Finally making it to Easter Island

You’d have thought that after waiting a lifetime to visit Rapa Nui (the increasingly commonly used native name for Easter Island), an extra day of waiting wouldn’t matter all that much. But seeing as I only had three full days planned, being bumped from my flight by LAN meant missing a third of my time. And I was furious.

I’d heard before that flights to the island are often overbooked, so I reconfirmed my flight at a LAN office the day before, I chose my seat, and I arrived at the airport nice and early. All to no avail. They’d already decided I would be one of the ones not flying that day, so I ended with insulting compensation and an extra day kicking my heals in a sterile hotel in Santiago. To say I was unhappy was an understatement.

But, after a frustrating day of waiting, I finally made it to the island, to be greeted by glorious blue skies and a fantastically friendly welcome from Marta, owner of Camping Mihinoa. Considering I’d been warned that a stay on the island could be extremely costly, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice – at 7,000 pesos (roughly $14), it was a complete bargain, considering the next cheapest was almost double the cost. And cheap certainly didn’t mean nasty – for the price I got a lovely clean dorm room, a big kitchen & dining area, a big communal TV room, and best of all, probably the best location on the island, sitting right on the water’s edge on a rocky outcrop facing some of the most dramatic waves on the coast. Absolutely stunning, I can recommend it to anyone planning on visiting the island.

Easter Island sunset

For my first evening and as an introduction to the island, I made the short stroll up the coastline to the other end of town, to see the sun set behind the most accessible collection of Moai (statues), which was quite an incredible sight. Despite having seen countless photos over the years, nothing could have prepared me for quite how impressive the giant statues are in real life.

Ahu Tahai sunset

The second day was much colder and windier, so I decided to postpone my plans to head out to see the other main Moai sites until the following day, and instead hiked up Ranu Kau, an extinct volcano sitting on the south-western corner of the island. It’s a pretty easy hike, and the views at the top down the steep-sided crater and across to the wild Pacific beyond are stunning.

The next day started out pretty clear, so I decided to set out for one of the biggest hikes the island has to offer – the 34km coastal hike from Anakena beach at one end of the island, all the way back to Hanga Roa via the major archaeological sights along the way. First stop was Ahu Nau Nau, an impressively restored collection of four Moai, all with their topknots reattached (unlike most other restored Moai). Unfortunately by the time my taxi dropped me off there, it had already started to cloud over, as the sight of the four Moai, surrounded by palm trees and overlooking a deserted beach, would have been ever more magical with the previous day’s skies.

Heading away from Anakena along the North-east coast, I really began to appreciate quite how remote I was. Rapa Nui is 3,500km from mainland Chile, and over 4,000m from Tahiti, the nearest major population centre in the other direction, making it one of the most isolated inhabited places in the world. Walking along the empty coastline, with not a single person in sight (all the inhabitants live on the other side of the island, and there were no tourists around), and the huge waves of the Pacific crashing onto the black volcanic coastline, was a strangely moving experience.

Ahu Tongariki

It took a few hours to reach the next main sight, probably the most famous image of the island – Ahu Tongariki, the biggest single collection of Moai on the islands. There are fifteen in total, all toppled from their Ahu (ceremonial platform) in the 18th century civil wars, damaged further by a tsunami, and finally re-erected with Japanese government help in the 90s. Sitting in a line with their backs to the swirling seas, and facing towards the volcano of Ranu Raraku, where they were made, they make a pretty impressive sight. It’s amazing to thing that such a small island culture could make (and move!) such massive statues at all, although famously the statue cult was to prove the society’s undoing, as the island simply didn’t have enough resources to support such endeavours.

Unfinished Moai in Ranu Raraku

A short walk from Ahu Tongariki sits the other major attraction of the island, the volcanic quarry of Ranu Raraku. The place is testament to quite how quickly and dramatically the social order collapsed, as the quarry is home to dozens of statues that are either complete and still waiting the move to their final home, or still in the process of being carved out of the rock face.

As I began to the long walk back along the south coast to Hanga Roa, the heavens suddenly opened, and I soon began to curse the islanders (for having chopped down all the island’s trees, thus denying me shelter) and LAN again (if I’d arrived a day earlier, I’d have had a day of sunshine and few clouds to complete my hike in). In no time, I was soaked to the skin, and contemplating a 17k walk back. Not an enticing prospect. Luckily, I soon spotted a car pulling out of a beach and managed to get myself a lift from the commander of the local naval base, who had been spending his day off fisghing on the empty souther coast line. All in all, a very lucky escape, considering quite how little passing traffic there is on the island.

Despite my anger with LAN for costing me a day on the island, the two and a bit days I stayed there were incredible, and a beautiful way to spend my last major stop in Latin America before the next leg of my trip began.

You can see all of my Rapa Nui / Easter Island photos here.

14 responses to “Finally making it to Easter Island

  1. The sunset looks amazing I would love to see it.

  2. Geoff, your trip is just a little bit bloody inspiring and dashing. I’ve had to resist the temptation to throw my y-fronts at the computer screen on several occasions. Looking forward to reading more and seeing more photos. Glad you got the camera problem sorted out.

  3. What a great commentary on Rapa Nui. We are going in March 2010, and have learnt lots from this site. Photos are very impressive.
    Tahnks you

  4. Beautiful pictures! We are in the process of booking our plane tickets to Easter Island and found your post to be helpful in trying to figure out how many days to spend on the island. Thanks.

  5. so neat!. I would love to go there. Hopefully soon.

  6. Pingback: Realising it’s time to go home « Itinerant Londoner

  7. Immanuel Sembiring

    Hello mate, I am planning to visit Rapa Nui myself some time in December this year or January 2012. Say, how long would your recommend me to spend on the island? I am thinking one week, but would you think it is too long, since it is a very small island?
    Thanx beforehand, mate. Your input is very appreciated!

    Noel

    • It depends on what you want to do / see. I do think a week would easily be enough to see everything you wanted to. I was supposed to be there for three full days (i.e. arriving day 1, then 3 full days, then leave on day 5) but annoyingly LAN bumped me off my flight as it was a Chilean public holiday and the flight was overbooked. Two days was definitely not enough.

      It all depends on what you want to see / do. You could easily take up a day hiking up Rano Kau and visiting neighbouring Orongo in the southeastern corner near the main town. A 2nd day would allow you to see Ranu Raraku (the quarry where the moai were made) and nearby Ahu Tongariki (the biggest group of Moai) and other sites in the east of the island. A 3rd day could be spent exploring more central and northern sites. If you allowed yourself 4 or 5 days you would have time to add in a day of diving (if you’re into that), perhaps a hike to one of the more remote bits (which would be great if you like the feeling of isolation – most people just drive to the most famous sites, so once you get away from them it feels like you have the island to yourself). It would also allow you a spare day in case of heavy rain (which is always possible there). It’s a fantastic place and I am so glad I had the chance to visit.

  8. I’m planning a trip now and was wondering if you could give budgeting advice (not sure if you are that candid on what you spent). I plan on a week on the island and have heard that meals are quite expensive. I’ll probably camp for the most part…Thanks in advance!

    • Thanks Sharisse! Unfortunately my trip was two years ago and can’t remember the exact prices – however it is quite expensive. You can easily get round that though by buying groceries in Santiago before you fly over and taking them with you. I stayed at Camping Mihinoa, which has a camping ground right in front of the ocean (stunning setting) and dorms inside, but best of all they have two kitchens so you can cook your own food, which is easily the best way to avoid expensive meals. They have very good, and very reasonably priced supermarkets in Santiago. Hope you have fun, it’s a great island!

  9. One more quick question… What did you do before or after Easter Island? I really want to combine Patagonia with this trip – but I can only go in June -which is winter there and therefore hiking not really as possible. I may combine it with Peru/Inca Trail or just stick to Easter Island and Santiago.

    • I was there in the spring so immediately before I visited Mendoza in Argentina, which is directly over the border from Santiago, and is at the heart of their wine region, and is lovely – although I have no idea what the weather is like at that time of year. Also possible would be to fly up to San Pedro de Atacama right at the northern tip of Chile to visit the amazing rock formations of the Atacama desert, and as a base to see the incredible Salar de Uyuni just over the border in Bolovia, one of the world’s most stunning landscapes.

      Other things to do nearer to Santiago would be to go skiing – all of Chile’s best resorts are just a couple of hours drive away from Santiago. Meanwhile in the other direction is the port city of Valparaiso, one of my favourite cities in South America.

      However if you do go to Peru, June is one of the best months of the year for hiking, the Inca Trail is great but for really stunning hiking you should check out the Cordillera Blanca & Cordillera Huayhuash near the city of Huaraz in northern Peru, which are the most beautiful mountain landscapes I’ve ever hiked around. If you follow the country category links on this page to the Chile, Argentina, Peru & Bolivia pages I have posts about all of those places.

    • Immanuel Sembiring

      Going to Patagonia in June is not as much fun as it could be in April, where the leaves are changing colors and the weather is not terribly cold.
      I went to Easter island last November and I think one week on the island is more than enough, as the island is so small. And as you are going in June, it will be too cold to spend a long time lazing on the beaches, fine as they are.

  10. Thanks for such a thorough list! I can see now – I need to make 2 trips of it!

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