For the two of us, the idea of travelling to Easter Island had always been both sporadic and transient. It was unrealistic to imagine having the opportunity to visit such a remote destination, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, roughly five hours off the coast of mainland Chile. Over the years, curious images of the island’s Moai developed within us a sense of wonder, and for the longest time, reading and watching the experiences of others was enough to satisfy that wonderment. Until early last year, at the unexpected junction of all the right conditions, it suddenly wasn’t enough.
Piggybacking off of an upcoming trip to Chile with our friends Viv and Mo, we all decided to plan a detour of four days between our time in Santiago and Cajón del Maipo (upcoming posts on each). We had two options to consider: peruse Patagonia or escape to Easter Island. Needless to say, we were excited to decide on Easter Island.
The Specs ($ USD)
$1,042 – Two Roundtrip Flights (from Santiago)
$120 – Two Tickets to Rapa Nui National Park
$80 – Three Nights Hospitality
$45 – Truck Rental
$16 – Bike Rental
$1,303 – Three Night Total (not including food)
Arriving on Easter Island
Flying LAN via the Santiago international airport, we landed and disembarked on a tarmac – one of those arrivals that remind you just how secluded and remote you are. Stepping off the plane, we could feel the heat of the sun. Locals explained to us that that day was abnormally hot, the degree to which we would soon find out. With a bit of difficulty, we found our lodging within a five-minute taxi ride from the airport. We were greeted with a bunch of bananas – smaller in size and sweeter than normal – and an introduction to the house and Rapa Nui culture. We won’t go into detail about our lodging and all of the challenges we faced with it, especially since it’s not some in-demand hot spot that many people will be frequenting, but we will say it had its ups and downs. Admittedly, that’s something we’ve become accustomed to as no-luxe, budget travellers.
We followed a dirt road down a hill, turning left, then right, and passing a convenience store stocking basics like toiletries, cleaning agents, canned food and some fresh produce.
We took a map and set out on foot to spend what was left of the day exploring Hanga Roa: the name of the town on Easter Island. For months we wondered what a town on an island in the middle of the Pacific would look like and we were finally about to come face to face with it. We followed a dirt road down a hill, turning left, then right, and passing a convenience store stocking basics like toiletries, cleaning agents, canned food and some fresh produce. Dirt turned to pavement and, in the centre of the town, cobblestone. On our left, we passed the town library with free wifi and hard-lined computers, seeing the coast ahead of us only a few blocks. We walked down the hill and approached the water, noticing a large Moai front and centre.
The rest of the day was spent meandering, taking in the sights and sounds, sitting by the water’s edge and getting familiar with our surroundings. Stopping by the one and only post office on the island, we dropped some change in the ‘tips’ jar and the woman at the counter stamped our passports. Continuing our walk, we found solitary Moai here and there, twisted and turned along the roads and ended up finding Rapa Nui’s oceanside graveyard. From there we looped back around to the centre of town popping in and out of many of the shops, seeking out information on truck and bike rentals for the coming days.
Upon arrival, our host had told us about a place nearby called Tahai: a grouping of Moai along the coast that photographs beautifully during sunset. With about an hour left before dusk, we all decided to head back to our rooms, grab some snacks and a blanket, and continue to the lawn in front of Tahai to relax and watch the setting sun. This, in its calm and simplicity, was one of our favourite moments on Rapa Nui.
Easter Island: Day 1
On the morning of our first full day on the island, the mist in the air made the weather much more mild than the day we landed, so we thought it a perfect opportunity to explore the island on bikes since we wouldn’t overheat. Two minutes after leaving toward town, we realized we had forgotten sunscreen but quickly dismissed it (misty, mild weather and all). When we asked about bikes, shop owners cautioned that we would quickly tire from biking up and down the slopes of Easter Island, and we brushed it off as their attempt to upsell to a more expensive truck rental. Biking is something we had wanted to do before arriving, so we insisted on it and saved some money for the day.
But man oh man it was difficult. It was tough because we randomly chose a specific route to bike, and that route ended up being the one road that was so rough and bumpy that even rental companies forbade their trucks from using it. Much of it was uphill, with many sections so difficult we had to dismount and walk. Our first major break from biking came upon the discovery of some caves, or lava tubes. These caves were used by the people of Rapa Nui not only as gardens but also as shelter from slave drivers. With a few different entrances and routes, and neither of them long or dangerous, exploring the caves was the perfect opportunity to check out something new and give our bodies a rest from biking.
We didn’t take any photos of the caves but there is some footage of them in the Easter Island portion of our trip video. We had set out with a plan to bike to the base of the island’s largest extinct volcano, Ma′unga Terevaka, and then lock our bikes before hiking to the top. But when we emerged from the caves and jumped on our bikes, one thing became clear: we were in pain. The girls often bike so they weren’t as affected, but the bumps and rocks along the road had impacted our ‘nether regions’ so consistently for the last few hours that it hurt to even sit. The palms of our hands experienced the same sensitivity from grasping onto the vibrating handlebars. And to top it all off, it started to become clear how big of a mistake it was not to turn back at the beginning of the day when we realized we had forgotten the sunscreen. The backs of our hands were sore and red – the kind of red that you push on and momentarily changes to white. As were our necks, faces and arms. We didn’t know it at the time, actually we found out too late (at the airport on our way out, in fact) but the sun’s strength was at a level 10… out of 11.
The paved road was completely downhill. The four of us, one in front of the other, soared down the centre of Easter Island, passing by houses here and there and dodging minor potholes.
We pushed uphill for another hour until we reached Ahu Akivi – a cluster of Moai – and roughly the point of the journey when we were planning on starting our trek to the top of Terevaka. But as we sat and stared at the line of Moai, we knew there was no way we could make it any further. Hours of arduous biking had taken everything we had and we were ready to spend the rest of the evening relaxing.
We checked the map and saw a direct route back to the centre of town. And this turned out to be another one of our favourite moments of the trip. The paved road was completely downhill. The four of us, one in front of the other, soared down the centre of Easter Island, passing by houses here and there and dodging minor potholes. The air was misty and there was a slight cool breeze that felt soothing against our scorched skin. At times we lost each other (some of us would occasionally brake to take the edge off the speed) but we regrouped by the end of the road, back in the centre of town and just in time to enjoy a low-key night.
Easter Island: Day 2
We started our second full day knowing it would be our most expensive. First on the menu was a plan to hike up the extinct volcano of Rano Kau and to the ceremonial village of Orongo. To do so, we needed to purchase a ticket to the Island’s National Park, either at the airport or right at the entrance where the hike begins. This ticket, at $60 USD, also gave us access to Rano Raraku, which we would visit later (see below). So the four of us started the trek that would take us roughly forty-five minutes to the top, including some much needed breaks using some strategically placed benches along the way. The climb is steep but the landscape changes throughout, and the views of Easter Island at your back as you ascend are breathtaking. Immediately at the top is a viewpoint overlooking Rano Kau, the extinct volcano with its crater lake containing some protected biodiversity.
From the Rano Kau viewpoint, we continued along a path uphill toward the ceremonial town of Orongo, roughly a ten-minute walk. Orongo is situated at the furthermost accessible point of Rano Kau’s ridge, where dozens of stone houses sit facing the cliffs and Pacific Ocean. It was here that early Rapa Nui culture would come every year to participate in their Birdman ritual, whereby a leader was chosen through a test of physical strength and stamina by way of a glorified easter egg hunt. The three islands that sit just offshore from Orongo played a big part in this test, but we won’t ruin the stories by saying more than that. You can get a mild sense of the rituals and beliefs of the time thanks to the engravings that abound, or if you want full details, there are free information boards or organized tour guides for hire.
After getting back to town from Orongo and Rano Kau, we decided to rent a truck to visit a cluster of sites at the opposite end of the island. Normally the cheapest truck rents for roughly $65 USD for 24 hours, but we came to them wanting less time so they offered us a rate of $45. One very important note that we were surprised by is that there is no such thing as insurance on Easter Island. Any truck you rent, or bike or quad for the matter, is your responsibility. They take your credit card imprint upon rental and you’re on the hook for any damage whatsoever. So we drove very carefully and stayed on the main roads.
The drive to our first stop, Anakena beach, took no time. Fifteen minutes from Hanga Roa to the opposite end of the island may sound unbelievable but at its widest point, Easter Island is only 24 km long. By the time we got to Anakena, one of only two beaches on the island, it was just about lunch time so we took a seat at one of the benches and made some sandwiches. Stray dogs and wild roosters roamed the area nearby as we sat amidst the cluster of palm trees, hiding our still-burnt skin from the sun underneath some long sleeves and hoodies. We took a stroll on the beach, gazed at the water while perched atop a rock, and then finished off our visit by checking out the row of Moai just steps from the sand.
From Anakena we drove a couple minutes down the road to Tongariki, the longest lineup of Moai on the entire Island. Fifteen to be exact. There was a small parking lot at the end of the road where we left the car and walked toward the Moai. As with most Moai on the island, we were only allowed to get so close before seeing a sign that warned us of the limits. So we took some steps back and marvelled at the magnitude of what we were looking at. The largest single Moai ever erected on Easter Island sat among this lineup, and though we were visiting in the middle of the day, we were told this was the place to be at dawn, when the sun rises and peaks up between the statues. At one point in Rapa Nui’s history, a combination of events had toppled and relocated much of these Moai, until relatively recently when a team set out to relocate and restore what it could.
Only two minutes away, our last stop and most certainly not the least was the well known and much referred to quarry, known officially as Rano Raraku. This is the second location you are given access to when you purchase the national park ticket. Unlike Rano Kau, we were asked to present our ticket at the entrance to have it validated and stamped. (Side note to Easter Island: If you charge someone sixty dollars just to get in, you shouldn’t then charge them to use the bathroom).
Even if we hadn’t read about the quarry beforehand, it was so obvious what happened there.
Rano Raraku is the extinct volcano whose rock was used to make all of the Moai. The Rapa Nui would carve each head out of the stone, detach them from the wall of the mountain and eventually transport them to the different locations all across the island. Even if we hadn’t read about the quarry beforehand, it was so obvious what happened there. Walking along the paths, we saw dozens of Moai heads sticking out of the grass, some looking directly at us, others toppled over and face down into the ground. We even came across one head that was only partially carved out from the mountain’s rock wall, giving us a glimpse of the various stages of production.
An uphill path slowly turned into golden sand, leading us into the volcano’s interior crater and what turned out to be quite the majestic setting. In the middle was a lake surrounded by lush greenery, bright, orange floral trees, and yes, more Moai. We took a seat at the one and only bench, strategically placed underneath one of the trees, looking inward onto the crater’s lake. There is an information board or two right at the end of the path – we read it briefly and sat back down to relax and enjoy the view.
Finishing off our time on Easter Island was bitter sweet. On one hand we knew how unlikely it would be for us to ever, in our lives, return to the island for a second visit, but on the other hand we were very much looking forward to our next plans: some cabana time in Cajón del Maipo.
Before even setting foot on Easter Island, a friend’s colleague told us of how he had visited over fifty times and still didn’t think it was enough. Sure, we knew there could always be more to see, more to discover and understand, but we had packed our days so full of exploration that we couldn’t help but fall asleep that night with a sense of accomplishment at what we had experienced over the last few days.
Thank you to our readers from all over the world! Feel free to comment below and share some of your own stories and experiences on Easter Island.
Safe and happy travels!
– Adamo & Joey
The Gays Abroad