One of the most isolated places on earth, afloat in the midst of the Pacific, until the arrival of an airport in 1961 tiny Easter Island (or Rapa Nui, as it’s known by the islanders) in the Pacific Ocean used to receive just visit each year by supply ship.
Most visitors now make the 3,500km trip from mainland Chile by plane, enticed by the mysterious moai (carved stone heads) that keep a watchful eye over the coastline. Thought to have been sculpted by early settlers between AD 700 and AD 1500, some 887 moai dot Easter Island, with the 15 giant heads of Ahu Tongariki the real stars of the show.
When you’re all moaied out, you can snorkel or dive among the coral and exotic fish of offshore islets, saddle up for a day of horse-riding, lounge on a white sand beach or throw some shapes on the dance floor with the fun-loving locals.
Get up with the lark and see the moai at their most atmospheric by watching the sunrise at the eastern end of the island behind the 15 colossal figures at Ahu Tongariki. Easter Island is like a huge outdoor museum and it’s worth hiring a guide for at least one day to get the low down on all those big heads. Here is an excellent source of info prepared by the Easter Island Foundation.
Easter Island has a sub-tropical climate with an average temperature of 21ºC and sporadic rain throughout the year. The main tourist season is from December to March. January and February are the hottest months; May and September the wettest. July and August can be cold but it’s an ideal time to go hiking if you want the place to yourself.
The Tapati Festival at the beginning of February is a colourful two-week celebration of Rapanui culture with traditional dancing, singing, sculpting, body painting, cooking and sports alongside the hotly fought Island Queen beauty pageant.
Aeropuerto Mataveri (IPC) is just south of the capital, Hanga Roa.
Various companies offer whistle-stop bus tours of the island, but if you really want to tick all those moais off your list, renting a car is your best option. Be warned that insurance is not normally included on rental vehicles.
Mountain biking is another good option and bikes can be hired easily in Hanga Roa. Much of the island has paved roads but you may need to hop off on the rough unpaved sections near some of the main sites.
Easter Island has plenty of mid-range options but few choices at the top or bottom end. All guesthouses are based around Hanga Roa where there are also a couple of campsites. Prices are generally much higher than on mainland Chile and quality can vary – the tourism office just off the main square in Hanga Roa has a list. Booking ahead isn’t necessary out of high season but if you do, you’ll normally be met with a warm welcome at the airport.
Unsurprisingly, seafood aficionados will love Easter Island. Succulent raw sea urchin (erizo de mar) is a local delicacy, as is tuna ceviche, a mix of onion, coriander and raw fish marinated in lemon juice. Food, wine and beer that have been shipped in from the mainland come with a hefty price tag, but local goodies like sweet potato and banana bread are considerably cheaper. Vegetarians won’t go hungry here.
No vaccines are required for Chile but several are recommended. Check with your GP or local travel clinic 4-8 weeks before departure. Make sure you take plenty of drinking water when you visit the sites, as there is no safe drinking water outside of Hanga Roa.
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