If you’re going to be travelling in Chile, Easter Island is just a skip and hop away. The only way you can reach this remote island that marks the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle is by flying there on one of the daily flights from Santiago, or catching the weekly flight from Tahiti.
Having already spent close to a month travelling around Chile, one week in Easter Island seemed like the perfect way to wrap up the trip! I mean, if not now, then when?!
The following blog post will be a day by day breakdown of my visit to Easter Island. This includes hiking volcanoes, visiting the moai archaeological sites, the best spots to watch sunrise and sunset, and more. I hope this well help anyone planning their own trip to Rapa Nui (including how to do it on a budget), so first up a video that Sam and I filmed during our week there, and then let’s move on to the weeklong itinerary!
EASTER ISLAND TRAVEL ITINERARY
Arriving + Checking out the Town
The flight to Easter Island was 5 hours long and I flew aboard LAN’s Dreamliner, which made it an extra smooth flight. Just remember to book a window seat in advance; they are a hot commodity on this particular route!
When our flight landed, the first thing we did at the airport was sort our park admission passes. The pass costs $60 USD ($30,000 Chilean Pesos) for foreigners, or $20 USD ($10,000 Chilean Pesos) for Chileans. The money goes directly into the protection and restoration of the moai, so it’s a nice way to give back to the island.
Once we had sorted the passes and picked up our luggage, we met our hosts who greeted us with lei and then drove us into town. Accommodations in Easter Island are very pricey, but since there were 4 of us we managed to snag a simple yet comfortable cottage for $833 USD for the week. On this island, that’s a bargain!
The rest of our first afternoon on the island was spent exploring a bit of the town on foot and then checking out Anakena Beach, which our hosts graciously offered to drive us up to.
Rano Kau Crater + Orongo Village
We kicked off our first full day on the island with a hike up the Rano Kau Crater. Rano Kau is an extinct volcano that forms the southernmost tip of Easter Island and it sits at 324 meters above sea level. You can’t climb into the crater since it’s a protected area, however, you get some really cool views of the wetlands from the rim. The interior of the crater has its own microclimate and it’s kind of fascinating to see how the vegetation can differ between the inside and outside of the rim.
There is a road that leads to the top of the crater, so you could drive there if you wanted to, but we decided to follow the trails and do the hike on foot. We had 2 stray dogs join our pack as we made our way along the outskirts of town, and they stuck with us for the entire trek up and down the volcano. The hike was a relatively easy one with a gradual slope, but I would recommend doing it early in the morning since it does get quite hot as the day goes on. The entire hike took us a little over 4 hours there and back.
Near the Rano Kau Crater you’ll also find Orongo, a stone village and ceremonial centre that sits on the edge of a cliff. Here you’ll find a collection of stone houses and you can learn about the Birdman Cult, which involved an annual competition between the islanders to collect the first sooty tern egg of the season. This meant swimming out to the islet of Motu Nui, then swimming back to Rapa Nui, climbing the sea cliff of Rano Kau, and reaching Orongo. Oh yeah, and the egg needed to be brought back intact. Needless to say, it was a dangerous race where participants put their lives on the line.
Attending Mass + Market Day + Archaeological Museum
Sunday morning started bright and early. Our host had told us that Mass on Sunday Morning was something we shouldn’t miss, so we took her word for it. That morning we put on our Sunday’s best and walked over to the church, where the bells were already ringing. Once we got there, it was clear why she had suggested we swing by church; as soon as we stepped in we could see that local culture plays a major role in mass. The priest wore a headdress with white feathers, and he also had a garland of frangipani around his neck. The message was delivered in Spanish, however, the majority of the songs were sang in Rapa Nui, while a band seated amidst the congregation played guitars and accordions.
After church we did a little bit of shopping. The Artisan’s Market is located just a few meters north of the church, so we walked over to browse the stands. I ended up getting 2 moai statues carved out of volcanic rock as a little souvenir.
Having a look at our map, we saw that the Archaeological Museum was only a few blocks north and since we still had some time to spare before lunch, we decided to have a quick visit. The museum sits on the outskirts of town overlooking the ocean, and they have a giant moai to greet you as soon as you reach the main entrance. While the number of artifacts inside the museum is quite limited, what this places excels at is presenting information. They have a series of information boards that cover everything from how the first Polynesians found these islands, to the rise of a Rapa Nui hierarchy, to various theories on how the moai would have been transported from the quarry. It’s a good place to learn a bit more about the island, though you may just walk away with more questions – this is a fascinating place with so much of its history still shrouded in mystery.
After visiting the museum we walked back to town following the dirt road that runs along the coast. Here we came across the Tahai Ceremonial Complex, which is home to 3 platforms with moai. They include: Ko Te Riku (the only moai with restored eyes on the island!), Tahai (a single moai whose face is quite eroded), and Vai Ure (a platform with 5 damaged statues). After seeing the complex by day, we ended up walking back to watch the sunset – best spot on the island to do so!
Rano Raraku + Wetlands
On Day 4, we hopped in the car and drove out to Rano Raraku, which is yet another extinct volcano that happens to be the quarry that supplied the stone from which the moai were carved. The quarry was used for roughly 500 years, until the early 1700s, and it supplied 95% of the statues that you see scattered across the island. It’s a pretty cool site to visit because you can see some moai that were left unfinished – some are still attached to the rock – and it helps you visualize what the whole process must have been like.
After seeing the moai, we followed the path that leads to the volcano crater. Unlike Rano Kau, some parts of Rano Raraku can be explored on foot, so it’s worth the short climb to the top. Once you set foot inside the rim, you’ll be shocked by the change in landscape; the earth is a burnt orange, there’s a freshwater lake surrounded by reeds, and we even spotted some wild horses grazing in the distance.
Tongariki + Ahu Akivi + Ahu Tepeu + Drive the Island Loop
Day 4 involved another early start. Since we had the rental car at our disposal we drove all the way out to Ahu Tongariki to watch the sunrise – best spot to do so on the island! Tongariki is home to 15 towering moai with their backs turned to the sea, and it was a pretty spectacular sight to watch the sun paint the sky soft shades of violet, lavender and then pink.
Later that day we drove to Ahu Akivi, which is one of the more unusual sites on Easter Island since the 7 moai are facing out to sea rather than inwards. These moai are also located inland as opposed to along the coast.
From Ahu Akivi we decided to do the hike to Ana Te Pahu and Te Peu. In retrospect, this is a part that I would probably skip. It was a really long hike and to be honest there wasn’t much to see along the way. If you’re really into archaeology like the university group that was touring ahead of us, you might enjoy the small caves and piles of rocks along the way, but there are far more impressive sites to visit if you’re strapped for time.
Later that afternoon, we took the car and ended up driving the big loop around the island. Once we left Hanga Roa we followed the coastal route south towards Ahu Tongariki, we went past the Poike Volcano looming in the distance, we then followed the road towards the north end of the island that took us past Anakena Beach, before finally cutting inland and returning to town. It was such a peaceful drive with hardly another vehicle to be seen and lots of wild horses.
Anakena Beach + Puna Pau + Vinapu + Orongo Village + Traditional Dance
This was our last morning with the rental car, so again we started the day early. In the morning we drove back to Anakena Beach to have a look at the moai. We had already visited this site, but the light hits it a lot better earlier on in the day and it was nice to start the morning with a walk along the beach.
From there we headed back south and took the turnoff to Puna Pau. This is an interesting site because it’s where the pukao (head pieces of red volcanic rock) were made. There’s still much debate about whether the pukao are meant to resemble feathered hats, turbans, or locks of hair wrapped atop the moai’s head, but visiting the site will give you an idea of the sheer size of these rocks.
After visiting Puna Pau we drove to Ahu Vinapu, which sits on the southern tip of the island near the airport. We had noticed the turnoff on our drives along the coast, so we finally decided to check it out. The most interesting feature of this site is a basalt wall that resembles the same type of stonework you can see in Cuzco and Machu Picchu.
Lastly, we drove back up to Orongo Village. We had already been up to Orongo when we hiked up to Rano Kau, however, it had started pouring rain shortly after we arrived, so we never got to tour the village. There is a trail that winds through the archaeological site, which allows you to get up close to the round houses built out of flat stone. They reminded me a bit of the rondavels I saw in South Africa.
Later that evening we went to see a traditional dance in town. It was a fascinating performance with strong Polynesian roots. There was one dance performed by the men that was a lot like the Haka warrior chant they do in New Zealand, and there was another dance performed by the women that made me feel like I was in Hawaii. If you only have a few days in town, this is something you may want to schedule early on in your visit since most venues don’t have shows every single day.
Rain Day + Relaxing
No sightseeing whatsoever! We woke up on Day 7 to dark skies that proceeded to unleash a torrential downpour over the island. It rained all morning long, so we took that as a sign to just stay indoors and rest. Thankfully I had loaded my Kindle with 3 new books to keep my busy, plus our cottage also had a few board games and a couple of decks of cards. By mid-afternoon the sun had come out, so we just went into town for some food and ran a few last minute errands.
Fly Back to Santiago
And just like that our week was over and it was time to fly back to Santiago! Since our flight departed in the afternoon, we had the morning to pack up and enjoy one last leisurely meal in the cottage. Our hosts then drove us to the airport and bid us farewell with hugs, kisses, and seashell necklaces to remember the island by.
As you can probably tell, one week was more than enough time to tick off all the main sites on Easter Island and then some. There were a few places I ended up going back to more than once just to see it at a different time of day, but if you were pinched for time, you could easily cover Easter Island in 3-4 solid days of sightseeing.
Have you been to Easter Island?
Do you have any tips to share with fellow travellers?