One of the most interesting places to visit in Chile is Easter Island. Its name was given by Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutch explorer who arrived on the island on April 5, 1722, and as you can guess, that day was Easter. Its residents are known as Pascuenses or Rapa Nui.
They had no luck with the colonization and decided to rent the island to the “Exploitation Company of Easter Island” which turned it into a sheep farm. They moved all the settlers to Hanga Roa, which is the current capital. Catholic missions, epidemics and slavery almost extinguished the locals. As compensation in 1966, the Chilean government gave them semi-autonomy and currently only the Rapa Nui can own land.
This small island of 163 square kilometers is located in the South Pacific Ocean at the eastern end called the Polynesian Triangle. It is literally in the middle of nowhere, since Chile is 3,526 kilometers to the east. About 2,075 kilometers to the west are the British Pitcairn Islands that are the closest neighbors.
Those who visit Easter Island usually go to Rapa Nui National Park but there are also other things to see and do on the island.
How to get to Easter Island?
To get to Easter Island you must fly from Santiago in Chile. We took a five and a half hour flight with LATAM that you must book in advance to get a good rate. The cheapest day turned out to be my mother’s birthday. A message congratulating her appeared on the television screens in our row. They brought us first class champagne and a card signed by the crew. My mother thought that I had told them but that wasn’t the case. They probably check the list of passengers to see if there are birthdays on board.
When we got off we were asked if we were staying on Easter Island or continuing to Papeete in Tahiti. If we had known that the route followed French Polynesia we might have hidden in the plane to continue the route. Just kidding, Easter Island is also an impressive destination but it just does not compare in terms of beaches. We got our bags and were welcomed with beautiful flower necklaces.
From 2018 you must fill out a form to visit Easter Island. Entrance requirements include having a round-trip plane ticket, in addition to lodging. The Chilean government wants to do something similar to the Galapagos Islands, where there are visitor quotas, but in 2019 this still does not apply. The maximum length of stay allowed is 30 days. About three or four nights are enough to get to know the island.
Other people go on cruises that last between two weeks to a month. These trips include Polynesia, Australia, Oceania and South America. Some even go around the world and can last longer.
Where to stay on Easter Island?
On Easter Island there are no chain hotels. You can stay in small boutique hotels or in cabins. As we were three people we decided to opt for a cabin called Kona Koa Lodge. The owners of the accommodations are Rapa Nui and they pick you up at the airport.
You can visit the Rapa Nui National Park on tour or on your own. The ideal is to rent a car since there is no public transport. The island’s roads are in quite good condition and it is difficult to get lost since everything is marked. You should take into account that there is only one gas station (on the outskirts of Hanga Roa) in the whole island. There is also taxi available or you can rent a motorcycle, bicycle, horse or go on foot on the trails. All tours are given by Rapa Nui locals who explain their history to tourists.
Hanga Roa means long bay in Rapa Nui and is the capital of Easter Island. Almost the entire population of the island lives in this small port city. The population of the island barely reaches 5,000 people. It is advisable to carry cash since there are few ATMs on the island. There is Internet and you can purchase SIM cards to have telephone data.
The town has a main avenue called Atamu Tekena that houses most of the shops, grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies. It also has a Catholic church and a post office where your passport is sealed. Go through the village market to buy handicrafts, fruits or seafood. There is even a Rapa Nui beer called Mahina.
Almost all cuisine is based on seafood. You should try a cheese and tuna pie at one of the local bakeries like Bakery O Te Ahi.
It is worth reserving tickets to see the Kari Kari Ballet which is a representation of the ancestral dances of the Polynesians and Rapa Nui.
The clothes change through the dances which are accompanied by music. You can have dinner or buy drinks on site if you wish. At the end of the show people get on stage to dance.
Unlike other islands, Easter Island is not particularly known for its beaches. Without a doubt, Anakena is the prettiest since it has white sand and many palm trees. This beach is ideal for bathing because it has no waves. It is located in the northeast of the island. You can drive if you rent a car, like us, or a taxi will take you in 15 minutes. On this beach you will find an ‘ahu’ with seven moai and another ‘ahu’ with only one moai. Anakena is known as the place where Hotu Matu’a arrived, a Polynesian chieftain who founded the first Rapa Nui villages on the island.
There is another beach just after called Ovahe that is 800 meters east of Anakena. We tried to find it but it was not well signposted and we got lost on a road in very bad condition. The other beaches of Easter Island are rocky. Pea is a beach in the center of the town of Hanga Roa where you can see green turtles. Another option is Hanga Vare-Varepero is not so much a beach but a concrete pool that is practically under the cemetery.
Easter Island is known as an excellent destination for diving. Unfortunately when we went there was a very strong swell and the conditions were very bad, so all the dive centers had stopped their operations. The dive sites on Easter Island are less than five minutes from Hanga Roa Bay. The water is a bit cold but with a wetsuit you should be able to dive without problem.