Easter Island has been a huge bucket list item for me since for as long as I can remember. There was no way I was going to Santiago and not also going to Easter Island. There are only two places which offer flights to Easter Island – or Rapa Nui – as it’s properly called – and those places are Santiago and Tahiti. Rapa Nui is pretty much as middle of no where as you can possibly get. It’s a five hour flight from Santiago, and don’t expect to get any sweet deals on that either. But we decided to feel a little bit of credit card pain and tick this massive item from our lists.
We decided to spent 6 days/ 7 nights on Easter Island, to ensure that we were able to make the most of our time, since there is no such thing as “just being in the area and deciding to stop by” with Easter Island.
The first thing that surprised us about the island is just how much there is to do on such a small island. We didn’t rush by any means, but we still left the island having not “done it all.”
This guide includes all the best attractions which we think you should not miss…
Rapa Nui National Park
Let’s face it, the reason you are here is to see the mysterious and enigmatic Moai, which means a visit to the Rapa Nui National Park.
Tickets: There are two places to purchase your entrance tickets; either at the airport or from a nondescript little white office in Hanga Roa. Tickets cost around $80 USD. There is no where to buy tickets in the actual park, and they WILL check you, so make sure you have it on you.
How long: You can easily see the park in a day, but we found we needed 2 – 3 days to fully appreciate it. We spent three days exploring the park and we found that we still had busy days, but they were not overly busy. With two young kids, you need to pace yourself.
How to explore the park: You can join a tour, and this is probably the best option if you have limited time. If you want explore on your own (and it’s very easy to get around on your own) I suggest renting a car. The main street of Hanga Roa is almost completely dominated by car rental agencies. You can rent basic cars for around 40,000 pesos per day.
What to see in the park….. well…. here are some of the best sites to visit…
Akahanga is the site of one of the best preserved ancient villages, and you can see the ruins of houses, cooking pits, and boat houses. There are also several fallen Moai in the area as well. If you are doing the circuit in the a counter clockwise fashion, then this will be your first stop.
This mountain is the ancient quarry site where the giant Moai were craved straight out of the rock. It is also home to several hundred Moai either in a half carved state, or on the beginnings of their journey to their platforms. As you drive towards the mountain it almost seems as if the Moai are rising up from the rock themselves and starting their slow wander across the island. Some of the statues have fallen over while they were in transport, but many are still standing… looking out across the island to where they were supposed to cross.
This is one place on the island where you are only allowed a single visit with your ticket, so make sure you have plenty of time to appreciate the area. There is a short walking trail which takes you around the quarry site. There are a few slopes and steps so it’s not wheelchair or pram accessible, but it’s a very easy grade. There is no shelter though, so make sure you bring sun protection.
There is also a great little cafe here, making it a good place to stop for lunch or ice cream.
This is one of the most famous Moai sites on the island and it is the best place to go for sunrise. There are operators in town which run sunrise tours, but if you rent your own car you can easily make the drive out yourself. To get to Tongariki from town allow yourself at least 20 – 30 minutes (as you will be driving slower in the dark). Tongariki is the largest ahu on the island and contains 15 restored Moai, including the islands heaviest Moai.
Papa Vaka Interpretive trail
This little interpretive trail is located in between Tongariki and Akaroa beach and is definitely worth the stop as it is one of the best places on the island to see original rock engraving art. An interpretive trail will guide you through the site and help you understand what you are seeing (as many of the engravings have been weathered). This is also the location of the largest piece of rock art found to date – a giant 12 meter long canoe drawn into a large piece of rock.
Anakena beach and Ahu Nao-Nao
Anakena beach is the islands only white sand beach and legend has it that the first people to come ashore on Rapa Nui did it on this beach. It’s a fantastic spot and you can easily spend an entire day (or many here). In fact, there are campgrounds here if you do want to spend the day (or many). Anakena beach is also home to Ahu Nao-Nao, which was in my opinion, the prettiest set of Moai.
There are several restaurants here, so it’s a great place to stop, but make sure you have cash as they are all cash only.
As you head back to town from Anakena, don’t miss the turn off to Puna Pau and Ahu Akivi. Puna Pau is the home of another short interpretive trail and definitely not one to be missed. Rano Raraku was the quarry where the giant Moai were carved, but Puna Pau is where the pukao (the reddish coloured “hats”) were quarried. There is a short interpretive trail, and a hill where you can get some good views of Hanga Roa.
Ahu Akivi is home to seven Moai, who are said to represent the seven young explorers who found Rapa Nui. This small Ahu hs astronomical importance as well. The gazes of the Moai meets the sunset during the equinoxes.
Around Hanga Roa
There is no doubt that you will spend a lot of time in Hanga Roa, it is the only settlement on the island after all. Here is a list of the best things near town to keep you busy.
Orongo is a small stone village and ceremonial center a short drive away from Hanga Roa. This is one of the best archeological sites on the island, and comes with a small and well presented visitor center. Orongo was an important place during the height of the bird man cult, which emerged after the cult of the monoliths diminished. It was from here that young warriors would race to the nearby island of Motu Nui to try to obtain the first sooty tern egg of the year. The race was dangerous, and many died when they fell from the cliffs.
Orongo is also the original home to the world’s most famous Moai – the one displayed in the British Museum was taken from this site.
Ahu Tahai contains several re-erected Moai and is only a very short walk from the center of town. This is the place to come for sunset.
Rapa Nui Museum
Not far from Ahu Tahai is the Rapa Nui Museum. This museum is absolutely not to be missed. It presents a comprehensive history of Rapa Nui including all the different theories and myths which surround the Moai. Entrance is free and I would recommend a visit to the museum before heading off into the national park.
There are no sandy beaches around Hanga Roa, but there are several good swimming spots around town.
Other activities around the island
Just in case you have run out of things to do….
The islands highest peak, which isn’t all that high at 511 meters, is one of the best places to get a 360 degree view of the island. Local tour agencies can organise guided hikes.
Horse back riding
If you are feeling lazy, you can jump on a horse and ride up Terevake instead.
Glass bottom boat/ snorkeling
Another thing that Easter Island is famous for is it’s crystal clear water, making it a great place for snorkeling. There are several snorkel and diving tour operators along the wharf near the tourist information center which can organize trips.