Located in the south-eastern section of the Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is one of the remotest places that one can visit in the world. Marking the south-easternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle, the island is known also as Isla de Pascua (and this is the name that you will most certainly be using when travelling there). Technically belonging to Chile as a “special territory“ (since 1888), it has a total population of about 6,600 people. Its “capital”, if we may call it that (it is more like a seat town), is Hanga Roa and it boasts with about 3,300 people (making up roughly the 50% of the total population of the island). Known for its exquisite humanoid statues known as the Moai, Easter Island has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 (a large section of the island being protected under the Rapa Nui National Park).
Easter Island is named as such for it has been discovered on Easter Sunday of 1722 by a Dutch reconnaissance vessel. After conducting hundreds of research operations, scientists have concluded that its native people, the Rapa Nui, were probably settlers from the area of Taiwan (having conquered the island between 700 and 1100 CE). These results come from modern-day DNA testing and they are considered canonical nowadays. Due to the systematic deforestation of Easter Island and the elimination of natural resources, its population had dropped from 15,000 to about 2,500 by 1722. Further castigated by slave raiders from Peru and by diseases to which they had no immunities, the Rapa Nui reached the brink of extinction. Today, about 60% of the total population of the island is said to bear genes from their aboriginal ancestors.
Despite the significant lack of trees on Easter Island, it is located within the bounds of the tropical rainforest climate zone, extremely close to the humid subtropical one. What this means is that temperatures rarely drop below 15 degrees Celsius even during wintertime (July-August). Record highs have never somersaulted over 34 degrees, so it is bound to adhere to a pleasurable standard all year long. Due to its location, hurricane seasons tend to avoid Easter Island all the time and the worst things that one can experience there are heavy thunderstorms (and even these are but inadvertent by-products of wintertime).
The easiest way to get to Easter Island is to visit the capital city of Chile first. From Santiago, you can board a plane and take a 5-hour ride to your destination. From Santiago, you are not required to present a passport for obvious reasons but if you are visiting from French Polynesia (more specifically from Papeete, Tahiti), you will need one. Served by the Mataveri International Airport, Easter Island (and Hanga Roa) is handled by a single airline: the LATAM Chile. Located 3,749 kilometres away from Santiago and utilised only a limited number of times, it required no more than a single asphalt runway. The cost of these trips will vary from 400 USD to about 1000-1200, so plan your budget ahead! A side-note: if you are on a budget trip, make sure that you insist that you get the cheapest possible seat – this may yield fascinating results. Oh, and it helps to be good at Spanish.
There is no public transportation on Easter Island so that is not going to be an option. But before you engorge your eyes in despair, know that taxis are abundant and as cheap as they can get. They are quite possibly the best means to get around the island as they will sometimes even have the patience to wait for you if you pay them a little extra. Haggling also works to some degree, so if you feel like it, give it a shot! On the other hand, staying eco-friendly has never been so easy, since Easter Island is quite small: it only stretches on about 163 square kilometres (that is no more than the size of a modern-day city). You can walk from one extremity to the other in about 6 hours if you are really slow.
SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES:
We have to get the elephant out of the room right away and in this case, these are many… around 887, to be precise. Yes, we are talking about the most renowned attractions of Easter Island: the majestic Moai of the Rapa Nui. They are located all around the island and many of them are situated on ceremonial platforms called Ahu. And here comes the attention-grabber: do not, in any circumstance, walk on the Ahu. Damaging these ancient statues is considered a criminal act and they can lend you fines reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Such consequences have occurred in the past for acts as “simple” as breaking the ear off of a Moai. Oh, and on a side-note: did you know that almost all Moai are facing inwards except for the ones located on Ahu Akivi? Those seven guardians gaze out at the ocean and their grandeur cannot be denied.
Rano Raraku is also an excellent place to visit if you happen to be trekking through the island. The volcanic crater formed by tuff (or consolidated ash) is located on the imposing slopes of the Ma′unga Terevaka volcano in the Rapa Nui National Park. Scientists believe that Rano Raraku was the main quarry that yielded the stone for 95% of the Moai that we can gaze at nowadays. Oh, and did we mention that it boasts with a crater lake?
If you happen to find yourself in Hanga Roa, be sure to visit the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum. Named after the Bavarian Missionary Sebastian Englert, the establishment was established in 1973 so that it may preserve the cultural nuances of the Rapa Nui people. Harbouring the William Mulloy Library, it is administered by the Chilean Directorate of Libraries, Archives and Museums. Oh, and did we mention that it has a female Moai among its collections?
Even though Easter Island is far away from civilisation, it is not a place that should not be considered when making trip plans. What we can promise you is that it is a unique island with a vibe that can only be felt there. The echo of the Rapa Nui is everywhere and you cannot help taking it in every step of the way. Valiant travellers, know that the Guardian of the Moai is waiting for you!