Far from the world and close to paradise, 3,256 kilometers from the Chilean mainland in the middle of the Pacific, Easter Island has a total surface area of 180 square kilometers. Extinct volcanoes, marvelous beaches and, above all, the enormous megalithic statues called moais have transformed this location into an enigma that draws visitors from all over the world.
Easter Island was discovered by Dutch explorer, Jakob Roggeveen, on Easter Sunday, 1722 and was claimed as Chilean territory by Policarpo Toro in 1888. The island’s indigenous name is Rapa Nui, after the native people and language of the same name, and it was originally known as Rapa it Nui or “Big Rapa” (Rapa was another island), as well as Te Pito o Te Henua, “the navel of the world”.
The Rapa Nui people have preserved a culture dating back 1,700 years to around 300 CE, when the first waves of migration began from Polynesia. This vibrant culture is very much in evidence today, and vivid myths, legends, dances, festivals and traditional music – as well as the famous moais – are a powerful part of island life. As visitors step off the plane they are welcomed with a garland of flowers, and the warmth and friendliness of the local people.
Rapa Nui was made a National Park in 1935 and in 2005 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is considered the largest outdoor museum in the world, with just one main population center, Hanga Roa, and many alternatives for outdoor sports lovers. Snorkeling and scuba diving, surfing, sailing, kayaking, horseback riding and trekking are all on offer on and around the triangular shaped island.
Three extinct volcanoes – with beautiful lagoons in their enormous craters – are evidence of island’s volcanic origins. The largest volcano is Maunga Terevaka, at 525 m altitude, while Ranu Kau volcano rises 324 meters, and El Poike, 352 meters.
Archaeology: the moai route
Almost 900 moais are scattered across Easter Island, along with a diverse range of archeological sites which were used for religious rituals, agriculture or shelter.
The journey through these archeological sites is an opportunity to connect with the incredible magic and energy of Easter Island. Even today, these are places of real significance for the local community, and visitors should pay the greatest respect to each area’s rules of conduct. We recommend that visitors refrain from climbing the ahus and moais, and from touching or leaving any mark on the petroglyphs and other archeological items.
Rano Raraku: A rock quarry with around 400 moai statues, in various stages of construction and transport, surrounded by a network of hiking trails. Activity in the “moai factory” seems to have been abandoned abruptly, and to this day no full explanation has been found.
Ahus: There are approximately 300 platforms or altars called ahus on the island, most of them already destroyed. The most important are Vaihu, Akahanga, Heki’i, Raai, Te Peu and Vinapu, where you can observe statues, traces of human settlements that include houses, stoves and henhouses, as well as agricultural and ceremonial sites.
Tahai-Ko Te Riku Complex: This fully restored archeological site is located in the town of Hanga Roa. Visitors can see stone houses, henhouses, ceremonial sites, three moai platforms with (Tahai, Vai Uri and Ko Te Riku), as well as a jetty built entirely of stone.
Ahu Huri A Urenga: A restored site located near the town of Hanga Roa, with a single statue looking toward the spot where the sun rises on the day of the winter solstice. This astronomical event marks the beginning of winter, or tonga in the Rapa Nui language, and a period of ceremonial prohibitions – tapu – of activities such as fishing.
Ahu Akivi: An archeological complex restored in 1960 by the archeologist William Mulloy. Seven statues can be seen here gazing toward the sunset over the sea. Tradition tells that these seven moais represent the first seven explorers who arrived in Rapa Nui, sent by King Hotu Matu’a.
Ahu Ature Huki: Located on Anakena Beach, this is the first restoration carried out during the Norwegian expedition of 1956. It consists of an anthropomorphic statue and is thought to be older than the other platforms nearby.
Ahu Nau Nau: A restoration on Anakena Beach, carried out by Rapa Nui archeologist Sergio Rapu in the late 1970s. These seven well-preserved statues feature details that are impossible to make out on other moais, such as tattoos and clothing. One of the moais found during the restoration is currently on show in the Easter Island Museum.
Caves and volcanoes
The volcanic landscape of Easter Island offers fascinating geographic landmarks perfect for trekking enthusiasts. Don’t miss the chance to crawl in the dark through a series of caves until you reach a panoramic view of the island’s emerald plateaus against the azure backdrop of the Pacific.
Ana o Keke and Ana Te Pahu are the most popular caves with visitors. Ana Te Pahu means “Cave of the Virgins”, where, in ancient times, Rapa Nui brides were locked away before marriage. You enter the cavern, located on the north face of Poike Mountain, by crawling on your belly. Ana Te Pahu is in the eastern part of the island and has a huge cavity with four chambers, sometimes used as tombs.
The hike to Rano Kao Volcano is hugely popular with visitors. This is a full-day excursion which takes you through eucalyptus forests and up to the volcano’s crater before descending into the extinct volcano. What used to be lava is today filled with a profusion of native flora and unique petroglyphs. Another, less traveled route runs between the cliffs of the north side, with collapsed moais visible along the trail.
Anakena and Ovahe: These are the only sandy beaches on the island. Anakena is the main beach, while and Ovahe, to the east, is smaller. With its sand, palm trees and turquoise waters, Anakena is a seaside paradise which features two restored ahus, camp sites, and safe storage. Its warm waters are perfect for bathing.
Surfing beaches: In Hanga Roa, Vaihu and Tahai offer waves for both beginners and experts. Vaihu is especially good for beginners and has beautiful tube waves, while Tahai has the biggest waves on the island.
This post is also available in Spanish