Ask my family and friends which place I was most looking forward to visit and they'll give you the same answer: Easter Island. I've been fascinated with the place for a while now so when Tyler found a way for us to make it there using miles, I was over the moon. It's been four months now and I still cannot believe we made it there. We spent 5 days exploring all three corners of this triangular shaped island. From visiting countless moai (statues) platforms, both restored and unrestored, both at sunrise and sunset, hiking up and around craters and enjoying lazy afternoons at the beach, we never ran out of things to do.
Best enjoyed at sunrise or in the late afternoon, Ahu Tongariki is the largest ceremonial platform on the island and our personal favorite. We arrived to the site at dawn (the first time), when the moai were barely visible. As the sun crept up behind them, the statues slowly appeared. 15 huge, towering, black shadows. Unfortunately, watching the sunrise here prevents you from actually seeing the faces of these moai so we just had to return later that day, of course. And... one more time a few days later after finishing a hike in that corner of the island. Because, why not?
Best part? Watching the moai come alive as the sun rises up behind them.
Rano Raraku refers to the quarry where most of the moai were carved and which still houses 397 unfinished statues. It's only a short drive from Ahu Tongariki so we made our way there after watching the sunrise. The gates were still closed when we arrived but we managed to get close enough to take a few pictures when the wild horses were still roaming the place. Even after they opened the gates, we were lucky to have the place to ourselves for the first half hour of our visit. Though the quarry isn't large, the sheer quantity of moai to see will have you walking around for a couple hours at least and filling up your camera real fast.
Best part? Unlike other places on the island where the moai have been restored, all those at Rano Raraku stand or lie exactly as they were when work at the quarry ceased, providing a good idea of what things looked when it was still in use.
Playa de Anakena & Playa de Ovahe
I didn't know about the beaches on Easter Island because no one ever talks about them. Turns out, there are two beautiful beaches with incredible turquoise waters. The pictures below, taken at Playa de Anakena, provide a glimpse into the lesser known part of this island.
Best part? The view of the moai as you swim in the clear, blue waters of the Pacific.
Hiking Around the Island and a Couple More Surprises
Beaches weren't the only thing, I didn't know existed on Easter Island. Turns out, there are many hiking trails visitors can enjoy all around. With a few more days on the island than most, we enjoyed three hikes. The first was around Rano Kau (row 1 below), one of the extinct volcanoes on the island. The trail lets you walk around a good part of it; that is, until you reach that "bite" and you must turn around. We really enjoyed getting a close look of the motu (islets), which held great importance in the 17th century when the birdman competition was instituted. As a way to restore order when moai carvings had ended and resources were depleted, each tribe had to opportunity to lead by participating in the competition. The latter involved scaling down the cliffs of the volcano, swimming to the motu and grabbing the first egg of the migrating Sooty Tern before returning to the island with the egg unbroken.
Our second hike was on the other side of the island to Poike, another extinct volcano, which no one ever visits. The gate to enter was locked but after speaking with the owner of the house nearby, we entered and tried to find any sort of path. This hike wasn't as enjoyable as we didn't always know which direction we were going in. One of the best parts of it, though, was seeing the heavy soil erosion (row 2), making that corner of the island look a bit like Mars. Finally, our third and favorite hike (row 3) was up Terevaka, the highest point on Easter Island. From there, you can see the whole island and the blue ocean surrounding it all making you feel very, very secluded from the rest of the world.
The moai aren't the only form of art on the island and you can also enjoy many paintings and petroglyphs. The last row of pictures below depict some of this art. From left to right: original bird paintings representing the Sooty Terns, the bird which the birdman competition focuses on, a petroglyph of the birdman (bird head attached to a human body) and turtle petroglyphs.
Best part? Discovering the natural beauty of the island, which most visitors seem to overlook.
The Fallen Moai
Although the restored platforms give visitors a great sense of the way things were when the island was at its peak, it was just as interesting to us to see the many fallen moai scattered around the island. In fact, the majority of the statues have not been restored and lie broken, scattered amid stones. The sight is quite a somber one actually and really showcases the island's unstable history. No one knows for certain why but two main theories explain the overthrow of the moai: (1) the lack of resources leading to attacks on each others villages or (2) a loss of faith in the power of the moai, their idols.
Best part? The site of Ahu Te Peu (pictures 1 & 2 below) was our favorite unrestored platform. With very few visitors, a stunning setting and many archeological remains, it's worth the trek to the northern part of the island.
With gorgeous weather throughout most of our stay on the island, we were gifted with amazing sunsets night after night. Although, we watched the majority of them from the comfort of our hostel, we did venture out one evening to Ahu Tahai just north of Hanga Roa, the main town on Easter Island. Its proximity to town makes it a very popular spot to watch the sunset. Despite its popularity, it's worth catching one last glimpse of a few moai for the day as the sun sets behind them. If you'd like to get a better view of the carvings and the only statue with an imitation pair of eyes (picture 2), visit the site during the day.
Best part? Saying goodnight to the guardians of the island surrounded by locals
Notes & A Few Helpful Tips
- We stayed at Camping Mihinoa and opted to stay in a tent overlooking the ocean, though they also offer cabins and dorms. The tent was already set up when we arrived and they provided mats/sleeping bags as well. The staff is really helpful and offers free transfers to and from the airport. The bathrooms and kitchen are shared between all the guests (separate for male and female) but are clean and never too busy. We loved our stay there.
- As soon as you arrive at the airport, you'll most likely notice many people carrying enormous coolers. Food is very expensive on Easter Island so visitors, families of locals and returning locals all travel from Santiago with some (or a lot) of packed goods. It ranges from person to person but we brought simple things like cereal, bread, pasta, rice and veggies as well as some snacks (granola bars, crackers). Others brought cheese, deli meats, yogurts, milk; the works.
- It is possible to buy groceries on the island but they are 3-4 times more expensive than on the mainland so bring enough with you if you don't want to spend tons.
- We rented a car for a day along with 2 fellow travelers we met at the airport who were also staying at Camping Mihinoa. Total cost for the day was $33.74 for the both of us (including gas). We also rented a scooter the following three days to get around the island, which cost $30.40 per day (including gas). All rentals were through our accommodation.
- You can also rent bicycles but for 2 people, a scooter is almost the same price so we did that instead.
- We really recommend renting some mode of transportation to get around the island as you cannot walk to most sites. Or you could give hitchhiking a try.