If you are traveling through Santiago, Chile, then consider adding on a 4-day/3-night excursion to Easter Island, one of the most remote places on earth.
Easter Island is a Chilean Island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania. Easter Island is most famous for its nearly 1,000 statutes called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO names Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.
Flights are available daily from Santiago to Hanga Roa, the only city on the 163.6 square kilometer island. Since LATAM Chile has a monopoly of these island flights, air fares are very expensive. Regular return economy fares from North America booking websites go for over $1,000 USD. However, if one uses their Chilean website, one can book for much less.
Using “LATAM Chile”, we found some premier business class tickets flying on a Boeing 789 Dreamliner that were actually less expensive than the economy class tickets from “LATAM North America”. The cost of the each of these business class tickets were just $475 USD to fly more than 2,000 miles from Santiago to Hanga Roa return, which was an incredible deal that we could not pass up.
Booking accommodation was also very easy to do. Using one of our favorite accommodation booking website (booking.com), I booked a guest house called Chez Steve Residence for three nights. The guest house is located just a short drive from the commercial center of Hanga Roa and the airport.
There are hotels on the island that offer more services such as bars and restaurants. For us, the simple guest house Chez Steve was sufficient for this short and active adventure. Most guest houses on the island will come to the airport to greet their guests. The owner from our guest house, a French expat living on Easter Island, was waiting for us at the airport with two fresh leis upon our arrival even though it was late in the evening.
There are a few tour companies that do guided tours on the Island. But since we want to do hiking as part of our trip, renting a car and touring on our own was the most time efficient way to fit everything we wanted to see and do on the island. Being in such a remote island, car rental is very expensive. Fortunately, using the referral from our guest house owner, we were provided with 10% discount on the daily rate. As car rental is expensive on this Island and other less developed places in the world, it is a good idea to learn or refresh your standard transmission driving skills.
The next morning, after breakfast provided by the guest house owner, he drove us into Hanga Roa to the car rental agency where we filled out the paper work for the rental car. We decided to start our touring by driving to the north shore of the island. Driving on the island is very straight forward as outside of Hanga Roa, as there is only one road to any place on the island. Just watch out for the many horses that roam free on the Island.
Our first stop was Anakena Beach, the only nice beach on Easter Island. The beach is small but quiet and pleasant. There is a small restaurant and coffee shop at the beach, one of the few places to buy food and drinks outside Hanga Roa. 150 meters inland from the quiet shore of Anakena Beach, we visited Ahu Nau Nau, a group of seven moai sitting on a well preserved platform. We stood in awe at the vision of this moai, framed by palm trees, sandy beach, and the shimmering blue ocean. After leaving Akakena Beach we drove to Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island’s largest ceremonial platform with 15 restored moai. We did not realize yet that we will be returning to this site for the best place on the Island to view sunrise.
Rapa Nui National Park covers several areas of the island. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the sites on the island are inside the National Park, so a ticket is required to enter them. Tickets can be bought at the entrance, but they are conveniently available at the airport. Price was $80 USD. We purchased our tickets at the airport as recommended by our guest house owner so we were all set to go when we arrived at Ahu Tongariki. Also worth seeing at this site is “the travelling Moai”.
Next we drove to Rano Raraku, the quarry site where all the moai were carved. The quarry contains 397 moai in various stage of carving, and probably many more completely buried. A large moai would have taking up to 2 years to be carved by a team of workers, under the guidance of a master carver. One of the most odd moai in this area is called the kneeling moai. One legend says that this is a representation of a famous moai carver, erected to watch over future generation of the craftsmen.
We continued our drive southward west to visit Ahu Akivi, a platform with seven restored moai. These were the first to be restored in 1960. Not only is the inland location of these moai different than most of the other moai located along the coast, they are also unique for looking out at the sea instead of the backs to the ocean. Next we continued westward back to the coast and stop at Tahai, the closest ceremonial platform to Hanga Roa.
This is supposed to be the best place for sunsets on the island. That explains why we encountered more tourist here than all the other spots during the day. Regardless of the many people at this location, the sunset was indeed beautiful and inspiring.
The next day we tackled our planned hike to the summit of Terevaka volcano, the highest point on Easter Island, at 511 meters. We easily located the well marked trail head and hiked past beautiful farmlands, pastures, and horses to the crater at Terevaka. We reached the volcano crater after two hours of hiking and walked around the rim of the crater enjoying the views back to Hanga Roa. Then we made our way to the summit with a 360 degree panoramic view of Easter Island. A wonderful spot but too windy to stay for long.
After the hike we drove to Ana Te Pahu, the largest cavern and lava tubes on the island located at the foothill of Terevaka. The lava tubes stretches for over 7 km in length. Its spacious size made it an ideal place for people to live and sleep during former times. Caves played an important role through the ages of Easter Island, from short term shelters to actual living quarters.
On our third morning we woke up early and drove thirty minutes to the east coast to watch the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. This will definitely make the list as one of our most memorable moments. After sunrise, we drove back to our guest house for a leisurely breakfast.
After breakfast, we drove up to Rano Kau, the largest crater on Easter Island, and is the most impressive natural wonder of the island. The crater is over 1.1 km in diameter. We could not believe we were alone at this immense setting with the silence interrupted only by the wind, the distant sound of waves and the occasional squawking of seabirds. Somehow we managed to tear ourselves from this unforgettable location and ventured further down
the road to Orongo, Easter Island’s most dramatic setting, majestically perched between the rim of Rano Kau’s crater and the 1,000 foot cliff plunging down into the Pacific Ocean. From Orongo one can see the three motus off the Easter Island coast.
The ceremonial village of Orongo is one of the most interesting and spectacular archaeological site on Easter Island. The people who lived in this area had an annual Birdman competition where they swam to the motus and climbed up the cliffs to be the first to get a migratory bird’s egg. Even today, there is a symbolic rock of the Birdman competition held in this area every year. You can also walk around to view the primitive cave housing of the early island people.
Next we headed back to Ranga Roa for a well deserve break. We snacked on fresh cut pineapple lollipop for 2,000 Chilean pesos, or roughly $4 CAD while strolling by all the tourist souvenir stores in town.
On our final departure day, we checked out the small but good museum in town dedicated to the history of Easter Island. After that, we still had some time to relax at a city park to people watch reflect on this incredible adventure before catching our flight back to Santiago, Chile.