Although technically belonging to the nation of Chile, Easter Island is located in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. Originally called Te Pito O Te Henua, or the navel of the world, Easter Island is one of the most remote spots on the planet. Despite its location, or perhaps because of it, Easter Island is a fascinating destination that draws plenty of interest and countless visitors each year. Although its iconic statues called Moai are what the island is best known for, there is a staggering amount to do, see and explore in Easter Island.
To its Polynesian residents, Easter Island is referred to as Rapa Nui. The English name of Easter Island is relatively recent, given to the island in 1722 when a Dutch ship discovered the island on Easter Sunday. The history of the island stretches far further back than the 18th century, however. Evidence suggests that Easter Island was first settled between 700 and 1100 AD, and by 1600 AD the population of the island was well over 15,000.
By the time of the Dutch visit the civilization of Easter Island was already in a drastic decline, as a result of overpopulation, deforestation and exploitation of an extremely isolated island with limited natural resources. The statues were still standing when Roggeveen visited the island but by James Cook’s visit in 1774 many were reported toppled. Most would be cast down during later conflicts between clans. About 50 Moai have been re-erected in recent times.
Today, Easter Island is a vibrant, scenic and culturally relevant destination with a thriving tourism industry. Just over half of its residents are native to the island, and the local culture is still present. Beyond just the Moai, there are still myths revolving around the family caves guarded by gods called aku-aku, local stone handicrafts, more than 4,00 petroglyphs and detailed wooden carvings.
Despite its remote location, getting to Easter Island is easier than you might expect. Regular flights are available from Chile and Tahiti. Easter Island boasts a humid, subtropical climate, so expect relatively warm temperatures throughout the year. However, with its location in the Southern Hemisphere, the coldest time of year in Easter Island is between June and August, or winter in the region.
No trip to Easter Island would be complete without spotting the Moai, or iconic figure statues, that are placed on bases called Ahu. What comes as a surprise to some visitors is that there are many spots to see the Moai throughout the island. Anakena, for instance, is a gorgeous white sand beach that is also home to seven Moai statues.
A drive along the coastline will offer plenty of views of Moai, but arguably the best place to stop and see a large collection of the statues is at Rano Raraku. This was once the quarry where stones were collected to make the Moai, and the hillside is still littered with statues in various stages of completion. The largest Ahu, or platform, for the Moai ion Easter Island is Ahu Tongariki. Here, 15 statues in a row overlook a ruined village, and two of the statues still have their topknots.
It is worth noting that places like Orongo, Rano Raraku and more are all part of the Rapa Nui National Park, and visitors will need to pay entrance fees for these destinations either individually or as part of a comprehensive park pass available at the airport.
One of the most important sites on Easter Island is Rano Kau and Orongo. This protected volcanic crater was once a sacred ceremonial space, and in its center is a large freshwater lake. Climb to the perimeter of the crater, and you’ll have spectacular views of the ocean as well as access to the village of Orongo. This village was once the hub for a local cult worshiping a bird god, and there are many petroglyphs carved into the landscape depicting bird-men hybrids as well as bird gods.
The main town in Easter Island is Hanga Roa, which is also home to the island’s airport. Hanga Roa is where the majority of the local residents live as well as where many visitors will stay while exploring the island. One of the town’s top attractions is the Museo Antropológico Sebastián Englert, which does a wonderful job of introducing Easter Island’s history, explaining more about its culture and displaying significant artifacts like replicas of the Rongo-Rongo tablets. These tablets are shrouded in mystery, and the hieroglyphics inscribed on them can’t be deciphered but are attributed to the Hotu Matua people.