The Most Isolated Island on Earth
Travelling to the most remote place I’ve ever been to from all the 70 countries I’ve visited so far up to date (April 2015), the decision of travelling to Easter Island was not even optional after booking the tickets to Santiago. We for sure knew that getting here was going to be in fact the main purpose of the whole trip altogether. After all, we made the 17 hours flight it takes from London to Santiago (via Madrid), so another 5.5 hours extra was not going to be much difficult. And to our great surprise only to find out that we would be flying Business Class with LAN as they overbooked the flight. Well, one of the “added” benefits of being a Silver/Sapphire member with the One World Alliance, free upgrades when overbooked.
Easter Island; also known by its Polynesian name of Rapa Nui is one of the most remote islands on earth at almost 4000 kilometers away from the nearest mainland, Chile, where its jurisdiction belongs to. Mataveri Airport officially hold the title of the most remote of any international airports in the planet.
Now something that you need to bear in mind and consider before planning a trip here are the costs. It is highly likely that your main international and/or intercontinental flight to Santiago will be cheaper than the “internal” flight between Santiago and Rapa Nui. The only explanation, apart from the distance of course, is lucrative reasons. Being the only daily flight and LAN Chile the only airline in the route then they can set the prices as high as they consider. Do not expect to find any deal ever here unfortunately but in any case, don’t even think twice and specially if you are coming from far away as us from the U.K. If you ask me now, was it really worth it? My answer is 100% yes.
So, who lived here that left one of the most unknown cultures in the planet? Yet more important, why did they disappear?. It was first settled by the Polynesian people on the 1st millennium AD, on what was back then, a piece of land with lush forests and huge palm trees. A perfect paradise where the inhabitants could get anything they needed for their lives, culture and society to thrive and progress. But was also this growth that doomed them. Having no contact with anyone else due to the remoteness of the island, all they needed to survive was in a small piece of land. Enough for the beginning, but not enough when the population kept growing and growing. And with it, the demand of cutting trees for housing, tools and basic living highly increased. With the cutting of so much wood, the immediate reduction in birds and other animals they were depending as food. This decline accelerated up to the point when no trees were left, and so no food. Disease came, and even cannibalism, until the European settlers came. The end was marked with the few people that was still living there taken as slaves.
It is today and we still don’t know what was their language, their writing, and if the very few tablets that have survived to our days are in reality any form of writing or if only carved images. Nothing has been decipher. A once thriving culture vanished, and with it all knowledge. I mystery and a legacy scattered in the hundreds of archaeological remains, most notably the iconic Moai.
As for the time you should plan, now that you made it all the long way here, I would recommend a minimum of 3 days. Fair enough you can see the island in less than that, but its way worth to enjoy it from a much more relaxed perspective. Renting a car, motorbike, quad or bike should be out of question. There is no public transportation after all, and even it’s true you could potentially walk from end to end of the island (many people chose this hiking option), you will appreciate having your transport sorted whenever you want it and to go wherever you want. Just bear in mind there are places you cannot access with a car like most of the western side of the island. You will need to park your car by the limit and then walk the rest.
Circling around the island is self-explained self-guided; get yourself a map and see how straightforward this is, plus most of the archaeological sites are located parallel to the coastal road, just few are inside, like the quarry and volcanoes which are in any case just a few kilometres off the coastal road. Distances as you will realize, are very small altogether.
Now something you will come across very soon is… finding a TV! In the island this is quite a rare sight. This is because of the limited service they can get over there in the island. They all count with just one satellite antenna and everyone depends on it. WiFi will be also, very slow; and at some point, it might even go absolutely down, not just for some hours but can last for days. It happened to us where for almost 48 hours there was 0 service. Not that this should be of any concern, right? It is in fact a very good side to be totally away and enjoy your stay and time forgetting about the world for a while and the addictive Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the likes. This is under no circumstance the fault of any hotel you might be staying should this happen, it’s something out of their hands, but keep it in mind.
With regards to where to go for food and what to get, I must admit, the choice is big and great, and so the quality; but mind the prices of course. Sometimes for the very same you pay double, or across the road, half the price. There are too many “fancy” places which in turn are the ones somehow many people prefer to go just because some other people told them so, or even hotels which have some kind of commission for bringing business to those restaurants. Don’t be foolish, there’s a great choice for everyone, and I can strongly recommend you the following two:
-Tataku Vave, located few minutes away from the hotel we stayed and also minutes away from the airport. This turned to be one of the top restaurants for the incredible view you get from the terrace overlooking the ocean and the marina nearby. With a more than reasonable menu and good prices, all their food is freshly made in the moment, therefore be patient. Out hotel hosts told us that waiting even up to 45 minutes can be normal, just relax having a local beer with such a view and you will enjoy even more when your food arrive. Ask for which dish is on their daily menu, it will be half the price than normally is. Try the cod, really good! The starters in the other hand are a little bit small-ish for the price; yet is better going for a main course and the Poe cake for desert which is amazing! They will in fact serve you 2 different kinds of Poe cake and a delicious fried banana, just make sure you share this with someone else as it’s quite a big desert.
-Mahina Tahai, located on the main road of Hanga Roa, we only came to know it on our last day right before the departure of the plane back to Santiago. Since we had like 3 hours to spare, we and another couple we met from the hotel went to have dinner. They were already in this place the night before having some cocktails which are also unbelievable good. Here you can get the Tablet Mar y Terra. It’s a large sharer platter good for 2 people, and believe me when I tell you that with just the platter 2 of you can easily eat and be full. As for drink, order a Banana Sour, something you can only get in Chile anyway, but especially in Easter Island, based on the Chilean alcoholic drink Pisco, and banana, blended with ice.
For more information about Easter Island check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Chile’s currency is the Peso (CLP). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Easter Island
- Rano Raraku National Park Is a former volcano crater that was the main quarry for the creation of the moais. The different stages of creation of the moais can be seen from the archaeological remains. From the top of the edges you will get great views of the island and the maoais in the distance scattered around. An entrance ticket must be purchased either in the arrivals terminal in the airport or at the CONAF office in Hanga Roa. The same entrance is valid on both Rano Raraku and Orongo, explained below.
- Orongo National Park Located on the side of the crater lip of Rano Kau on the south-western side of the island. The crater itself is a must see, coupled with the highest cliffs on the side the crater meets the Ocean at 250 meters, and the archaeological remains of the stone village that fell into disuse by 1860 when almost the entire population of Rapa Nui died of disease and starvation.
- Anakena and Ovahe Beaches Located to the north side of the island are the only 2 sandy beaches. Anakena is of special beauty and interest for the moais located meters from the beach, while Ovahe is much quieter for being much remote.
- Ahus Are stone platforms found everywhere in the island. Totalling 313 so far to date, only 125 carry moais, usually just one, but exceptions as listed below, where up to 15 sit on a same platform. Unfortunately you will see that the large majority of the moais on Ahus are fallen.
-Ahu Akivi Is the only ahu where the moais are facing the ocean.
-Ahu Tongariki Is the landmark image of Easter Island and the moai. The largest stone platform ever built where 15 moais are all in place. Located near Rano Raraku at barely 1km distance in the south of the island. They are facing the sunset direction.
-Ahu Nau Nau Is one of the finest and most beautiful, with 7 moais, 5 of them in absolute perfect conservation state, but the location makes it of extreme attraction, with the beach of Anakena at the foot steps.
-Ahu Ko Te Riku The best example although with only 1 moai that represents how those heads would look like when new, with the white coral eyes in place. It is located walking distance from Hanga Roa right by the coast.
- Moais Are without doubt the most celebrated and known icons of the island. Carved between a period spamming from 1100 until 1680 AD and numbering almost 900 in total. Surprisingly only a quarter was ever installed, half of them remaining in the quarry, and the other quarter elsewhere.
-Tukuturi One of the rare exceptions of a bearded kneeling moai.
- Petroglyphs Easter Island has one of the richest collections in Polynesia with pictures carved in rocks.
- Caves Incredibly, for the small size of the island, there are many caves spread all around.
The only way to reach the island is by plane and as of April 2015, the solely route is the daily flight connecting with Santiago, with an extra flight on Fridays not returning to Santiago but continuing to Tahiti. Seasonal routes sometimes operate to Lima, Peru, but other than that this will be the only entry point.
Within the island there is no public transportation. You can either walk everywhere since the size of the island really permits this, or rent a car, motorbike or quad. If I may recommend, go for any of the second options and be independent. A quad is great fun! But don;t worry if you do not hold a driving license, you can get onto a day tour at any time. There are many tour operators, all offering the same route around the island so you will not miss anything.
Don’t expect any sort of luxurious accommodation or large scale hotels. Thankfully since the very beginning the construction follows very strict regulations in order to maintain the perfect harmony with the environment. All hotels and guest houses are small and family run businesses. There is nevertheless a good and large choice, and while there are only 5 properties with a star rating of 4 and even 5*, majority are 3*. If you are picky, then there is no reason to be here. You are guaranteed to have a great time and great care by the locals, wherever you will be staying. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We selected Cabañas Anakena in Hanga Roa, the main town in the island and towards the western edge of the airport. That happened to be one of the best choices ever! The owners, Christine and Alejo took care of everything to great detail. Not only that they offer pick-up and drop-off from/to the airport included with your booking; invited the guests to a nice evening barbecue in their garden, where we got to meet extraordinary nice people and shared long chats and laughs and overall enjoyment. On the day of check-out, which is at 11.00am, and bearing in mind the returning flight to Santiago is at 00.20am, they let you keep your luggage stored and secured the whole day (something that most of the places in the island do not offer so bear this in mind), and also provided us (and all other guests) with beach towels even after check-out should you wish to go to the beach, and a room with a shower with fresh towels for later refreshing yourself before going to the airport. They are really kind, fun and caring people and deserve the great reviews you can find online and more.
For the breakfast, also provided and included in your room rate, do not expect a buffet or a big choice. They will give you about right to keep your day started. And very important, do not judge that there is no TV in the room, as explained in the brief introductory description in this travel guide.