Tongariki Moai on Easter Island
chile,  travel,  year abroad

Three days on Easter Island: an unexpected wonder of the world

When I arrived in Chile in March, I had no plans to fly five hours away for a weekend trip. I wanted to explore other countries in Latin America – Argentina, Peru, Uruguay. But I never dreamed or hoped that I would go to Easter Island or Isla de Pascua.

That changed in April, when one of my new friends also on an exchange here messaged our group chat with the news: there were cheap flights going to Easter Island in June! What’s more, it was his birthday on the Friday, and he would get to spend his 21st on Rapa Nui, visiting moai in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

I don’t think we even hesitated; we’d already booked flights a week later, and by a happy coincidence a different friend knew the daughter of someone with accommodation to rent on the island. It was sorted: we were going to Easter Island.

My only qualm had been that two nights might not be enough time to see everything on the island. Thankfully, any such concern turned out to be unnecessary when we saw the packed itinerary our host/guide had prepared for us, including almost everything on the island in the short time we had available, and even leaving enough time for a whole afternoon on the most gorgeous beach I’ve ever seen.

So, what can you do on Easter Island in three days? Let me enlighten you…

Day one on Easter Island: Friday

The first morning of our trip was painful. Having booked the first flight out of Santiago, I woke up at 2am, having barely slept 4 hours. Once at the airport, we wandered around trying to find our check-in desk to leave our grocery-laden luggage (food is expensive on the island), got lost in our attempt to find the special security area only for Easter Island passengers, and then made it to our gate just in time for the beginning of boarding.

The plane was much bigger than I’d expected, and also (thank goodness) had in-flight entertainment and comfortable seats. Unable to fall asleep in my excitement despite the very early start, I set about watching a couple of films either side of the in-flight breakfast omelette.

Arriving on Rapa Nui was incredible. After hours of seeing nothing but the ocean, the volcanic island appeared out of nowhere and we flew so low before landing that I thought we might land in the water before we touched down. We were greeted with flower necklaces and took a transfer to our accommodation.

We then had a couple of hours to settle in and buy our national park tickets. Unfortunately, we were in for an unpleasant and costly surprise – while our Chilean ID cards had allowed us discounted entry everywhere in Chile, here they decided we weren’t really nationals and so would have to pay the tourist fee: $80. In cash. Ouch.

Top tip: take LOTS of cash with you to Easter Island! While there are a couple of ATMs (with the usual hefty fees) many areas of the island don’t have wifi so can’t accept cards. Even those central areas that do accept cards may have a minimum spend limit – so make sure you’ve got plenty of pesos in cash just in case.

Thankfully, our bitterness at the cost was soon forgotten when we set off on the afternoon’s excursions…

Ahu a Kivi

Our first sighting of some moai statues! The seven moai of Ahu a Kivi are said to represent the seven explorers who were first sent to explore the island of Rapa Nui before the arrival of the first Rapa Nui people and their King, Hotu Matu’a.

Puna a Pau

Puna a Pau is where the Rapa Nui people found the type of stone to make the pukao (or moños in Spanish) – the object representing a turban or hairstyle which was placed on top of the moai.

There are still several unfinished pukao to see here, as well as some lovely views over the sea and surrounding area.

Ahu Tahai

Our final stop of the day was Ahu Tahai, a spot by the sea with views of the sunset and some more moai statues!

Moai statues at Ahu Tahai on Easter Island

With an hour or more until the sunset, we were pleased to find that the nearby restaurant/bar wasn’t as overpriced as feared, and settled down to drink pisco sours while we watched the sky darken slowly over the moai statues.

Once the sky had fully darkened, we headed back to the accommodation to relax and regroup before walking down to the harbour to stargaze and find a restaurant for dinner.

As a vegetarian, I couldn’t try any of the island’s famous fish dishes, but the noises my friends made as they tucked into four different dishes would suggest they’re worth the elevated price!

Top tip: Do look around at a few restaurants before choosing one… but don’t expect to find any cheap eats. Easter Island was even more expensive than Paris!

Having been awake for 24 hours, going home was a welcome relief – I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep so quickly!

Day two on Easter Island: Saturday

The bliss of much-needed sleep didn’t last long; our alarms blared at 5.45am and we scrambled to fit seven people into two bathrooms before our next day of adventures began.

Sunrise at Tongariki

We arrived at Tongariki in almost pitch-black darkness; it was surprisingly cold, windy, and we couldn’t even see why we were there.

Some long minutes of penguin-huddling outside the gate later, a glimmer of dawn-light quite literally enlightened us as to what we were about to see… sunrise over the huge long line of moai facing away from the sea front!

Tongariki Easter Island

I don’t know how long we spent there, watching the sun rise, taking endless photos and time lapses, shivering in the wind, watching more and more people spill onto the field, and exclaiming to each other how beautiful it all was. But it really was stunning…

When the sun was well and truly out of bed, we traipsed back to the van, happy in the knowledge that it was only our first adventure of the day.

Top tip: Do take a coat on your adventures in Easter Island. The weather might be fairly temperate on the island overall, with little difference between daytime and nighttime compared to Chile, but the wind is strong all day long and you don’t want to miss the sunrise because you were shivering too much!

Rano a Raraku

Rano a Raraku is the “factory” of the moai; or rather, the huge volcanic rock from which the moai were laboriously carved before being transported across the island.

Rano a Raraku, Easter Island

As such, the whole area is scattered with moai statues which were left there when the tribal wars in the 1600s stopped the moai fabrication and left many of the ‘big heads’ abandoned there, some of them still even in the rock, never to be finished and cut out.

We walked up to the highest point and marvelled at the views out over the sea and the Tongariki moai we had just seen. Featuring a very windswept but excited Emma!

Te Pito Kura

At Te Pito Kura, we saw the “stone at the navel of the world” – a perfectly round stone which is sacred to the Rapa Nui people, who ask the stone for things and return to thank it should those wishes or requests be fulfilled.

In a clear example of how tourism has affected the island, the stone did not used to be surrounded by this stone wall; the wall was only built after some tourists very disrespectfully desecrated the stone.

Anakena beach

Anakena beach is special for two reasons: firstly, local legend holds that this was the birthplace of the Rapa Nui people, for it is where the very first Kings of Rapa Nui desembarked from their boat when they arrived. Secondly, it is possibly the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

Anakena beach, Easter Island

Our guide left us just after midday, promising to pick us up around 5pm. However, our hopes to swim and lounge around sunbathing for the afternoon were somewhat dashed when we set down our beach towels and realised the wind was so strong and consistent that despite the gorgeous sunshine, it was actually surprisingly cold!

Nevertheless, we ate our lunch and laid around for a while enjoying the scenery (two of my friends actually did go in and swim!) before deciding to retreat to the shelter of the trees for a drink.

I had a guava milkshake at one of the nearby cafes and it’s safe to say it was the best milkshake I’ve ever had. It was even worth the elevated cost and the long wait! Where can I buy guava in England?!

By 5pm, we were ready to go, and headed back to the accommodation for a more relaxed evening…

Sunset by the dock

We weren’t quite ready to turn in for the night, however, and at the last minute we decided to run (literally) down to the seafront to watch the beautiful sunset over the open sea.

Food on Easter Island is extremely expensive, so for Saturday evening we’d brought pasta, tomato sauce and a few basic vegetables to cook our own dinner. While I’d been afraid that 7 cooks would ‘spoil the broth’, the result was quite the opposite and our spaghetti bolognese was delicious.

Top tip: Do your grocery shopping before getting to the island if possible. There aren’t a great range of shops there, all food is more expensive, and you usually have such a huge luggage allowance that it makes no sense not to stock up before you go! However, you are not allowed to take any fresh fruit or vegetables back to Chile with you.

Day three on Easter Island: Sunday

Sunday morning should have been our first well-needed lie in, but unfortunately I was woken at 7am by the loud crowing of a few local resident cockerels, followed by a very musical set of church bells.

At 10.30, however, we were off on our final adventure on the island!

Vinapu

Vinapu is the site of two interesting things: firstly, two different styles of altar. One is inspired by the Inca presence here (the Rapa Nui people were captured, enslaved and taken to Peru, decimating the island’s population by about half) while the other is a more traditional Rapa Nui altar, built after some surviving former-slaves returned to the island. Secondly, it is the home of the only female moai in existence – or what remains of her, anyway. Many of the moai on island have been knocked down by tsunamis or tribal wars, and only the body of the female moai remains:

(You’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that’s the body.)

Rano Kau

The Rano Kau wetland sits at the bottom of an incredibly impressive volcano crater. What’s more, our guide told us that all attempts to find out the depth of the crater have failed; it’s too deep for exploration.

It’s described as the “last refuge for biodiversity” and certainly makes for some great photo opportunities!

Orongo

Orongo is a ceremonial village not far from the main town, Hanga Roa. It was the site of a dangerous festival named “culto al hombre pájaro” in its Spanish translation, and now consists of over 50 traditional houses which have been half-buried under ground with the build up of sediment.

It is also the former home of Hoa Hakananai’a, a moai which was stolen from the Rapa Nui people in the 19th century and which now resides in the British Museum. Read about our emotional discovery of the issue from our excellent local guide.

The people of Rapa Nui of the past were tall and thin, making the doors very narrow but long:

The surrounding area is beautiful and the stories we were told were fascinating. Though it was soon time to leave and head for the airport, I couldn’t think of a better way to end our time on the island.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to visit Rapa Nui and see its moai. I was honoured to learn a little about its history and culture, especially given that such a small island is already suffering from over-tourism and someday perhaps the limitations on visiting will become even more strict.

Have you ever been to Easter Island or want to go someday in the future? Let me know in the comments below!

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