Chile - The mystery of Easter Island
January 1, 1970
by Stine Brekke
The feeling we got that afternoon when we first spotted an island in the horizon, was extraordinary. For nearly three weeks, the Pacific Ocean had been our only view. Everybody on deck was cheering, and dancing around. Tomorrow we would be back on dry land, and ready to explore one of the most mysterious islands on earth – Easter Island.
General facts about the island
Easter Island, Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua belongs to Chile and is located in the southeast Pacific Ocean. Easter Island marks the southeastern end of the Polynesian Triangle together with Hawaii in the north and New Zealand in the southwest. The size of the island is 163, 6 square kilometers and the total population is 6148 (2014). The capital is called Hanga Roa, and it is also the only township. The whole population lives in, or close to the capital as the rest of the island is a national park with no permanent residence. Facts.
We had to anchor outside the capital because of the rough waves and currents in the harbor. Longboats came to pick us up from the tall ship, and suddenly we were standing on the most remote inhabited island in the world. I do not know what I expected to find, except from Moai statues and a lack of trees, but here I was, in Hanga Roa, and I instantly loved it. This charming, small town had a laid-back atmosphere. A Moai was greeting us at the harbor and several palm trees were standing along the shore. The harbor also consisted of several restaurants and cafes, and two diving shops.
The town stretched on along the ocean and further up into the island. Here you will find everything you need, from more cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs to small beaches great for surfing, shops filled with clothes, shoes, food and souvenirs, an internet cafe, two banks with ATM’s and a church. There is also an interesting museum about the history of the island, worth visiting. Everything is within walking distance.
Our first mission was to find a place to stay. Easter Island does not offer a huge variety in accommodation, and prices are in general high. The official currency is Chilean Pesos, but they also accept American Dollars. As we arrived in February, during the only annual festival on the island, many places, especially the cheaper options, were fully booked.
Even though Easter Island might feel like a backpacker’s paradise, it does not offer cheap hostel accommodation. There are options to camp, if you have your own tent, and they offer cabins at the campsite, cheaper than a hotel. Remember to book in advanced, especially if you plan to stay during the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival, the first two weeks of February. Other than camping, there is a range of hotels to choose from. The cheapest options are normally located at the outskirts of the city center. Accommodation.
A must while on Easter Island is to enter the National Park. The park entrance fee is 30000 CLP or 60 USD, and the ticket is valid for 5 days (with some restrictions). As taxis are hard to get hold of outside Hanga Roa, and public transport is next to non-existence, I would recommend hiring a vehicle. Be prepared to drive on some dirt roads, but traffic will most likely not be a problem outside of town. You will not regret a trip around the island.
The landscape is just exceptional. The Pacific Ocean meet the naked shore and hills, there are almost no trees to be fond. History tells they were all cut down by earlier settlements, but nobody know exactly why this happened. A much-discussed theory is the need for logs to help move Moai statues into place. These huge stone figures is to be found all around the island. Some head down, some unfinished still waiting to be craved from the mountain, but most of them are standing tall, making your mind wander with complicated questions about the past.
The mysterious stone figures of Easter Island was made by settlement between 1250-1500 CE. They were craved in the mountain, and then moved to stone platforms called ahu, where they stand gazing inland – never towards the sea. Legends says the statues “walked into place”. How the statues were actually moved has been a brain-turner for scientists since the statues was first discovered in the 1700. The estimated numbers of statues on the island is 887. The average height is 4 meters. However a Moai of 10 meters and weight of 82 tons has been standing on the Island. Another, unfinished Moai is estimated to be about 21 meters long. Moai.
Easter Island has so much to offer. During the 10 days I spent here, I fell in love with Hanga Roa, the mystery of the national park, the people and the atmosphere. There are two small beaches in the capital, one great for surfing, the other one for swimming, as it is more enclosed. On the other side of the island, you will find the beautiful, white sandy Anakena Beach, really worth a visit! There are many diving sites, including an underwater Moai used in a movie set. This is a deep dive, for certified divers only. The Tapati Rapa Nui Festival in February is something completely different from any other festival I have been to. The local rapa nui people celebrate every day, having a triathlon around a volcanic crater, fishing and dancing competitions and other traditional sporting events. In the evening, the party continues on stage in Hanga Roa, with music, dancing and entertainment far into the night. The festival lasts for two weeks. Tapati Festival.
The official language is Spanish; some elderly still speak Rapa Nui. Most people in tourism speak and understand some English. On the menu you’ll find a lot of fresh fish, but also a great variety in other dishes. Temperature differs from 27 degrees in summer (Dec – Jan) and down to 18 degrees in winter (Jun – Aug). More useful facts.
Most people arrive at Easter Island by plane. There are daily flight to/from Santiago de Chile, and one weekly flight to/from Pape’ete, Tahiti. A standard economy round-trip from Santiago can range from USD 550 – USD 900. Getting there.