11-14 December 2016
What to see on Easter Island? When to go and how long to stay? Easter Island is best known for its Moai, mysterious giant statues carved from unique blocks of lava stone, but it is also interesting for its beautiful landscape and for a large, easily accessible beach. In this guide you will find information on Easter Island and some important tips to make your visit smoother.
Essential Easter Island travel guide - when to go, how to get there and how to move around:
Easter Island is located in South Pacific ocean, around half-way between Chile and French Polynesia and is known mainly for its mysterious archaeological sites, which can be visited in a couple of days. The island also has a beach, where visitors can relax for swimming among tropical waters and white sand, as well as interesting landscapes dominated by ancient volcanoes.
The best time to visit Easter Island is from October to March, when temperatures are higher there is less rain compared to winter time. Getting to Easter Island is possible with daily flights from Santiago (Chile) and with weekly flights from French Polynesia, offered by the LATAM airline. In either cases, the flight takes about 5 hours. To move around in Easter Island, we recommend to rent a car in order to have the maximum flexibility depending on weather: the distances between the various attractions is long and, unless you get an organized tour with fixed schedules, it is impossible to move around in other ways.
The main and only inhabited place on Easter Island is Hanga Roa
, a town with a population of just over 3000 inhabitants and with basic services such as schools and a hospital. The economy is based mainly on tourism and fishing.
Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua
in Spanish, is mostly known for its Moai, dozens of mysterious giant statues carved from a single block of volcanic rock, usually around 10 meters high and scattered all around the island.
Our tour of Easter Island starts from the most beautiful archaeological site
, called Rano Raraku
and located near the homonymous volcano on the eastern side of the island. It is important to know that before going to any archaeological site on Easter Island, you need to buy a ticket sold exclusively by a CONAF office inside the airport or from another office just outside Hanga Roa
. It is totally useless to take the car and get to the archaeological sites on the opposite side of the island, because no one will grant you the access to the place without a ticket and no one will sell you it on-site. Also, you must be aware that the laws on the protection of archaeological heritage are very strict: you do not have to go out of the paths (which are sometimes not very well marked) or touch statues or artifacts, as the penalties can be severe.
The archaeological site of Rano Raraku is particularly interesting as this place seems to be the source of the volcanic stone used to sculpt the Moai
(the statues of the Easter Island are called, in fact, Moai). Archaeologists believe that the Moai of this area lie here simply because they had just been completed and waiting to be moved their destination along the coast, where all the other Moai are always located with their backs to the sea.
But the real surprise of Rano Raraku is the unfinished Moai
, carved directly in the mountain's side, but never extracted and transported to the coast, like if the natives had to suddenly leave the island, or were all dead, after a terrible catastrophic event.
Are there beaches on Easter Island? Although Easter Island is not a real destination for sunbathing and swimming, Anakena is an amazing beach (the only sandy beach on Easter Island), which offers the opportunity to relax a little bit between an archaeological site and another. The water is not so warm, but the sea is generally calm and the sand is fine and soft (there is also another small beach nearby, but it needs a short hike after driving on a dirt road).
Not far from the beach of Anakena
, the homonymous archaeological site hosts Moai with a large hat made of a volcanic stone different from that used to make the main body of the statue. This particular stone is located in a quarry on the opposite side of the island, so, in addition to the statue, it was necessary to also carry the hat, which came from a completely different place.
The archaeological site of Anakena
is also known for some ruins that testify to the presence of a human settlement dating back to 1200 AD, such as the foundations of houses (bottom picture) and an oven for cooking underground (top photo).
Easter Island is an interesting destination also for its unusual landscapes. In these photos we can see the caldera of the extinct Rano Kau volcano
, which inside has a swamp hosting several endemic plant species and birds.
Not far from the Rano Kau caldera, we find the archaeological site of Orongo
, an ancient stone village recently rebuilt.
The ancient village of Orongo is located in a panoramic position, with a view on the islets of Kau Kau (the one in the foreground), Motu Iti (in the center) and Motu Nui (in the background).
A restored Moai, the only Moai with eyes, at the archaeological site of Ahu Tahai
, not far from the town of Hanga Roa. In the late '70s an archaeologist has supposed that in the empty eye cavities of the Moai, there must be eyes, as at the feet of many statues were found fragments of white coral and small round red stones, probably used to build the eyes.
The landscape of Easter Island
, dominated by ancient extinct volcanoes that with time have become hills with gently undulating sides.
The crater of Rano Raraku volcano, with its lake at the bottom.
is one of the most spectacular archaeological sites on Easter Island and it is recommended to visit it in the late afternoon, since the Moai look to the northwest, in order to see the sunset on the day of the summer solstice (just keep in mind, however, that the site closes around 19:00, while the sun sets much later between November and January). Ahu Tongariki has been recently restored, as the tsunami that occurred in 1960, following the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the world (M9.5 in Valdivia, Chile), has threw down statues. The most massive statue at Ahu Tongariki
weighs 86 tons and the quarry where such Moai was excavated, is located over a kilometer away (while the quarry from where the hat was sculptured, was around 12 kilometers away) .
The Ana Kai Tangata cave
is located near Hanga Roa, not far from the airport, and is easily accessible. It is particularly interesting for the presence of engravings and paintings on the walls and on the ceiling, however very ruined by the time.
Moai fallen along the coast following tsunami, erosion and other natural disasters. In the second photo, the red stone used as hat on the top of the statues.
The archaeological site of Puna Pau
is particularly interesting, as it is the place of extraction of the red stone used to make the hats of the Moai (called the pukao
). Evidences show that the hats were sculpted on site, before being transported and lifted on the statue, often located many miles away.
The Moai without a face.
Some caves under study and restoration, show the presence of an ancient human settlement, also witnessed by paintings in a state of conservation unfortunately not optimal.
In the first picture, ruins of a fallen Moai. In the second photo, the energy stone.
Engravings on the stones of an archaeological site along the eastern coast of Easter Island. The long incision in the second photo probably represents a canoe.
Accustomed to seeing so many Moai, even a simple volcanic stone ends up taking the appearance of the profile of a face.