As a territory of Chile, Easter Island is a volcanic Polynesian land mass. It was originally called Rapa Nui, while its Spanish name is Isla de Pascua . Easter Island trips provide many exciting sights and adventures. For example, there are archaeological sites with hundreds of statues and monuments called moai, which originate in the thirteenth (13th) to sixteenth (16th) century time frame.
These statues are figures of humans having over sized heads, and they are situated on pedestals called ahus. Let’s explore this most interesting part of the world located in Oceania in the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean.
Some Basic History on this Area
Around 1200 AD we have the first record of inhabitance of this area by the Rapa Nui people. There is evidence throughout the island of a very productive and growing culture. With the arrival of the Europeans in 1722, there was a gradual reduction of the native population from around three thousand (3000) to one hundred and eleven (111) by 1877. This was for a number of reasons including disease and emigration.
The island was annexed by Chile in 1888. It became a “special territory” in 2007, and is part of the Valparaiso region. It is considered one of the remotest islands anywhere in the world.
The first settlement on the island according to oral tradition was in Anakena, but scientific findings have concluded other sites were settled prior to this, including Tahai.
The island originally had a strict class system in place. This was headed up by a high chief called an ariki. The people also had a relationship with the spirit world. Within their belief system the dead provided all things for the living folks including food, shelter, clothing, richness of the land, health, and fortunate circumstances. In return, the people provided the dead a more ideal place in the spirit world through their offerings.
The majority of the native population, Rapa Nui, resided in Hanga Roa until the 1960s, because the other parts of the island were leased to the Williamson-Balfour Company as a sheep farm until 1953. At this point private property came into existence on the island for the first time. Then the entire island was reopened and managed by the Chilean Navy until 1966. The Rapa Nui were given Chilean citizenship in 1966.
In order to preserve the history and integrity of the island, in 2018 the government reduced tourist visits from ninety (90) to thirty (30) days. This was to better address several social and environmental issues.
Here is a short video outlining a bit of the mystery of this most enchanting and captivating area:
A Few Interesting Facts to Consider
- The population of Easter Island is close to eight thousand (8000) people with about three thousand five hundred (3500) being Rapa Nui
- It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995
- The majority of the island is protected within the Rapa Nui National Park
- The official language is Spanish although the traditional language is Rapa Nui, which is an Eastern Polynesian language
- Mataveri International Airport is the main airport
- The island is located two thousand four hundred and eighty-five (2,485) miles (4000 km) off the coast of Chile
- The Chilean Peso is the currency
- The island has a tropical rain forest climate. The temperatures vary during the year from fifty-nine (59 F) degrees (15 C) to eighty-two (82 F) degrees (28 C) with rather high humidity. Although it rains year round, the highest rainfall is in May.
- An ancient script called rongorongo is a combination of geometric and pictographic shapes
- Each February the local people celebrate a two (2) week festival called Tapati Rapa Nui to honor their culture. Various competitive events are set up between two (2) clans and the winning team is designated “queen” of the island for the following year. The activities include woodcarving, canoeing, cooking, and jewelry making.
- The Birdman Cult called Tangata Manu was practiced until the 1860s. The Birdman Competition was held in Orongo where people from each village would compete in perilous swimming and climbing activities in order to acquire the first bird egg of the season. The tribe which won gained rulership of the island for a year.
- Easter Island has one of the largest collections of petroglyphs (pictures carved into rock) in the entire area of Polynesia
- Caves are plentiful throughout the island with evidence of past human habitation
- The island has a national football (soccer) team
- The culture has a strong musical tradition encompassing South American and Polynesian influences. In the town of Hanga Roa there are three (3) discos.
- The island also hosts the Chilean part of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series
Now for Some Fun Things to Do
* Trips and Tours — for those who want to check out the island with a local guide there are several options. Some packages include accommodations, meals, beverages, side tours, and all transfers. A good resource for this is Hangaroa Eco Lodge. There are several ways you can structure your package. The Hangaroa Eco Lodge and Spa is a great place to stay offering wonderful accommodations, a spa and pool, great food at a reasonable price, as well as tours and activities. Plus the views are fantastic, and it is a short walk to the village of Hanga Roa, and a short drive from the airport. A tour is a good way to learn the culture and history of this area before renting a car and going off exploring on your own.
* Evening Stargazing is a Treat — because of its remote location this part of the world is great for taking in the starlit sky. The clearness of the sky and its extreme clarity is a pleasure to see, especially if you live in a large city and are not accustomed to this type of view.
* Drive Around the Island and Take In the Sights — one good way to see the island is to rent a car. A good source for tours and car rentals is Mahinatur. It is fun to just start driving and see where you end up. There are several outlooks all about the island that are great for snapping a few photos. Drive along the coast and experience the scenic beauty and the large waves crashing against the rocks. The other options are to rent a dirt bike, ATV, or bicycle. Since the island is small you do not need a lot of fuel to get around. A one-day rental for a car is about eighty ($80 USD) dollars. Also, check out Ahu Akahanga while tripping around the island. It has a good number of moai and platforms. And the only moais which face the ocean can be located at Ahu Akivi. Ahu Vinapu is also a great place to check out the stonework of this island. Because of its isolated location and volcanic activity, Easter Island has been known as the “Navel of the World”. At Te Pito Kura you will find some unique rocks and a large stone said to have been brought there by the first chief and founder of Easter Island, Hotu Matu’a. The rock is not native to the island. Also at this location you will find the tallest moai on the island.
* Check Out the Great Sunrises and Sunsets — just as stargazing is fun, you will also enjoy sunrise, and a good place to get a good view is at Arhu Tongariki, which has the best restored moais or statues on the island. The views of the ocean and mountains behind the moais are absolutely stunning. The sunset at Tahai is simply staggering. This is right next to Hanga Roa village with the moai overlooking the sea.
* Explore the Botanical Gardens — this is a most delightful experience as you are surrounded by a variety of beautiful flora. When you call in advance the family who owns the gardens will come and pick you up.
* Enjoy the Slow Pace of Island Life — spend time learning the culture and interacting with the friendly locals. The Anthropological Museum is free, and you can find some very interesting artifacts including the only original Coral Eye which was used to decorate the moais. Attend a traditional dance show to learn more about the culture. Music and dance is very important to these people. Also, Polynesian art is gorgeous, and you may want to get a tattoo to take home with you. Andres ‘Panda’ Pakariti is the most respected and well-known artist on the island for tattoos.
* Take Plenty of Photos — there is no lack of natural beauty and unusual sights on this island. Check out the volcanoes, archaeological sites, the coastline, and the lush green pastures. The best times for photo taking is first and last light. Also, you can find ancient petroglyphs all over the island, especially near Te Pito Kura, and are well worth taking a few pictures.
* Fun at the Beach — there are numerous beaches to explore, take a leisurely walk, and relax. The waves are great for surfing, and spear fishing is a favorite activity as well. Since the waves can get a bit intense, if you are not an experienced surfer, you can get a gentler experience at the harbor at Hang Roa. The locals will be happy to take you to their favorite surfing spots. You can also go Scuba Diving and view some of the moai on the bottom of the sea (these were actually constructed for a movie years ago and left there so they are not originals). There are also some wall and cavern dives you can take. Due to the volcanic activity on the island, most of the coastline is rocky. But if you want a white sand beach with turquoise waters, check out Anakena Beach as well as Ovahe Beach.
* Let’s Do a Bit of Horseback Riding — one thing you will notice when you get there is the large number of horses which prance around freely through the pastures. Kinda reminds you of the Old West in the United States. If you are not an experienced rider, just alert your guide so that he will hook you up with a more gentle creature.
* Explore the Rano Raraku Quarry — on the north end of the island is Rano Raraku where the moai were carved by hand and then transported to other parts of the island. On the edge of the Terevaca Volcano, you will find the quarry with many remnants of moai in different stages of completion. Take a hike to the volcanic crater for tremendous views of the ocean. There is much mystery to be discovered here.
* The Ana Kakenga Cave — although there are plenty of caves on the island, this one is well worth checking out because it has two (2) openings with marvelous views of the Pacific Ocean. It requires a bit of dexterity to explore, as you have to climb down a very narrow entrance and through a small chamber to reach the openings. Bring a flashlight with you. Ana Te Pahu cave is also worth checking out.
* Swim with the Turtles — a great place to go snorkeling is Hanga Roa Harbor where there is plenty of sea life and you can swim with the turtles. It is best to go at high tide.
* The Volcanoes — there are actually three (3) volcanoes on the island as part of its most unusual and unique ecosystem. Right near the coast, on the southwest part of the island, Rano Kau is a very large crater offering amazing ocean views. The best light for this is in the early morning or late afternoon.
This is a Place Worth Seeing
Easter Island trips should be included in your travel plans if you are looking for a remote place to relax and take in some great sights, and a culture full of mystery and intrigue. Be sure to check out the video above which provides many interesting ideas about the history of this most fascinating part of the world.
As for accommodations, I mentioned above the Hangaroa Eco Lodge which provides a more luxurious setting. There are also other choices such as hostels, camping, and more modest hotels.
The food is very good here on the island. You can find a lot of Chilean-style fast food like empanadas, pizza, and burgers. Fish is the main staple of the island. The best place to eat happens to be at the Hangaroa Eco Lodge in a restaurant called the Kaloa. In addition to fabulous ocean views, the cuisine is excellent offering a variety of choices at reasonable prices. For a place like this ten ($10 USD) to fifteen ($15 USD) dollars for entrees can’t be beat, especially when they use the freshest ingredients. You can’t go wrong with the fish for the day, and ending your meal with some delicious mango desserts.
This just may be a place which you would like to add to your travel plans. It definitely is not your average cruise or Disneyland adventure.
All the Best in your Travels,
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