Easter Island- Isla de Pascua on your boarding pass, or Rapa Nui if you ask the locals- is one of the most remote inhabited islands on the planet. However, that shouldn’t stop you from expecting a lot from your visit. From the freshest foods to the friendliest people to most incredible sights you can imagine, Easter Island will enchant you from touch down to wheels up. Ready to make the most of your visit?
Here’s what you need to know for your Easter Island travel adventure- even if it’s only for three days!
Meet the Moai, Easter Island’s Famous Residents
There’s a good chance that you have heard of Easter Island’s Moai, the giant heads poking up out of the ground who seem to greet you at just about every turn. There are almost 900 Moai on Easter Island, and many appear on platforms called ahu, which serve as shrines. Moai come in a range of sizes and characteristics; some have eyes while others favor blank expressions, some wear pukao, or topknots that look like volcanic rock hats on their heads, and some of them are tall and lean while others boast broader shoulders. The tallest Moai is Paro, who is 33 feet (10 meters) high . Almost every Moai faces inland, and island natives believe their positioning was intentional to reflect how they were always watching. Although some Moai do face out to sea, the seven Moai at Ahu Akivi are believed to be either Moai directing travelers to the island or representative of people waiting for their king.
The Moai are enormous, heavy figures—and they aren’t all head. In fact, archaeologists have discovered that the Moai have bodies extend beneath the ground. They were carved in a huge limestone quarry where, to this day, Moai stand in various states of completion.
How the Moai moved around the island is still a bit of a mystery. Most people believe they would have been transported by using logs or other round objects to roll them to their resting spot. If you ask the natives, though, you might get a different answer: they believe the Moai were empowered to walk or dance around the island under their own power. It might sound far-fetched, but Easter Island doesn’t have a wealth of evidence pointing to trees strong enough to carry the Moai centuries ago, so it’s hard to discount the local fokelore.
WHAT TO SEE ON EASTER ISLAND
► AHU TONGARIKI
The largest ahu on Easter Island, Ahu Tongariki is what you have seen when you Google the Moai: 15 of them on one large platform. It’s the quintessential stop and one of the most impressive sights you’ll see on the island. Wait for your tour group to move along so you can get a shot of the ahu without smiling tourists in the foreground, and take shots from both of the small hills in front of it. Don’t forget to walk around to the back of the ahu for a totally different perspective.
► RANO RARAKU
Also known as the Moai quarry, Rano Raraku is the steep volcanic crater where Moai were carved before being transported around the island. You’ll see Moai in various stages of creation as well as numerous styles and sizes, and you’ll see them both standing tall and laying down. This area provides a fascinating look at how the Moai came to life, and you’ll see some of the most famous images from Easter Island. Prepare for some hiking- some of the most noteworthy Moai are a good 10-15 minute uphill walk from your starting point.
► ORONGO AND THE RANO KAU CRATER
This crater is the ceremonial center in the southwestern corner of Easter Island and it is home to some stunning landscapes and the Birdman ritual. Not far from Hanga Roa, you’ll see examples of primitive housing and learn about the Tangata Manu religion that determined the annual reigning tribe until the 1860s.
► AHU TAHAI
The closest ahu to town and the hands-down best place to catch a sunset on Easter Island. Head down at least 30 minutes before the sun sets to meet fellow tourists and watch as the sun and the clouds create an incredible backdrop for the Moai. Stay a little past sunset as the sky turns pink and orange. Bring a sense of wonder and a full camera battery- you’ll want to have both.
► Ahu Nau NauFor some incredible pictures of Moai nestled between palm trees, Ahu Nau Nau is a great destination. The Moai are among the best preserved on Easter Island, as they were protected from erosion by the sand on the beach. It’s also a great place to enjoy some swimming or a picnic if the weather is nice!
► Ahu Akivi
All of the Moai on Easter Island face inland, where they watch over the people who live there, with one exception. Ahu Akivi features seven Moai that face outward toward the ocean. Because of how the sun shines on these Moai, Ahu Akivi is a great spot for photography. Sunset is especially nice, when the light illuminates their faces, but it’s easy to get a great shot no matter when you visit.
► Ahu Vinapu
Located close to the airport, Ahu Vinapu features a type of stone wall architecture that is only found in Incan cities, which suggests there may be connections between Easter Island the people who built cities such as Ollantaytambo in Peru. Of particular interest is a single red column that protrudes from the ground. Believed to be a badly deteriorated female Moai, this statue is especially uncommon because few Moai have been identified as being feminine.
► Ahu Te Pito KuraAhu Te Pito Kura is worth a visit for two reasons: it is home to the largest Moai transported on Easter Island and an enormous magnetic stone that may have magical powers. The Moai, named Paro, weighs approximately 80 tons and fell two centuries ago, so today it is face-down in the ground. Not far from Paro is Tita’a hanga, a smooth oval stone that holds Mana, a supernatural power the Rapa Nui believes is present on the island. Many locals and tourists alike will put their hands on the stone in hope that some of the magnetic energy will transfer to them.
► Ahu Akahanga
Not all of the ahu are well-preserved. Ahu Akahanga is a great example of Moai that were toppled during fighting on Easter Island and never restored. Of note is a small Moai, which lays on its back, that is likely one of the first statues carved on the island. Ahu Akahanga is also home to Hotu Matu’a, who is believed to be a founding ancestor of the Rapa Nui people.
► Ahu Puna Pau
Known for being the place where the Rapa Nui got red scoria, or volcanic ash for pukao, the red headdresses or hats some Moai wear, this area of Easter Island is especially picturesque. With lush, rolling green hills dotted by red scoria, it’s a great spot if your visit will also take you to the quarry—that will give you a chance to see where all components of the Moai were sourced.
WHERE TO EAT ON EASTER ISLAND
► MAHINA BEER
The local craft brew, and it’s a light, citrusy pale ale that will absolutely quench your thirst in between tours or after catching yet another gorgeous sunset. I love drinking local when I can, and Mahina is refreshing and easy to drink- a great alternative to pisco sours.
► PISCO SOURS
A staple on Easter Island- and much of South America. Concocted of pisco (a grape liqueur), sugar, lime, and egg white, every restaurant does theirs a little differently. Do yourself a favor and try as many of them as you can. They range from sweet to sour, some have a sugared rim, and all seem to be the pride of the establishment serving them.
► MAKONA RESTAURANT
Located right off the main road, Makona was my favorite restaurant on Easter Island. Definitely more of a local joint, the ceviche was fresh and delicious, and the pisco sour was very tasty. A few at the table raved about the whole fish (served with potatoes-roasted or mashed- or rice). This is a perfect place to spend some time in between your tours! Lunch for two (a round of drinks and two entrees): $50
► LA KALETA
This is located on the water and definitely caters to tourists, but we enjoyed the food nonetheless. Our group split both the hot and cold table to start- the cold table was olives, smoked salmon, and cheese, and the hot table was shrimp, calamari, and fish. The shrimp curry (recommended to me by another traveler) was delicious and filling, and the crab cake was presented more as a crab dip- tasty but very rich. We were not disappointed, and we were not hungry for quite a while! Dinner for two (appetizer, two rounds of drinks, and two entrees): $100
WHERE TO STAY ON EASTER ISLAND
► TAURA’A HOTEL
Just a five minute drive from the airport, it was exactly the right choice for our launching pad to Easter Island. Owner Edith will pick you up (with a traditional lei to welcome you to island life!), give you a quick driving tour of Hanga Roa to orient you, and provide you with comfortable accommodations and delicious food. Our room had a double bed, plenty of storage for clothes, and a modern bathroom (complete with a shower that had both hot water and incredible water pressure!), but don’t expect conveniences like TV or radio- and, frankly, if you are, Easter Island might not be your kind of vacation. Wireless internet was free (though spotty- completely understandable for an island that is five hours by plane from anywhere else!), but the best part was the breakfast. Eggs that become omelettes just hours after they are laid? Yes. Guava and mango picked that morning? Of course! Fried plantains and fresh smoothies? I’m amazed we didn’t roll away from the breakfast table each morning. Many accommodations on Easter Island provide breakfast as part of the room rate, but don’t pass up on Edith’s- she may be the best cook on the island. Another bonus: the hotel is right off the main road, and it’s about a 5 minute walk to shopping and the grocery store and about 20 minutes to Ahu Vai Ure- so you can save money on renting a car or a bike.
More Information: Booking.com/Taura-a
Are you looking for more hotel options on Easter Island? Here are some deals to consider in Hanga Roa- the main city on Easter Island.
Your Map to Easter Island
If you are planning a trip to Easter Island, this map identifies the locations and places we mention in this post. We hope this helps you put together an Easter Island vacation itinerary of your own!
TIPS FOR VISITING EASTER ISLAND
► THERE IS ONE FLIGHT A DAY
You read that correctly. There is only one flight to Easter Island a day and if you’re not on it you might miss your chance. Consider spending the night in Santiago before connecting to Easter Island. We didn’t do that, and the price we paid was a completely frantic two hour layover spent waiting for and rechecking our luggage (and having several airline staff tell us neither us nor our baggage would be traveling because there wasn’t enough time between receiving our luggage and our next flight) and, eventually, an anxious five hour flight wondering if a change of clothing would be in our future. If I were to plan this trip again, we would have spent a night in Santiago and had at least three hours at the airport to avoid the panic, the sprinting, and the worry that clouded the start to this adventure.
► GET YOUR PASSPORT STAMPED
You can get an Easter Island passport stamp at the Rapa Nui post office! You can stamp your passport yourself for free, and it’s guaranteed to make you smile (and make your friends jealous) when you flip through your passport’s pages in the customs line. Also, it looks great next to our Machu Picchu passport stamp. One more reason to have your passport handy!
► TAKE A TOUR OF EASTER ISLAND
Look for a tour with a Rapa Nui guide. Easter Island natives aren’t just the most knowledgeable when it comes to history and facts, they can bridge the gap between perception and tradition. We took a tour with Marauru Tours, and when we asked our guide how in the world her ancestors moved those enormous stone carvings around Easter Island, she shrugged and matter-of-factly told us, “It was Mana.” Mana, the term used to describe the divine power some possessed and used to command the Moai to move, probably isn’t the explanation given by guides who have merely studied the island’s history, but after hearing a real descendant relay the tales passed down for generations, you can’t help but believe in the power of the Papanui.
More Information: MaururuTravel.com
► YOU’RE GOING TO SPEND MONEY HERE
Locals receive shipments from the mainland every six weeks by boat, so anything you buy- including food, toiletries, and clothing- will reflect the high price it costs to get it to Easter Island in the first place. Meals will likely cost around $25-50 per person (including a beverage). Great meals can cost a lot more than that when you factor in drinks. Souvenirs are also expensive, and don’t be afraid to shop around. Everyone sells Moai statues, and you will see incredible ranges for the same size and quality. Most prices are firm, but some shop owners (especially at the indoor market off the main road) may want to haggle with you. Invest in great tours and one or two souvenirs for yourself- you’ll want something to remind you of this magical place when you’re back home, but the memories you’ll make while experiencing Easter Island firsthand will be the most important investment you make during this journey. You know you’re going to spend money on your visit to Easter Island, so be sure to budget for that before you go.
► THERE ARE TONS OF STRAY DOGS
You’ll probably see a lot of dogs running around, but they’re all friendly. On our first night in town, while cooling our tired feet in the Pacific waters, a scruffy pup approached me and dropped a shell by my side. I threw it for him, and he chased it down and brought it right back for another round. Sweet strays who play fetch? Definitely my kind of paradise! The dogs are plentiful, but they won’t bite, beg for food, or hurt you. Treat them well, and throw the shell for them if you’re chosen as their next playmate.
► BRING SOME PESOS WITH YOU
so you have some cash on hand right away. We intended to stop at an ATM in the airport in Santiago during our layover, but because our baggage and the airline staff had other plans for our time, that didn’t happen. There are two banks on Easter Island- Santander and Banco Espana- and it’s common for the ATMs to run out of money (especially on weekends). Exchange some cash before you go, as not everyone takes credit cards just yet. Credit cards are pretty widely accepted at restaurants and hotels, but stores are hit or miss and it all depends on if their machines can get enough reception to processes the transaction.
► Consider travel insurance
Easter Island is an incredibly remote part of the world. With just a single flight to and from the island on most days, it can be difficult to get back to the Chilean mainland if there is an emergency. We purchased travel insurance for our trip, and we were very happy with the World Nomads policy we selected. It’s a good idea to consider a travel insurance policy when planning for your trip to Easter Island.
More Information: WorldNomads.com
VISIT EASTER ISLAND!
A vacation to Easter Island is a true trip-of-a-lifetime, and there is nothing that will ever dull the memories of laughing with new friends over ceviche and beer, watching the last gorgeous sunrays disappear over the horizon, and gazing up in awe at the Moai, some of the most incredible and mysterious stone carvings known to mankind.
Only 50,000 people make the trip to Easter Island each year- and it’s time you’re one of them. Make it happen.
Are you looking for more once-in-a-lifetime vacation ideas? Here are a few posts for inspiration!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. This post includes our candid review of our experience at various locations. We selected these hotels, restaurants, and activities based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review.