Located in the Pacific Ocean, more than 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited places on earth. It marks the southeast corner of the Polynesian triangle, with Hawaii to the north and New Zealand to the southwest.


The island covers 63 square miles of land and is home to approximately 900 mesmerizing moai statues, often called the “Easter Island heads.” The giant, monolithic carvings are scattered around the island, some standing proudly against the ocean backdrop, while others are buried up to their necks in soil.


Though the statues are an obvious draw, there are other reasons to travel to Easter Island. The far-flung island offers a calm atmosphere, and though typical amenities like air conditioning and Wi-Fi are lacking, being able to gaze out at the Pacific over dinner and spot wild horses roaming the hills makes up for it.



The History of Easter Island

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It’s long been thought that the first people to come to Rapa Nui, the Polynesian name for Easter Island, arrived between 300 and 400 C.E. But recent studies are questioning this line of thought, suggesting it was several hundred years later. It’s believed that as resources began to dwindle on the island, starvation and warfare nearly caused the population to go extinct.


On Easter Day in 1722, Dutch explorers landed on the island and dubbed it Paaseiland, meaning Easter Island. The next hundred years were not kind to the people of Rapa Nui: it’s thought that soon after the Europeans arrived, there was a slave raid from Peru and then an outbreak of smallpox.


In the 19th century, Chile annexed Rapa Nui (or Isla de Pascua as it’s known to Chileans), and in 1965 the people of Rapa Nui became Chilean citizens. Today, the island has a population of about 8,500, made up of both Indigenous Rapa Nui people and ethnic Chileans.



How to Get to Easter Island

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Though getting to Easter Island isn’t hard, per se, it is a long journey. The only airline that flies there is Chilean airline LATAM, and travelers must fly through Santiago, Chile.


It takes around 10.5 hours to reach Chile’s capital city from New York or Los Angeles, and a little over nine hours from Atlanta. From Santiago to Hanga Roa — the capital of Easter Island — the flight is roughly 5.5 hours, and there are about a dozen flights each week. U.S. passport holders don’t need a visa as long as they plan to stay for less than 90 days.


Another way to get to Easter Island is with a cruise. Several cruise lines, such as Seabourn and Silversea, offer sailings that include Rapa Nui, but these trips will cost you a pretty penny.





What to See

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The most recognized features of Rapa Nui are the moai — those giant stone shrines that dot the island. But the carvings aren’t just heads. Because some of the most widely photographed figures are those buried up to their necks, many people don’t know the moai are monolithic, full-body carvings. The statues, some of which stand up to 32 feet in height, were carved to honor important people after their deaths.


Moai were carved using a toki (a chisel made of rock). The best quality toki were made from a very hard stone known as hawaiite, only found in the Rua Toki-Toki quarry. One of the biggest enigmas of Easter Island is how people in ancient Rapa Nui were able to move the gigantic stone statues from their carving site to the places they would eventually stand.


Rapa Nui National Park, which covers nearly half the island, is the best place to see the imposing carvings. Built between the 10th and 16th centuries, the island contains what UNESCO (which lists the park as a World Heritage Site) describes as “one of the most remarkable cultural phenomena in the world.”


The best way to learn about the moai is by touring the national park with a knowledgeable local guide. Purchased independently, a 10-day ticket to access the park costs $80.


Though you can see moai all over the park, there are a few must-sees for any visitor. Ahu Tongariki, on the southeast shore, is home to 15 moai standing shoulder-to-shoulder and silhouetted against the sky. Though much of the coastline is rocky, you’ll find Playa de Anakena, a beautiful, white sand beach with turquoise water. Not far inland, Rano Raraku is an impressive volcano where hundreds more moai, in various stages of carving, still stand. It’s also a great spot to hike, as it offers stunning views of the island.


A good place to start your trip is the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum. It’s the only museum on the island and, though small, boasts an impressive collection of ancient fishing hooks, a white coral eye of a moai stone carving, and mata (obsidian stone tools). In addition to the artifacts, it walks visitors through the history of the island. Visits are free, though donations are accepted. Opening hours can vary so check before arrival.


Another great spot for adults and children alike is right in town. The Hanga Roa harbor is a perfect place to see sea turtles. If you stop by while fishermen are hauling in their catch and cleaning the fish, you can spot the turtles floating just beneath the surface, waiting to snack.



Where to Stay

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Though the population of Rapa Nui is small, there is a surprisingly large selection of accommodations. Most of the hotels are located central to Hanga Roa.


Hare Uta Hotel is a few minutes’ walk from the center of town and overlooks the water. Friendly staff members go out of their way to make guests feel at home, and the poolside spa offers traditional treatments featuring local banana leaves and volcanic soil. The restaurant is popular with guests as well as those staying elsewhere.


Another favorite for visitors is Altiplanico Easter Island. The bungalows are about a 30-minute walk out of Hanga Roa, but the coastal views along the way — and welcome drinks upon arrival — make up for any inconvenience. Rooms are bright and airy, with open-air showers and private terraces.



Where to Eat

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There are plenty of places to dine on the island, and most restaurants are in Hanga Roa. Be prepared for slow service, and plan accordingly if you are eating before meeting a tour guide.


La Kaleta, which sits right on the coast and has a great view, is a visitor favorite. The menu is written on a chalkboard outside and changes daily.


Nearby, Te Moana also offers beautiful ocean views. Portion sizes are slightly larger than many other restaurants in town, and prices are more expensive. The restaurant specializes in fresh seafood, including oysters and ceviche.


Another highly rated spot in town is Neptune’s Island Restaurant. Guests can dine inside or on the veranda and enjoy views of the Pacific from either spot. The staff here is friendly, and prices are modest.



How to Get Around

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Getting around on Easter Island requires advance planning since very little of the island has cell phone reception. While taxis often drive around looking for passengers, it’s a good idea to prebook transportation before setting out on your daily adventure. The same applies to pickup from the airport, which can help you avoid scams.


Rental cars are available on the island, but few companies offer insurance, and the roads can be rough.


One of the best ways to see the island — both for convenience and an insider perspective — is to book a tour. There are many options for both private and group tours (the latter being more environmentally friendly), lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days.


If you’re up for an adventure (and a workout), you can also travel by bike, on foot, or on horseback. Some places aren’t accessible by car, so going by horse or on foot can allow you to reach some of the island’s hidden treasures.


Spanish and Rapa Nui are the most commonly spoken languages, but some people in the hospitality industry also speak English.



Currency

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The official currency on Easter Island is the Chilean Peso (CLP). There are only two ATMs in Hanga Roa (though not all credit card types are accepted) and a handful of places to exchange currency. Visitors should be aware that the exchange rate on the island won’t be as favorable as that available in mainland Chile, so it’s advisable to withdraw and exchange enough cash before flying from Santiago.


Still, if you forget, don’t panic. Many local businesses will accept U.S. dollars (though at a higher rate than you would pay in pesos), and several hotels and restaurants also accept credit cards.


The daily cost of staying on Rapa Nui can vary widely, but more highly rated properties tend to be at least a few hundred dollars per night. A meal, meanwhile, can cost upwards of $50 per person. Bargaining is not a part of the culture of Rapa Nui. Tipping is common practice, and a service charge of 10 percent is often added to bills.



What to Buy

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Vendors selling souvenirs won’t be hard to come by in Hanga Roa, but if you prefer to wander markets to collect treats for friends at home, head to Mercado Artesanal. Located on Ara Roa Rakei, this market features handicrafts made by local artisans. Small moai, carved from stone and wood, are a favorite, given their prominence in local culture. And there are plenty to choose from. Visitors can also buy more traditional souvenirs, including T-shirts and jewelry.


At Feria Artesanal, you can find similar types of souvenirs, though vendors also hawk produce and fresh-caught fish in the mornings.


Tamure Rapa Nui is a small shop that sells clothing and jewelry. It’s located on Atamu Tekena and offers higher quality (and slightly more expensive) items such as colorful floral wreaths, Polynesian-print textiles, carved bone earrings, and woven fiber bags.



Best Time to Visit Easter Island

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The temperatures on Easter Island are consistently mild throughout the year. During the summer season between December and March, temperatures typically hover below 80 degrees Fahrenheit and during the winter months of July and August, they rarely dip below the mid-60s. Because the island is located in the middle of the Pacific, visitors will find there’s often a cool ocean breeze.


There isn’t a bad time of year to visit Easter Island, though if you want to stay dry, avoid traveling in April when the island gets most of its rainfall. The driest months are between October and February.


In addition to the great weather, there’s another reason to travel to Easter Island in February. Tapati Rapa Nui is the island’s namesake festival that began in the 1970s to celebrate culture and heritage. During the two-week celebration, there are several competitions, including dancing, canoeing, horse racing, and a chance to try Haka Pei — a sport where people use a banana leaf to sled down Rapa Nui’s steepest hillside.

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