Backpackers survival guide to the Easter Island
The Moai at Ahu Akivi. These ones actually look at the sea. Most of the Moai look inland
The moais at Tongariki looking at Rano Raraku
Easter Island or Rapa Nui as the locals call it; the place of the Moai, those stone statues that have fed our imagination for so long. And here I finally was, in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific sea at a small island, finally about to see the Moai.
Mind you getting here was a pain. I sat on a three planes to get to Easter Island from Santiago. On the first plane we just sat in for an hour, before we got back to the terminal to have some breakfast. Then we boarded the second plane, this time we actually took off, but after about an hour of flying, we turned back as there was something wrong with the engine. On the third plane we finally made it to Easter Island, only about eight hours behind schedule. Oh well, nothing ever goes as planned when traveling.
Sunset at Easter Island
Silhuets of moai at Anakena
Puna Pau, the quarry where they made the red hats or pukao (topknots) as they are called
The waves at Easter Island would be great for surffing, too bad the rocks in the beach would kill you thou
I stepped down from the plane and walked to the airport terminal, which is quite small, but then again you only have a single flight per day (two on Wednesdays, busy day). I found the contact person from the camp site to which I had made a reservation (yes, my second booking on this trip); got the lei of flowers around my neck, and off we went. Well, the camp site was about five minutes drive from the airport. Yeah, this was the first time I have actually gotten a lei around my neck when arriving to an airport. Does make you feel quite touristy, but it’s a nice touch, very Polynesian I would say.
Now, unfortunately Easter Island is expensive in comparison to rest of Chile or South America. Everything costs about three times as much, but it’s still very doable on a backpackers budget. There are just a few things you have to keep in mind:
- Live in a tent – While there are hostels, inns and other cheap places on the the island, a night inside will still cost you at least 15.000 Chilean pesos (over 20 euros). Camping even with the tent and sleeping bag rental, is a third of that. And it’s actually a nice experience, my tent was 20 meters from the sea, I could hear the waves crashing against the rocks the whole night, awesome. Hot showers and kitchen, and even a wifi in the tent, even if it is the slowest Internet ever. This is the only way to experience Easter Island.
My tent, nice view to the sea, thou that is not a real moai there, just so we are clear on that
Evening light at the camp
- Bring your food from Chile – I’ve never seen so many cooler bags on a baggage reclaim carousel than I did when arriving to Easter Island. And that was pretty much the advice from all Chileans I had met, take your food with you. I brought some, but yeah, be prepared to cook. Thou barbecues seemed to be the name of the game often in the evenings; you can buy fresh fish from the fishermen quite cheaply. That being said, on the main road there is a restaurant called Berta’s, named after the owner of course, which has the best empanadas in Chile, 2.500 CPL for a tuna & cheese embanada is a bargain on the island. Otherwise if you want to eat anything except embanadas and hot dogs on the island, you are looking at 10.000 CPL per meal.
- Walk, bike or hire a car, but avoid tours – Tours on the Island are expensive. That’s not to say that hiring a car is cheap either, but if you can find four or five people to share the cost, it becomes quite reasonable. Certain places on the island, like Orongo, are easily accessible by a two hour hike and other places with a bike, but the other side of the island is pretty far, especially if you want to see a sunrise there (which is recommended). One thing you can’t avoid is the park entrance fee to Orongo and Ranu Raraku, which is 30.000 CPL for foreigners. Day light robbery if you ask me.
Horseback riding is one way to get around the island
There are a lot of horses on Easter Island, be careful when driving
Awesome views for biking
- Stay longer – You can see the whole island in three days, but you will be rushing and things will cost you a lot more. I’d recommend staying maybe two weeks, this way you can take your time exploring the island, and you have time to look at the different options, allowing you to save a lot of money. And besides, you’ll probably ever only go once there, so take your time, so you can explore all the smaller sites of the island, which there are plenty.
Path leading to Orongo
Hiking to Orongo takes you thru some nice meadows
- Do your own laundry – Shock horror, but this was the first time for me on my trip that I had to revert to actually washing my own shirts. Lets just hope it doesn’t become a habit. There is a laundry at the island, but like everything else, it will cost you at least three times more than in Chile, which wasn’t too cheap either.
Enough of how to save money on Easter Island, lets take a look at the island itself.
Hang Roa is the main city on the island, just kidding, it is the only town on the island, the islands population being 3.791 (in 2002). So you can’t exactly call it busy. There are various shops, restaurants, cafes, rental places, souvenir shops and such. There are also a few dive shops in the harbour.
View of Hang Roa
Boats in the harbor at Hang Roa
The Cemetery at Hang Roa, seems quite pleasant, if you can call a cemetery pleasant
There are also quite a few pubs and bars to choose from, and on the weekends the night life is quite good. So get that Rum + Coca Cola packet deal that’s in offer in the store or the box wine which is good value, enjoy it at the camp site, and then later head on to check out the night life of Hang Roa, and dance with the locals.
Or as I would call it, the bird man village. Now basically it’s a holiday village they only used for few weeks a year. And here I was thinking that summer cottages were a fairly modern invention, but apparently not. They gathered here to choose the new Bird Man, sort of a king kind of thing, except he then lived the next year in seclusion. I’m not quite sure if that’s supposed to be some kind of reward, maybe there were other benefits besides that.
Rano Kau, the impressive crater in the south part of Rapa Nui
Orongo - the bird man village
Motu Nui, the island from which they went to get the bird eggs from
The idea was that the chiefs of the tribes would swim to the nearby island of Motu Nui and whoever would be first to bring back an egg of Manutara, would be the new bird man. Not quite a modern democracy, but maybe the end result is pretty much the same.
The village itself is situated right next to the crater of Rano Kau, which I think is the most impressive crater on the island.
This is the main beach at Rapa Nui, the other beach being Ovahe, which is close by. It’s a nice beach even if it isn’t too big. The problem with the beach is the location, it is on the other side of the island from Hang Roa, so to get there, you either have to hire a car, or if you just want to get there for the day, better option might to get a taxi. Or you can bike if you are feeling sporty.
Four moai with topknots at the Anakena beach
The palm trees on Easter Island are only recently brought to the island
One of the main sights of the island, the quarry where they used to make all the Moai, which were then transported to the other parts of the island. There are still some four hundred statues laying around in different stages, some ready, some unfinished. The biggest one is over twenty meters high, twice as high as the tallest that they actually manage to completed. Maybe they got a little carried away,
An early prototype for a moai. This one had knees, knees!! thou it still looks like a budha
There is restoration work being done on some of the moai
Few moai looking at the sea at Rano Raraku, the quarry where they were made
This moai seems happy, the only one we could find
This is the picture you have most likely seen from Easter Island. Fifteen Moai standing on an altar. The sun rise here is spectacular, more so during summer time when the sun actually rises directly from behind the Moai, but still even now, when it rises from behind the volcano, it is pretty impressive.
Sunrise at Tongariki
Don't step on the resting moai
Other than those main sights, the whole island is littered with the Moai and other archaeological sites. Which is the reason you should stay here a little longer, just so you can walk or bike around exploring the island.
Moai near Hang Roa at Tahai
Moai at Ahu Akivi looking at the sea
Unfortunately lots of the moai are fallen down. They seem really unstable
And personally, I could spent hours just watching the huge waves break against volcanic rocks either by myself or with someone…