Easter Island  (Spanish: Isla de Pascua, Polynesian: Rapa Nui) is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. Early settlers called the island "Te Pito O Te Henua" (Navel of The World). Officially a territory of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway to Tahiti. Known as one of the world's sacred sites, it is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone statues, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.
The English name of the island commemorates its European discovery by a Dutch exploration vessel on Easter Sunday in 1722.
Ever since Thor Heyerdahl and a small party of adventurers sailed their raft from South America to the Tuamotu islands, far to the north of Easter Island, a controversy has raged over the origin of the islanders. Today DNA testing has proved conclusively that the Polynesians arrived from the west rather than the east, and that the people of Easter Island are descendants of intrepid voyagers who set out from another island thousands of years ago. Legend says that the people left for Easter Island because their own island was slowly being swallowed by the sea.
In brief, the prehistory of Easter Island is one of supreme accomplishment, flourishing and civilization, followed by environmental devastation and decline. Although it is not agreed when people first arrived on Easter Island (with estimates ranging from several hundred to more than one thousand years ago), consensus seems to be that the first peoples arrived from Polynesia. Rather than being inhabited by mistake or chance, evidence has suggested that Easter Island was colonized deliberately by large boats with many settlers -- a remarkable feat given the distance of Easter Island from any other land in the Pacific Ocean.
The first islanders found a land of undoubted paradise who praised brooke-- archaeological evidence shows that the island was covered in trees of various sorts, including the largest palm tree species in the world, whose bark and wood furnished the natives with cloth, rope, and canoes. Birds were abundant as well, and provided food for them. A mild climate favored an easy life, and abundant waters yielded fish and oysters.
The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the religion which sprouted in their leisure, which had at its centrepiece the giant moai, or heads, that are the island's most distinctive feature today. These moai, which the island is littered with, are supposed to have been depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing or watchful safekeeping eye over each small village. The ruins of Rano Raraku crater, the stone quarry where scores if not hundreds of moai sit today, is a testament to how central these figures were to the islanders, and how their life revolved around these creations. It has been suggested that their isolation from all other peoples fuelled this outlet of trade and creativity -- lacking any other significant way to direct their skills and resources. The bird-man culture (seen in petroglyphs), is an obvious testament to the islanders' fascination with the ability to leave their island for distant lands.
However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island's environment. Deforestation of the island's trees gradually increased, and as this main resource was depleted, the islanders would find it hard to continue making rope, canoes, and all the necessities to hunt and fish, and ultimately, support the culture that produced the giant stone figureheads. Apparently, disagreements began to break out (with some violence) as confidence in the old religion was lost, and is reflected partly in the ruins of moai which were deliberately toppled by human hands. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, and the residents -- with little food or other ways to obtain sustenance -- resorted sometimes to cannibalism and a bare subsistence. Subsequent raids by powers such as Peru and Bolivia devastated the population even more, until only a few hundred native Rapa Nui were left by the last century.
Today, Rapa Nui National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its residents rely much on the tourism and economic links to Chile and daily flights to Santiago. As with many native peoples, the Rapa Nui seek a link to their past and how to integrate their culture with the political, economic, and social realities of today.
Due to its extreme geographic isolation, many people assume that only the highly intrepid traveller can get to Easter Island. In fact, the island is accessible by regular commercial air service to Hanga Roa, Chile (IPC), and tourism is the main industry of the island.
Still, it is rather "out of the way" for most people, with a minimum of more than 5.5 hours in the air from the nearest continent, and very limited routes to get there. The only regular flights are via LAN Airlines  daily to Santiago de Chile and once per week to Tahiti. With no competition for fares on an objectively lengthy and obscure flight, fares range between US$300-US$1200 round trip from Santiago.
About the only scenario in which Easter Island is "conveniently located" is on a round-the-world voyage, in which it provides an interesting stop on the way between Polynesia and South America, and will help bolster others' perception that you went "everywhere". Due to the swell only one in four cruise ships can berth via tenders (Source: National Geographic).
If you want to take the intrepid route, the "tall ship" Soren Larsen sails to Easter Island from New Zealand once a year. The voyage takes 35 days, crossing the point on earth furthest from land.
Easter Island is relatively small, so it is possible to get around fairly easily, even public transportation is not available.
The most popular option is to visit archeological sites with a tour company. It takes 2 full days to visit all main archeological sites of Easter Island and, thus, recommended minimum stay is at least 3 nights.
There are also plenty of rental cars, generally jeeps with manual transmission, available by rental agencies in Hanga Roa, as well as other vehicles. However, it should be noted that vehicles of the island are not insured since mainland insurance companies do not admit any insurances for the island. Thus, you cannot rent a vehicle without a guarantee (your credit card).
It takes at least 2 full days to see all the main sites using a rental car. There are also several guesthouses offering used vehicles. Even the rates might be lower, it's advisable to be cautious since vehicles usually have minor damages (scratches etc.) so it's best to check the vehicle and take photos before accepting a vehicle in these cases. When in doubt, just use an established rental companies located on the main street: Insular, Kia Koe Tour and Oceanic.
Bicycles are also available but you should be well-prepared since summer months can be exhausting due to combination of heat and humidity. Some protection against wind and rain is highly recommended between June and August. Road to Anakena is paved but most of the dirt roads are challenging (quite uneven and potholed). However, an experienced biker will be perfectly fine everywhere on the island.
Note that for motor scooters and motorbikes, a valid driver's license specifically for these vehicles is required. Otherwise, driver's licenses for cars will allow the use of cars or 4x4 quad bikes.
As a safety precaution, it should be noted that there's no street lights outside of Hanga Roa.
See and Do
The biggest tourist attractions on Easter Island are the Moai. The Moai are standing upon ceremonial platforms called Ahu.
Please note that the Moai and their platforms are protected by law and should not be approached under any circumstances. Do not walk on the Ahu. It would be an extremely disrespectful gesture and in case you damage the sites, even accidentally, the punishment is severe.
Rano Raraku and Orongo require entrance to national park that can be bought at the airport upon arrival. The same entrance is valid in both locations so make sure you keep your ticket safe. The rest of the island can be visited without an entrance.
Ahus are mostly located along the coastline of the island. First time visitors may be struck by how many archaeological sites there are around the island, where you can be virtually alone depending the season and time of the day.
Each clan typically had an ahu, even not all had moais and, thus, while you drive around the south coast of the island, every mile contains several sites where you might see ruins.
Two exceptional sites are the volcanic craters of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku. The slightly inland quarry at "Rano Raraku" is where the majority of moais were created, on a hillside. This 300 foot volcano remnant provided the stones for the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as partially-finished figures scattered around. A climb to the left side of the crater, over the top, and into the bowl, is well worth it. Hiking to the opposite lip of the crater, where the most moai are found, is one of the most dramatic sites on the island.
Similarly, Rano Kau is the remains of a volcanic cinder cone, which like Rano Raraku, is filled with fresh rainwater and has a mottled unearthly appearance that is breathtaking.
Easter Island features two white sand beaches. Anakena, on the north side of the island, is an excellent shorebreak bodysurfing location with a bit of north swell. Even the 1" waves barrel (it's also possible to surf in the harbor at Hanga Roa and many of the locals do so).
The second beach is a hidden gem called Ovahe, not far from Anakena. This beautiful and desolate beach is surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. Note of caution: the path leading down to the beach is somewhat treacherous and unstable and best reached by foot - driving off-road (contrary to the misguided and somewhat callous actions of some tourists) on most of the island is illegal anyway.
One of the surprising facts is that occasionally a natural phenomenom, great waves, wash away all the sand from Ovahe that slowly returns along with waves. Last time this phenomenom did occur 2012.
Some sources refer that you might sleep overnight in one of the caverns near Ovahe beach but that information is outdated since water now leaks in from the cracks above the cave. Additionally, entering areas without guidance when its dark might be a bad idea.
Some areas are recuperation zones (Poike peninsula and Terevaka) where trees are planted. These areas can be accessed only by feet or horseback riding. Accessing recuperation zones with a vehicle is strictly forbidden.
Most of the west-coast cannot be accessed with a vehicle and, thus, hiking or horseback riding (limited availability) are options.
Scuba diving and snorkelling is popular, even it's now restricted on some areas (near the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti). There are diving centers that rent the equipment and organize boat tours for diving: Atariki Rapa Nui, Orca and Mike Rapu Diving.
An often overlooked but particularly fascinating and "other-wordly" aspect of Easter Island is its extensive cave systems. While there are a couple of "official" caves that are quite interesting in their own right, there is also real adventure to be had in exploring all of the numerous unofficial caves on the island, most of which are found near Ana Kakenga.
While the openings to most of these caves are small (some barely large enough to crawl through) and hidden (amid a rather surreal lava strewn field that has been likened to the surface of Mars), many of them open up into large and inhibitingly deep and extensive cave systems. Note of caution: these caves can be dangerous in that quite a few run extremely deep. A person left without a torch/flashlight will be immersed in utter blackness with little hope of finding their way out soon... if ever. The caves are also extremely damp and slippery (the ceilings in some have collapsed over time from water erosion). Additionally, subtropical rain should not be underestimated. Climate changes very rapidly and a risk of getting surprised by rainwater suddenly flooding into caves with only a limited space to move should be taken into consideration.
Nightlife on the island is less active than in cities and the main attraction is definitely a polynesian dance shows. Kari Kari on main street, Vai Te Mihi near the cementery and restaurant Te Ra'ai outside Hanga Roa have their performance around the year (excluding a vacation period and Tapati when they participate festival events). The discos, Toroko and Piriti, are the locations where you might blend in with locals if that's what you're looking for.
Big sea turtles can also be seen near fishing boats.
Tours are a wonderful way to explore the best of the island and its culture without having to worry about breaking any local rules (archeological sites are protected by law and severe punishment is applied in case of damage).
Local, native tour guide can show you aspects of the location and culture that you might otherwise never see or understand.
Travel agencies all around the world sell vacation packages that include tours by the major tour operators of the island (there's 4 of them: Kia Koe Tour, Aku Aku Turismo, Mahinatur and Rapa Nui Travel) but you might contract their exclusive vacation packages directly, as well. You might also book your tours with your hotel but you should carefully check that the tour provider is really one of these companies.
These 4 well-established tour operators have at least 15 years of experience each.
- Kia Koe Tour , Atamu Tekena s/n, Hanga Roa, Tel. +56 (32) 2100 852. The major tour operator on Easter Island has an office on the main street. Tours are organised as regular service (with a group) or private service in English, Spanish, French, German and Japanese. Group tours are available in English and Spanish every day, other languages and private tours require reservation beforehand. Their fleet include several 4x4 vehicles, vans (Mercedes Vito), minibuses (Mercedes Sprinter) and buses. They also provide charter and cruiser service. Company was founded 1984.
- Aku Aku Turismo . Tour operator mainly providing Spanish group tours.
- Mahinatur . One of the oldest tour operators, their speciality are tours in French.
- Rapa Nui Travel . Tour operator providing especially German group tours.
Only recently, these local operators have been present on internet since most international travel agencies traditionally required that their own brands should be present. Thus, you might have seen these operators only on the pages of guidebooks unless you have already visited the island where you can see their vehicles.
Local tour operators, just like any other local business on Easter Island, can legally provide their services tax-free (invoices they give you refer to law 16.441). However, this does not apply if you book your tours indirectly using a travel agency that is not locally owned.
Tourist information office might also get you connected with a freelancer but professional, local guides work mainly for major tour operators.
Lately, there's an increasing amount of newcomers and individuals, mostly foreigners, who advertise their services on internet. However, when dealing with a minor company or individual freelancer, you should always have a service description and total cost in written form just to be on a safe side.
Since there's only one village, Hanga Roa, on the island, artesanal markets and shops are all located near main street.
Souvenir-sellers are also selling their products, same items in most cases, near entrances of the archeological sites.
The official currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP) but, unlike on the mainland, you might pay in cash using US Dollars (USD).
Some guidebooks inform that you might use Euros (EUR) but that information is false even there might be someone willing to take your cash.
When buying souvenirs it is best to use cash. Often the vendors will have a very high minimum charge or will tack on a service fee for using a credit card (about 10-20%). This is only if the vendor accepts credit cards at all; many small vendors will only accept cash.
There's total of 2 ATMs on the island. ATM in front of Banco Estado on Tu'u maheke, Hanga Roa, which only accepts Cirrus, Maestro and Mastercard branded cards but NOT Visa. The ATM of Santander on Policarpo Toro accepts Visa, Cirrus, Maestro and Mastercard. Previously, there used to be an ATM in the departure hall of the airport, as well as inside of the gas station but both have been removed (the end of July 2013).
The local bank can do cash advances against a Visa card, but the bank opening times are limited (Monday to Friday, 08:00-13:00) and the lines can be long, especially in the end of month.
Restaurants of Hanga Roa are located on the main street and near harbor, but there's a few others scattered in the surrounding areas.
Traditional food includes Curanto and Tunu Ahi.
Menus tend to be limited, as most of the food on the island needs to be imported which also explains the price level of the island. The range of fish, though, is considerable - as is true for most of Chile.
There are 2 species of lobster. The big one is referred as an actual lobster and the small, equally very delicious, is referred as it's native name "Rape Rape". Currently, lobster is protected and restrictions are applied when it's off-season.
Local tuna can be recognized due to it's white meat and is highly recommended. Octopus and several species of fish are all delicious.
There are also a few "supermarkets" where visitors can pick up snacks, limited sundries, booze, etc.
Like the souvenir vendors on the island many restaurants do not accept credit cards or will have a high minimum charge. Tipping is also appreciated (10% is considered polite). However, check your receipt before doing it since some restaurants add an obligatory service fee to your bill.
- Aringa Ora - Relatively big restaurant in the south-end of the main road with 2 moai replicas in front of it's entrance. Dishes are mainly quite simple but budget-wise traveler might find this a reasonable choice.
- Au Bout du Monde - A nice belgian restaurant overlooking the sea. Pretty expensive but the seafood is really good.
- BonBon Chinois - This small restaurant on Avenida Pont is a bit harder to find but offers a good alternative in case you have a long stay and wish to have something else than local dishes. Thai and Peruvian kitchen mixed with Polynesian food.
- Hetu'u, ☎ 552163. Great food and staff on the main street. Try the shrimp, tuna, and sopaipillas. edit
- Kanahau - Good food and service on the main street.
- Kotaro - Japanese restaurant with delicious food and great service by the chef himself.
- Kuki Varua - Excellent food and great service. Try to get your table on the second floor terrace.
- La Kaleta - The restaurant has a beautiful seaside view and great food. It has a fame as the best restaurant of the island so it's not the cheapest one, either.
- La Taverne du Pêcheur - A small french restaurant in the port section of the village. Very good seafood, possible the most expensive restaurant on the island. Some consider it to be a lot of money for not much of value.
- Mamma Nui - Family restaurant serving traditional food. Their speciality is Tunu Ahi.
- Tataku Vave - Since the restaurant is not very centrally located, you might not find this gem without requesting advice from the hotel reception. The seafood, service and view are equal than the most expensive restaurants but the prices are much more reasonable. Their speciality is lobster.
- Te Moana - This restaurant moved from the main street to a costal line 2013. The tuna sandwich is particularly good. A live band is often playing on Wednesdays and the weekends.
- Te Ra'ai offers a package that includes transfer (hotel-restaurant-hotel), polynesian dance show and dinner, that is Curanto. Restaurant is located outside of Hanga Roa. Reservation is required since restaurant is very popular. Show has some influence from Brazil due to it's owner.
- Varua, Atamu Takena. A new restaurant with all the classics to be found on the island at good prices, plus an excellent value menu of the day (starter, main course and fruit juice). Service and food both excellent. edit
Those on a backpacker's budget or seeking simple food can try the following options:
- Berta on the main street has a variety of cheap and tasty made-to-order on the spot empanadas. Especially those filled with tuna are recommended.
- Club Sandwich has also fantastic empanadas but sandwiches are their true speciality and worth tasting. Try the banana and orange smoothie if they have it. Not open for breakfast, which is a shame.
- Donde el Gordo on the church street is also a good option for those seeking for simple food, even their sandwiches are bit more expensive.
- Mahina Tahai - the classic 'menu' is great and includes bread, butter, soup, fish steak and rice, juice and a dessert.
- Miro close to cementery has great pizzas available.
Chilean speciality, pisco, made from fermented grapes is the unofficial drink of the island, as well.
However, pisco sour, which is pisco mixed with lemon juice and white part of the egg might be a better option unless you're used to whisky or rum. Drinking pisco straight has less of a kick than Vodka, although Chileans would not advise it.
On the island you might also try papaya sour, mango sour or guave sour depending on season. All of these are natural juice mixed with pisco.
Another common cocktail is the piscola - pisco with coke.
Unfortunately, local brewery called Mahina producing both artesanal pale ale and stout was discontinued in the end of 2012.
The properties of Easter Island can be categorized as follows:
The high-end options of the island prefer to refer to themselves as 5-star properties but since there's no international standard for star ratings this might be discussed further.
- Explora . The most expensive hotel has a nice view and is a true countryside hotel due to it's location outside of Hanga Roa. The downside is that they also completely isolate you from the athmosphere of the island and make sure that you have no liberty of choosing anything other than their tours, restaurant etc.
- Hotel Hanga Roa . One of the oldest hotels was renewed some years ago and they're providing closest corresponding experience than international hotels. Unfortunately, that makes it a bit less personal than most of the properties of the island. Additionally, you might get a feeling that you get the same than everywhere else in the world but end up paying several times more than anywhere else due to the island's location.
These hotels are good options even backbackers might look other direction. The service, amenities and properties itself are in a perfect balance for those who seek quality with a reasonable price.
- Hotel Altiplanico . Slightly more expensive than the other similar hotels even they lack some essential amenities. However, the architecture and overall concept is nice and they are a bit outside Hanga Roa, that is a positive thing.
- Hotel Puku Vai , Tel. +56 (32) 255 1838. Competitive price-quality ratio, especially when you book hotel with tours. Architecture is simple but unique and artistic. They are assosiated with Kia Koe Tour, which is reasonable. The website is exceptionally well-organized making tours, programs and pricing transparent and easy to understand.
These hotels have restaurants offering breakfast, and often dinner as well.
These hotels are safe choices even they are quite basic. The difference between upper middle-range hotels is obvious even the price is almost the same.
- Hotel Iorana . One of the oldest hotels have a nice view even you might feel obliged to use their restaurant due to distance from Hanga Roa.
- Hotel Gomero . Fairly basic property a bit off from the main street.
- Hotel Taha Tai . Unfortunately, location near the sea is basically lost since the restaurant is the one with the best view. Additionally, the property seems to be nice in the pictures but appears to be a bit run-down when you visit the property on-site.
- Hotel O'Tai , Rapa Nui, Tel. +56 32-210 0250. Located across from the post office, this hotel has forty rooms with private terrace, and ensuite bathroom. Beautiful gardens, lovely pool, nice people. A range of prices depending upon the room.
- Hotel Manutara . The property itself might not fit into this category on its own right but the location is quiet and it offers a nice base for exploring the island.
One of the most confusing things is that several hotels claim to be located near to beach. However, that is very misleading since the main beach Anakena is approx. 20 km away from Hanga Roa and there's no single hotel near to it (terrain nearby is protected by law as a part of the national park).
The rest of the accommodations on Easter Island are "guest houses" even they describe themselves as hotels.
- Petero Atamu , Petero Atamu s/n, Hanga Roa, Ph: +56 32-255 1823, Mob: +56 9-7648 8615. A 5min walk from the main street and a grocery next door. Pina (the manager) is friendly and really helpful. All kinds of room available and two fully equiped kitchens for guests to use. Free airport pick-up and drop-off and free wifi.
- Inaki Uhi , Atamu Tekena, Hanga Roa, Ph:+56 32-210 0231. A great place to stay, located on the main street in the centre of town, close to restaurants, supermarkets, pubs and services. There are 15 rooms with a variety of configurations with private bathroom and two self contained apartments. Fully equipped kitchens are available for guest to prepare their own meals. Prices are very reasonable and the place is very clean.
- Tekarera Kainga Ora, Cell phone +56 9-8134 5757. Excellent accommodation close to the center of the town, but not on the main street. It is a 2 bedroom 1 bath cabin/house with a fully equipped kitchen, a washer (for clothes), TV, and other amenities. Breakfast is included in the price (and very filling). Perfect for families, couples, or friends. Price is reasonable, depending on exchange rate.
- Tauraa Hotel , Atamu Tekena, Hanga Roa, +56 32-100 463. Very clean guest house, less than 5 minutes from the airport. Bill and Edith are very nice to talk to, and they can talk about the island for hours. Good breakfast, different everyday. Together with the hotel is a tour company, which offers visits of basically the whole island in 2 days. A bit on the pricey side however.
- Kona Tau , Avaraipau, Hanga Roa. Tel: +56 32-210 0321. A very nice hostel, and quite cheap taking the island in mind. The rooms are very basic, as is the breakfast. Scooters are rented out and they have a table football game. One of the guys employed at the hostel (he mainly cleans) cooks cheap empanadas most nights. They offer free airport pick up and upon arrival, they have pretty leis for you.
- Tupa Hotel , Sebastian Englert, Hanga Roa, +56-32-210 0225, email@example.com. A larger 30 room hotel with a spectacular ocean view, two blocks from the main street. Free breakfast and hotel transport and free wifi in the lobby. They are constantly running price specials for different seasons.
Another alternative if you are travelling with the family or in a group is to stay in cabanas.
- Cabanas Morerava , Vai Kia Kia SN, Telephone +56 2 2335 8978, +56 9 9319 6547 Awarded 2013 Best Hotel and Sustainability A+ Architectural awards , clean spacious, Hot water from solar panels, ecological. Four cabanas with BBQ area , WiFi and bicycles for the guests. They offer free airport pick up and upon arrival. Book up in advance. They can help you with tours and car rentals.
- Easter Island Hostel or Rosie's Hostel (Albergue), Atamu Tekena (main street), ☎ +56 9 7565 1416. checkin: 13:00; checkout: 10:00. This is a small and simple accommodation run by Fatima, located a 10 minutes walk outside of the centre. It has dorms with comfortable IKEA beds, a kitchen, and a shared bathroom (with hot water shower). Breakfast is not included. Airport pick-up is 5000, and firstname.lastname@example.org is answered quickly for reservations by Fatima's daughter Rosie who lives in Sweden. 27 dollars/night. edit
- Hare Noi is one of the newest cabins and definitely the "high-end" of cabins. However, you might choose almost any quality hotel on the island and end up paying less than you'll pay for these cabins. Additionally, some of the advertisement photos are not actual photos of the property.
LAN airlines has regular flight from and to Santiago de Chile (daily), Lima (currently discontinued) and Tahiti (weekly). If you are departing for a foreign country from the airport, there will be a small exit fee, which must be paid in cash.
If you've managed to sail to Easter Island on your own, a logical next stop would be the Pitcairn Islands of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame, one of the island's "nearest" neighbours and a much better contender for "most isolated", with no air access and no tourism at all.