Iorana, hello in Rapanui. The locals call it Rapa Nui, navel of the world. The Chileans call it Isla Pascua. English speakers call it Easter Island. No matter what you call it, most people dream of visiting this isolated South Pacific island known for its unique Moai statues and distinctive culture. We've visited three separate times, although the second time might not count since we barely got ashore. It's one of those places that might be more easily visited by plane than by boat. It's an open roadstead, that is, there's no good all-weather anchorage. Nine of Cups and crew moved frequently from anchorage to anchorage as the weather changed instead of being able to spend more time ashore wandering. Still, with two good visits, we got in our share of exploring.
A little speck of a bump on the horizon rising from the sea, Easter Island was a welcome sight after our 19-day, 1943nm sail from the Galapagos Islands. On our first visit, we were the only sailboat at anchor in the harbor which we shared with a Chilean Armada submarine for nearly two weeks. Rules then required one person to remain aboard the boat at all times (bummer), so we visited the island in shifts. By our third visit, the rules had changed. When the weather was calm, and with permission, we could venture ashore together as long as we carried our VHF with us. No problem. We were ashore as often as possible and even had the chance to rent a car! Wow! (We'll skip details of the second visit...not so pleasant.)
Hanga Roa is the largest town, the tourist center of Easter Island and the place to begin your adventure. Though this Chilean territory is in the middle of nowhere, there was no problem getting our ATM cards to work, dispensing colorful Chilean pesos which were easily and quickly spent. As one would expect, prices when we were here were dear, but not outrageous. Though somewhat basic, pretty much everything you need is available including reliable internet.
A good portion of the island is protected as part of Rapa Nui National Park and the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking around Easter Island is like wandering in a huge open-air museum. There are hundreds of moai and they’re literally everywhere. Some moai sport jaunty top knots (pukao) and many have rather large obsidian eyes that seem to follow you as you move around them. The moai do not face the sea, by the way, but rather face inwards towards the island, guarding their ancestors.
Highlights not to be missed include:
Ahu Tongariki – 15 moai standing tall and in a row. Many of the moai were toppled during clan wars long ago and others have been ravaged by tsunamis and weather. They're now being resurrected by archeologist groups from around the world.
Rano Raraku – the moai “nursery”. The moai were carved “in situ” and many still lay in various forms of completion embedded in stone.
Anakena Beach – Oh, my, this is what dreams are made of. The beach is white sugar sand and the water is wonderful. Ahu Nau Nau (7 moai) stand tall while Ahu Ature Huki, a single moai resurrected by Thor Heyerdahl et al are in clear view. There is a picnic area and it’s an absolutely wonderful place for hiking around and taking photos. The falcon-like birds soaring around here are cara-cara.
Orongo – ceremonial village of the Birdman cult. It's a long, long, long walk, so rent a car, hitch a ride or take a tour. The center is small, but extremely interesting. Enjoy great vistas of Needle Rock and views of the Rano Kau volcano crater.
Museo Antropologico (Easter Island Museum) - Tiny, but informative and well worth a visit.
Walk, walk, walk. There are moai of all descriptions, all around. Watch locals ride horseback along the beach and over the rolling hills. Check out the tiny cemetery overlooking the sea.
If you go:
Lan Chile offers flights from Santiago en route to Papeete, Tahiti.
Hanga Roa is the place to start your adventure. It's tiny and definitely not hard to find your way around. People are super friendly and helpful. Being able to speak a little Spanish is definitely to your advantage. This is the place to find ATMs, internet, laundry, lodgings,car rentals, dive shops, restaurants, supermarkets, butchers, a large fresh market, fuel, pharmacies, a small hospital/clinic, post office and tour guides. The island is small and once you leave the “big smoke”, amenities are scarce. You can pick up free maps, brochures local tourist/tour information at the Sernatur office.
If you enjoy indigenous crafts, there are several markets offering local artists' wares. Visit the Mercado Artesenal, a huge crafts market open daily. Note that they're pricier than the vendors at the fresh market and other tiny boutiques where the unique, as well as the usual t-shirts and postcards are available. Things to look for as souvenirs would be carved items. The carvers here are wonderful, although they import their wood since there are no native trees left on the island. You can also get a tattoo as a souvenir of your visit. Don't forget to stop at the little post office for unique Easter Island postage stamps.
Note that most shops close between 1pm -4 or 5pm and reopen in the evening till about 8pm … and then the sidewalks roll up.
Island tour and trips to tourist sites such as Rano Raraku and Orongo are easily arranged via a multitude of tour companies
Watch the movie, Rapa Nui. The acting isn't great, but it was filmed on the island and parts of the historical aspects of the long ears and shorts ears as well as the architectural efforts required for carving and raising the moai are accurate.
Time: UTC -6 (UTC -5 during daylight savings time)
Currency: Chilean peso
On a boat and planning a trip to Easter Island? We're happy to share our anchorage notes. Just drop us a line.