“Easter Island? What on earth did you do there?” is normally the reaction I get when I say how incredible Easter Island is. Given it’s remote location and the fact that few people have visited, it’s a fair question! So, here you can find my complete itinerary alongside some additional extras that I wish I had time to do!
Allow yourself plenty of time for your flight; not only is the flight a whopping 5 hours from mainland Santiago, Easter Island frequently suffers turbulent weather and flights can therefore suffer significant delays. My flight was delayed by 5 hours!
On arrival in Easter Island, I was presented with a lei by the hostel manager from Camping y Hostal Tipanie Moana which made me VERY excited for what was to come from my first ever Pacific Island adventure.
On arrival at the airport, you will be required to purchase your ticket for all of the archaeological sites for $60. You will need to present this when entering most site or if a ranger asks you whilst you are standing in part of the National Park.
With expensive flights and a hefty fee for a ticket to the archaeological sites, you’re probably wondering how much a trip to Easter Island is going to cost you! Check out my tips and tricks on how to visit Easter Island on a budget here.
I had big plans for Day One on the island, but a long flight delay meant that these plans were somewhat scuppered! Instead of rushing around trying to rectify matters, I desperately searched the map to find the nearest Moai heads.
With Ahu Tahai being a short 20 minute walk from the main village of Hanga Roa, I headed there immediately and I don’t think I’ve ever walked so fast in my life! After being cooped up in an airport and then plane for more than 10 hours, I was ready to be unleashed on the mysterious statues that I had travelled so far to see!
Ahu Tahai is solo statue but 2 minutes away is Ahu Ko Te Riku where 5 stand proudly in a row. I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the view but little did I know that these were some of the smaller moai on the island and things were only going to get better!
This is one of the best spots to catch the sunset on the island – unfortunately my first night was extremely cloudy, so the sunset wasn’t particularly impressive. The good news is that as the site is so close to town, you can try and catch a great sunset as many times as you like.
Eager to start exploring properly, I headed straight into town to see what was going on. Hanga Roa is the only real town on the Island and while there isn’t much to see or do in the town, it’s definitely worth popping in to see how the locals live. If you’re looking for a cheap lunch spot, “Club Sandwich” is the place to be!
If you’re looking for Wi-Fi, there are a few parks in the town which have free Wi-Fi but it might be at the cost of your own sanity whole you wait for your social media to load.
South America is filled with novelty passport stamps – if you get them all, you’re likely to need a new passport shortly after! However, Easter Island’s stamp is definitely worth getting.
Easter Island is owned by Chile and therefore there is no stamping process, when you arrive or depart from the airport. Instead, you can go to the local post office and pay a small donation in return for a passport stamp.
I also purchased an Easter Island postal stamp for my friend’s mum who collects stamps from around the work. Be warned that the Easter Island stamps are only valid on the Island (which makes no sense given that you can drive the length of the island in less than an hour). If you were to send a postcard from the Island, it would be routed through the Chilean postal system and you would need to purchase a standard Chilean stamp.
Pea Bay / Pea Beach is a tiny little beach a short walk from the main town centre and is one of my favourite Hanga Roa spots!
If you’re lucky, you will spot turtles swimming in the bay. If you’re not so lucky, you can console yourself with an ice cream from the Pea Restobar. I don’t know if it was the intense heat/humidity playing with my mind, but I’m pretty sure it was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted (I recommend the pineapple flavour)! I am too ashamed to include quite how many times I bought ice cream from this spot within this itinerary.
To truly experience the island, renting a car is fundamental. Luckily, car hire is reasonably priced, especially when you are travelling in a group.
While cooking dinner in the hostel the previous night, I got chatting to an American couple who were on a year long travel adventure. As they were the only other English speakers in the hostel at the time, I am very grateful that they took me under their wing and allowed me to share their car with them! We paid 35,000 CLP for 24 hours of car hire (approximately 35 GBP) which when split between 3 people was very reasonable.
There is a large loop road around the Island which hosts the main Moai archaeological sites. With this being my first full day on the island, it was a pretty impressive start to my time here!
Hanga Te’e is the perfect place to see Moai in the state that they were left after the Huri Moai period (a.k.a “The Fallen Moai” period).
As with most of Easter Island’s history, the stories are unclear, but there is evidence to suggest that the initial toppling of the Moai was part of a conflict amongst islanders rather than by way of a natural disaster.
Easter Island adopted Christianity in the 1860s which led to a period of toppling the remaining standing Moai (bar some which are partially buried in the quarry) known as the “Huri Moai” period. The Moai which we now see standing were re-erected in later years.
Akahanga has a really fascinating history. Each archaeological site has a red sign at the entrance for you to start learning about the history, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll end up obsessed with the history and the proud owner of an extensive Google search history!
By the entrance, you will find ruins of the best preserved ancient village on the island. Small thatched huts make up a number of ovens, houses and gardens.
Further along the marked path (be sure to stick to all paths on the island as the authorities are trying to cut down on unnecessary erosion by human traffic where possible across the island), you will find a platform which would have been used as a ceremonial centre. The platform consists of several stages which is believed to show a mixture of clans and families that occurred in the ancient society.
There are plenty more toppled Moai to see here too and fantastic views of the rugged coastline!
Now for my favourite stop on the road trip…
Rano Raraku is known as “The Quarry” and is the only archaeological site that your ticket will only allow you to visit once – so make the most of your time here!
The Quarry is now home to almost 400 Moai which never made it to their final destination and in the 18th Century was the source of the stone used for 95% of the Moai on the island. My favourite part of the Quarry is the unfinished Moai that you can still see resting in the rock face, partially carved.
Take your time to walk around the paths and admire the craftsmanship of the Moai but don’t forget to walk around the back of the main site (there are two paths as you enter the main site – it’s the path less travelled) to see a truly beautiful crater!
If you’ve seen one photo of Easter Island, it’s probably of Tongariki.
Home to 15 Moai, it is the largest ahu (the long plinth on which the Moai are stood) and is home to the heaviest Moai ever erected which weighs a whopping 150 tonnes! The Moai all face directly into the sunset during the Summer Solstice.
This is a great place to marvel in the wonder of these statues and get your new favourite Instagram picture 😉
Papa Vaka is home to the largest petroglyph (rock carving) on the island measuring 12 meters long. the petroglyphs depict the Rapa Nui’s concerns about the sea and the control of it’s resources and is a great way for archaeologists to learn more about the history of the island.
At almost 10 meters tall (it’s ears are 2 meters long alone!) and weighing 80 tonnes, the Moai at this site (named “Paro”) is one of the largest on the island and legend states that this Moai was ordered by a widow in the memory of her late husband (suddenly a little plaque in a memorial garden in the UK doesn’t seem so special…).
Next to the Moai is a large stone which is thought to have been brought to the island by the founding king of the Rapa Nui people. The rock is said to have a magnetic and supernatural energy (due to the high iron content, the stone warms up quickly and causes a compass to malfunction).
Unfortunately, a few desperate people have ruined the fun for everyone else… visitors used to be able to put their hands on the stone to capture the supernatural energy; however, the stone is believed to increase fertility in women and it is now closed off after tourists began performing obscene acts… I’ll leave that one to your imagination.
Finally, the last stop on the road trip is a relaxing one! Anakena is the largest beach on the island and is definitely worth a few hours of your time. With beautiful white sand, glistening blue warm sea, palm trees galore and, of course, a few Moai, it really is paradise!
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived and the beach was crowded in the February sunshine (especially compared to the other almost empty sites on our road trip)! If you are visiting in Summer months, try going early in the day to have the place to yourself before any tour buses arrive.
While you still have access to the rental car, get up early and witness the sunrise at Tongariki! Unfortunately I missed out on this activity due my American buddies having the keys to the car and not being interested in seeing another sunrise (I imagine they had seen plenty on their year long adventure)!
I tried to organise this trip for another morning and a taxi ride was seemingly more expensive than 24 hours of car rental – so definitely factor this into your plans!
There are two ways to witness the marvel that is the Rano Kau volcano… The first would be to drive (either in a rental car, taxi or on an organise tour with lovely air-conditioning), the other would be to hike the Te Ara O Te Ao trail which is the same route used 150 years ago to reach the ceremonial village of Orongo (at the top of the volcano rim).
I obviously opted for the harder option… forgetting that it was February and the heat was reaching Summer highs.
Despite the ridiculous levels of sweat and a stare-off with a particularly aggressive cow, it was a beautiful hike. From seaside scenery, small gardens, various viewpoints and a cave, there’s plenty to see along the way and you definitely get a greater appreciation for the island than if you were to hop in a car!
After a 2(-ish) hour hike, the first view of Rano Kau from the lookout is spectacular. While the whole Island is beautiful, without a doubt, this is the most impressive natural landscape on the Island.
The 200 meter high crater walls protect the plants that live within the volcano and stores the humidity which allows for the growth and conservation of endemic plant species – like a giant natural greenhouse!
The owner of the hostel I was staying in advised that I should walk the entire rim of the volcano (as you aren’t able to walk the whole way round, this would involve turning left and until the furthest point and then coming all the way back on yourself to reach the look out again and then head right towards Orongo and then coming back on yourself again to reach the path home). Given the threat of dehydration, I decided to skip the left hand side and continue my walk right toward Orongo.
Ont he volcano edge, you will find the town of Orongo, a town which was only inhabited before the annual Bird Man ceremony.
Up until the 19th Century, men would hike the Te Ara O Te Ao trail before descending the 300 metre cliff to swim to Motu Nui (an islet nearby) in search of the first manutara bird egg of the season. The first man to retrieve the egg and return it safely to the mainland would be the ruler of the island for the next year! With the extremely high death risk in participating in the ceremony, you’d have to be a very power hungry chap to partake!
There is a great mini museum as you enter Orongo which explains the history of the ceremony and also reminds you of the greedy nature of the British – the only Maui from this Orongo is now residing in the British Museum in London (and I am still yet to see it)!
While walking back down from the volcano, I stopped off at Ana Kai Tangata to check out the caves. If you are feeling more adventurous/more energetic than I was, you can climb down stairs which have been carved into the cliff and enter the cave
After a very active day, I decided to treat myself to dinner at Te Moai Sunset which is far pricier than my favourite lunch spot (Club Sandwich) on the main street.
While the food is lovely, the main attraction is the view over Ahu Tahai at sunset. I arrived fairly early for the sunset, so spent some time beforehand lapping up the sun and sounds of the ocean while reading a book – Island life is blissful!
When the sun has set, there’s still plenty to see if you look up! Being on an island with very little light pollution means the stargazing is absolutely incredible. There’s no need to take a fancy tour to enjoy the stars, I simply sat on the porch of my hotel room!
Finally after the intense humidity of the prior few days, the rain came! I used the rain as an excuse to have a lie-in and enjoy island life in the morning – a necessity when staying on such a beautiful island! I won’t lie, I spent most of my time on the Island singing the Moana soundtrack to myself..
Don’t worry, the rain won’t dampen your fun – despite the strange looks from the locals, I still strolled into town wearing a little summer dress as it was still so warm!
If you want a better understanding of the Rapa Nui culture and the history of the Moai, this is the place to go! I found this museum so fascinating, and particularly enjoyed the boards which showed different historians and archaeologists views and opinions on the Moai – I love a good mystery!
Don’t worry if you’re not a museum lover, this one is small, compact and will keep you entertained throughout!
In the late afternoon, I intended to take a boat trip out to the Motu Nui islet (where the Bird Man ceremony took place) to try some snorkelling.
My hostel manager recommended that I go with his friend who was leading a tour group at 4pm and that I would definitely be back in time to watch the traditional dance that evening…
Let’s just say that “Easter Island time” is definitely a thing and the boat journey didn’t start until well after 5pm. if you want to take a boat/snorkelling tour, book with a reputable agency on the harbour/main street!
The Ballet Kari Kari is a traditional dance ceremony which is held a few days a week to tell the story of the Rapa Nui people to tourists.
I couldn’t tell if this was going to be a genuinely cultural experience or a bit of a tourist trap but I never got to find out due to the late running of my boat trip – if you do go and see it, let me know how it was!
With it being my last day on the Island, I wanted see the final few archaeological sites. I took a stroll into town and an extraordinarily helpful girl working in one of the tourist agencies made all of my plans spring into motion without the need to hire a car again!
First stop was a quick cab ride to Vinapu, an area that is home to stone work and carving techniques which do not exist in any other part of Polynesia. Instead, the wall is reminiscent of the techniques used by the Inca culture throughout South America, giving rise to theories about the origins of the population of the island.
There are a few Moai remains in this area too, including the remains of the only erect female Moai statue (the other is placed inside the Sebastian Englert Museum).
My afternoon was spent on a guided tour crossing off the final items on my Easter Island wish-list. While guided tours may seem pricey and will give you less freedom than hiring a car, I highly recommend taking at least one quick tour while you are on the Island. With all of the mystery that shrouds Easter Island, there isn’t anything more interesting than discussing it with a local tour guide. I had a particularly lovely guide who wanted to practice his English with me (don’t blame me if you find a guide with an Essex accent…).
Our first stop was Ana Te Pahu which is made up of over 7 kilometres of underground chambers.
Just before the cave entrance is a beautiful lush green area where bananas and avocados are grown (hence the nickname “Cave of Bananas”). The cave itself was used as house many years ago and our tour guide told us plenty of stories about the former residents!
My favourite story was about the Rapa Nui people’s very strict rules against Incest (which is understandable really…) but at the end of the 19th Century, the population of the island had dipped to an all time low of only 111 people. So when you start tracing back through the generations, more or less everyone was related to each other…Therefore, couples in obviously incest relationships would hide here avoiding punishment.
Ahu Akivi is home to 7 Moai who are thought to represent 7 young explorers who were sent to explore the island before the arrival of the colonizers.
Just like all of the other Moai structures, Ahu Akivi is centered astronomically, this time facing directly into the sunset during equinoxes. This means that they are the only erected Moai which look out to sea on the whole island. Out of all of the Moai structures, I think that this one has the prettiest back-drop!
Many of the Moai heads on the island have red cylinders to represent the “topknot” hairstyles of the time. That’s right, they aren’t hats, the Rapa Nui people were not too dissimilar to the hipsters you see walking around Shoreditch in London.
Puna Pau is the quarry used to source the rock for the topknots. While this is facinating, it also offers great views of the island!
It’s safe to say that I LOVED my time on Easter Island and I would fly back in a heart beat if I could. Even though I had another 2.5 months of travelling ahead of me, there was something incredibly sad about leaving somewhere so special that few travellers get to visit. But don’t worry – the cuteness of the airport softens the blow!
Want to know how I spent the rest of my time in South America?
Read my entire 3 month South America itinerary here.
If some of the above activities don’t take your fancy, don’t worry, here’s some alternatives for you!
There are a few places that you can go diving on the Island, however the most popular spot includes seeing a submerged Maoi statue! Unfortunately, the statue isn’t authentic and instead it’s a replica that was made for a TV show – that aside, it makes for some seriously impressive photos! a PADI scuba diving licence is required to visit this site.
If you’re struggling to walk long distances in the intense heat or are bored of sitting in a car, the horseback riding is a great alternative – especially if you want to see areas that are off limits to cars.
Two popular routes are climbing to the top of Terevaka (the highest peak on Easter Island) or a tour near Anakena beach of the central coast where there are no roads.
Of course, chose a reputable tour guide and ensure that the horses are well cared for at all times.
Terevaka is the highest peak on Easter Island and reaching the summit rewards you with 360 ° views – the downside is that it can only be reached by foot or on horseback. I fully intended on doing this hike after my trip to the top of Rano Kau – but it’s safe to say that the heat got the better of me! I imagine that standing at the top of this peak (which isn’t a high priority for most visitors to the island) would be the ultimate isolated bliss.
Like this post? Be sure to pin it!
This is such a useful and informative post – thank you! Even if it has added yet another destination to my ever-growing list 😉
Thanks Rebekah – I hope you get to visit Easter Island soon, its so special!