Easter Island for fascinating history and iconic sites

Easter Island is something of a legendary travel destination – for its remoteness, its iconic Moai statues with legendary story of the Rapa Nui people, and the time/cost to travel there. It was possible for us to include it on our round-the-world ticket, so we jumped at the chance. It is possible to visit “on-a-budget” if you can tie it into a rtw trip, stay at a cheaper pension and eat at the snack restaurants (where a sandwich will still set you back $6-$8, but it’s better than $20-$25+ for most dinner options there).

Easter Island is 5-6 hrs flight from the nearest airports – about halfway between Papeete (Tahiti) and Santiago. We flew from Santiago before heading onto a Lima (a new convenient route offered by LAN). It was interesting to arrive on a huge trans-pacific aircraft, landing on a huge runway (some 3.5km long – apparently it used to be a designated emergency landing site for the NASA space shuttle) – and then disembark to a tiny terminal that only takes 9 flights a week.

We stayed at a very nice pension called Chez Jerome – about 30 minutes walk outside of town. It provided good quality ensuite rooms way better than hostal or campsite alternatives – for a very reasonable price by Easter Island standards (around $75 per night B&B). After our experience in French Polynesia this was relatively good value. Just across the road there were some caves with some interesting cave paintings.

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Chez Jerome was also conveniently located for the hike up to the Rano Kau crater and Orongo village archeological site, so we did that the first day. The hike involved a 300m climb from sea level but the views of the crater were worth it! Orongo village was also interesting – you can see the islands where they used to have the Bird Man competition in ancient Rapa Nui times – which would determine who ruled the island. There are also some stone houses and other remains to see in a stunning setting.

Rano Kau crater – filled with water and reeds. The water level of the crater is about 50m higher than the sea behind:

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The village of Orongo reminded us of Skellig Michael in Ireland. It featured several stone houses with a tiny door that people would have had to crawl through. They covered the stone roof with grass for additional protection from the elements.

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We spent most days doing self guided hikes to explore a few of the 20,000 archeological sites on the island. The first day we hiked to the volcano, the next day we did a 6 hour hike to visit some of the ahu north of the town, including the only maoi with eyes. Whilst at one point all the maoi had these eyes which are made from coral and shells, they were first to be destroyed and dissolved or buried in the sea. Only 3-4 had been recovered and only one statue re-built.

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Ahu is the Rapa Nui word for platform and all maoi statues were set on them for stability. Some ahu have many statues but a few have only one. The people believed that the maoi would look over and protect them so all of the statues face the village with their backs to the sea. The only exception is Ahu Akivi whose seven maoi face the sea but also overlooked the village as this is one of the only inland ahu.

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All the statues standing upright have been re-set. When the first archeologists came to the island, none were standing. Now, only a fraction of the total number have been re-erected. One of the coolest things about hiking the island ourselves was discovering random carvings and statues that wouldn’t be on any tour. On our way to town, we noticed these in the sea:

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One day, we did a day tour with Jerome which was really informative and got us to the more distant parts of the island including Ranu Raranu, the quarrey where all the statues were carved. The statues were carved in the side of the volcano then after the front half was complete, they were separated from the volcano and slid down the side into a hole which had been prepared to receive the maoi in an upright position. Once standing, the back would be carved and finishing touches like ears would be carved. Only then would the long journey to its ahu begin. Here you can see the numerous maoi that were on their way down the side, awaiting final carving. Whilst the statues varied a lot in size, most were between 4-11m so much of them is underground.

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We also enjoyed hiking through the tunnels made from the lava during the formation of the island. The tunnels are everywhere and range in size. People lived in them and remains of beds and stoves can still be seen.

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Of course, one of the highlights was Ahu Tongoriki which has the 12 upright maoi on the edge of the sea, not far from Ranu Raranu.

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Early morning at Ahu Tangoriki with the statues, boat house and “travelling maoi” in view:

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I did manage to get myself up for sunrise here on the last day, it was beautiful to see the light come through the maoi.

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Of course, we had to get one dive in, despite the freezing water temperature! We had only one objective- underwater maoi which was made for a film and put about 18m in the water near the port as a diving attraction. Our dive guide was a french guy who was part of Jacques Cousteau’s expedition team.

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Random head on hike around the laval tunnels:

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