The Rapa Nui people call this the “Navel of Mother Earth”. If you put a compass over it, it will not be able to detect north from south and would spin around like crazy. People who believe in energies and healing power of stones can touch their forehands and face down on it to receive mana from it.
Love it or loathe it, cultural shows are a good way of understanding and learning more about how the traditional people of a country live, their food and their customs. For some places more than others, the local culture may be on the verge of decline and death, and the only way they are preserved is through cultural shows. Such is the case in Easter Island. The Rapa Nui people (as the natives of Easter Island are called) have nearly been completely decimated by starvation and famine before the early European explorers found the island, and thus, their unique culture have nearly vanished. You will be able to experience the dance, myth, customs and food when you go to a dinner and show.
There are a few options on the island in terms of dinner and show packages but the one that I particularly liked is called Te Ra’ai. This show offers a traditional Rapa Nui dinner, cooked in underground earth ovens, and prepared with a traditional Rapa Nui ceremony of blessing the food. The dinner is followed by a very traditional Rapa Nui dance performance. The other shows actually have a mix of other Polynesian dances, but this one is purely Rapa Nui.
Of course, you can’t visit a place without trying the local cuisine! Easter Island unfortunately isn’t abundant in natural resources or fresh produce from the land but being surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean, it is very abundant with fish. The most common fish you can get there is tuna, and the tuna there is so fresh! I highly recommend trying the ceviche, which is a typical Chilean dish of marinated raw fish with tomato, onions and spices. The best ceviche I’ve had so far (comparing this to the ones from mainland South America) was from Easter Island! It is a must-try!
Easter Island, being in the middle of the Pacific, can offer spectacular sunsets. You don’t have to go far to see them from Hanga Roa town (the main town of the island). There are a few moais near the coastline of Hanga Roa, and you can take great photos of the sunset with the moais.
How to get to Easter Island
The easiest way to reach Easter Island is to take the once-or-twice-daily LAN Airlines flight from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island (Hanga Roa airport – IPC). The flight takes roughly 6 hours. There are also flights from Papeete, Tahiti to Easter Island on LAN Airlines, but they are very infrequent (once a week only, also around 6 hours). As of writing, LAN Airlines have started a twice-weekly service from Lima, Peru to Easter Island (Hanga Roa airport – IPC) and flight also takes around 6 hours.
Where To Stay
The main (and only) town on Easter Island is called Hanga Roa, and is where you will find all accommodations. Booking accommodations on the island can be expensive, and it is more often cheaper to get a package that includes the tour of the island. I stayed at Hotel Chez Joseph, which is near the town’s church and school.
Easter Island is definitely one island worth visiting despite the distance. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post from Fabulous Journeys!