Visiting Easter Island: Five Things To Do When You’re Done Seeing Statues

Filed Under: Travel, Trip Reports

Easter Island first popped up on my radar as a travel destination we might be interested in a little over a year ago, when I read about Ben’s adventures at the Explora Hotel Rapa Nui. As I scrolled through his posts, curled up in a metal chair at a tiny airport in eastern Malaysia on the other side of the world, I might as well have been reading about space travel on Mars.

And if you live anywhere other than Mainland Chile, you’re not necessarily too far off in that geography. As one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands, Easter Island is only accessible by Latam Airlines – with twice-daily flights from Santiago and an occasional stopover en route to Tahiti. At a minimum, you’re flying five hours to get to an island that measures fifteen miles (fewer than 25 kilometers) at its longest point.

Yet there’s something incredibly appealing about flying to this tiny island in the middle of the Pacific. Of course, the mysterious Moai statues are the main draw, but even the most avid of photographers and archaeologists will likely experience “Moai fatigue” at some point.

Let’s be honest – I just wanted an excuse to post this picture.

So while $1,100/night hotel packages just aren’t going to be a thing in my life anytime soon, we were able to see plenty in our 72-hour visit, and I thought it would be fun to share the details of some of our favorite activities.

1. Rent a car (or an ATV, or a bike, or a scooter…)

Given the airline’s tiny footprint, there are plenty of motorized and human-powered ways to get around. You’ll actually want to book your hotel transfer directly from the airport, but once arrive and get settled in, you can walk up and down Atamu Tekena, the main drag in the town of Hanga Roa, and find more rental shops than you can shake a stick at. Your choices are likely to be a Suzuki Grand Vitara or a different Suzuki Grand Vitara — President’s Circle this is not — but it’s nice to have an SUV given that the dirt roads are riddled with potholes the size of olympic swimming pools.

And that’s part of the island’s charm.

Image courtesy of Oceanic Rent a Car

We were able to rent from Haunani Rent a Car as walk-ins, for an all-in price of 135,000 Chilean Pesos (about $204 USD at the time of publishing) for three days. That said, if you don’t want to find yourself sitting down at the rental desk and sweating the availability of a car, I would book in advance – particularly if you’re traveling during the high season.

One of the best roads on the island

If motorized sports are more your cup of tea, you can rent an ATV or moped from any of the rental shops downtown. They also have bikes available – and while that sounded awesome, in theory, I can’t imagine having the energy to hike much after biking some of the island’s hills. Not to say that bike riding can’t be one of your activities – but unless your last name is “Armstrong,” I wouldn’t rely on a bike as the primary mode of transportation.

And you’ll want to save your energy for some of the island’s fabulous hikes.

2. Hike up the side of a volcano

Of all of our activities, this one was probably my favorite. Easter Island is home to two volcanos, both of which are housed within Hanga Roa National Park boundaries. The southernmost of the two, Volcan Rano Kau, is located a quick five-minute drive from town – and is definitely worth the trip:

Volcan Rano Kau

If you follow the main road up, you’ll quickly be brought to a car pullout. Park here, take your pictures, and take your pick of an adventure. If you follow the road up to the right, you’ll be brought to Orango visitor center and some lovely views.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

But if you follow the hiking trail to the left until it dead ends…

…you’ll find yourself towering some 300 feet above the Pacific Ocean, with spectacular views straight down.

While the position may look daunting, rest assured that the perch from where the photo was taken is roughly the size of a helipad, so it’s not as daunting as it initially appears. Meanwhile, the entire hike is about three miles round-trip, and while the terrain may be a bit rugged for non-hikers, there isn’t a ton of elevation gain or loss. In other words, it’s a great adventure for anyone who is comfortable with heights and likes going even just a little bit off the beaten path.

As an added bonus for avgeeks, the car pullout overlooks the airport, so if you time your hike just right, you can watch Latam’s 787 arrive or descend onto the tiny landing strip that services IPC. And it’s not often that you’re above the plane when you watch it land. 😉

3. Check out a cave

Upon arrival, you’ll purchase a national park pass, which includes admission to the fabulous Ana Te Pahu site – a must-see, although it may not initially seem that way. The first nondescript section of hiking on a dirt road – maybe about ten minutes’ worth – is about as blasé as you’ll see on the island. But keep an eye out for this sign:

Just past the sign is a short scramble down, and you’ll have a choice to go left or right. Both sides have really nice caves, but the ones to the right were a little more interesting:

Ana te Pahu (Banana Cave) Easter Island

You don’t really have to walk more than a quarter of a mile, although with certain sections of the cave being pitch black, it may feel much longer than that. Bring a headlamp – or an iPhone with a working flashlight app – and you’ll be fine.

4. Go to the beach

Easter Island isn’t exactly going to be your top spot for pristine white-sand beaches – there are plenty of other islands in the South Pacific (and Hawaii, and the Caribbean, and Massachusetts…) for that. But whether you’re traveling with kids or just have that feeling of “I’m on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific and I deserve a beach,” your best bet is Anakena Beach – the closest you’ll get to that “postcard” feeling.

You can park at the Moai site and walk over, or drive a couple hundred yards down the road to park at the “official” roadside beach parking. Either way, you’ll likely feel the instant pull toward the idyllic stretch of blue water.

Anakena Beach

Of course, with this being the “major” beach on the island, you likely won’t have the place to yourself.

Still, it’s a nice place to go for a dip in the ocean, or relax with a fruity drink.

5. Explore the island from underwater

While Easter Island doesn’t exactly register as the world’s most renown diving destination, they do have some solid coral life, and the unique opportunity to dive with underwater Moai. Visibility is generally amazing, and the dive sites are maaaybe a five-minute boat ride from the town of Hanga Roa, so there’s really no reason not to squeeze in a quick dive if you’re already certified.

Awesome coral formations make up for the scarce marine life

There are about a half-dozen dive shops on the island, with three that have a big enough presence for TripAdvisor. We ended up booking with the Mike Rapu Diving Center, which was largely a factor of their availability (we waited until we were on the island to book, but I would book ahead during busy travel times, if you can.) Incidentally, this is the same dive center used by Explora, which is probably a testimony to the overall quality of the experience.

The dive center itself is located on the marina and offers all of the amenities that you would expect, including separate locker rooms and hot water showers – a much-coveted amenity when you’re coming off of a chilly diving excursion. I run at roughly the same body temperature as your average iguana or snake, so do with that what you will, but water temperatures range between 70 and 72 degrees F (21-22 degrees C). So, it’s not exactly cold-water diving, but it is cooler than your average South Pacific holiday.

Lucky for me, Roberto hooked me up with an extra layer of wetsuit, so I was good to go.

A rare sighting of me not panicking underwater

And if you have no idea how to use any of the equipment pictured – no worries, the shops have plenty of courses and options for novice divers. Given the low currents, great visibility, and relatively shallow bottom, this is one of those places where diving as a complete newbie is a reasonable expectation.

You probably won’t walk away with any cover shots for Dive Magazine, but it’s a fun change of scenery – and the whole thing is over in less than two hours.

Bonus – Visit on New Year’s, get a free show

We happened to be there over New Year’s, and weren’t quite sure what to expect. After hemming and hawing for a while on what to do, we eventually found ourselves on the main lawn on the north side of Hanga Roa – along with what was apparently the entire rest of the island. Our reward?

A midnight Polynesian dance and fire spinning show – with fireworks in the background, over the ocean. And yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds.

More poignantly, the atmosphere brought the experience to a whole other level. Food and drink vendors had set up tents all around the perimeter of the lawn, with children and adults of all ages moving and grooving to the music. Local, Chilean tourist, international tourist – you couldn’t really tell the difference. It was like getting the energy of a nightclub and the cosmopolitan feel of Santiago airport in an environment that was about as wholesome as a fireworks show at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

If Magic Kingdom served Cerveza Austral.

I actually turned to my husband at one point and said, “Well, I think we can stop trying to top New Year’s, because this is as good as it will ever get.”

Is Easter Island worth visiting?

In a word – yes. If you like hiking, archeological sites, and generally unique destinations, this is a perfect place to spend a couple of days. As someone who likes seeing beaches more than sitting on beaches, I really appreciated the fact that you can get some low-key adventure experiences in a climate roughly equivalent to Hawaii. The mix of Chilean and Polynesian culture is a unique touch, without anything feeling unapproachable as a tourist from North America.

We found that three days was perfect for our pace – and apparently so did half of our outbound flight, as we recognized a bunch of people on our return flight to Santiago. Is it worth a special detour halfway around the world? Probably not. But if you’re “in the area” (I’m only kind of kidding) and looking to add something unique to a Chilean trip, you certainly won’t run out of things to do on a three-day visit.

And of course, the Moai statues are absolutely still worth seeing.

Have you been to Easter Island? What were your favorite activities?

READ MORE FROM THIS TRIP

Introduction: Patagonian Summer
Courtyard Marriott Santiago Las Condes Review
Visiting Easter Island: Five Things To Do When You’re Done Seeing Statues
• Is Torres del Paine National Park Worth Visiting?
• The Best of the Rest: A Mini-Roundup of my Chilean hotels
• Delta Sky Club Santiago Review
• Salones VIP Pacific Club Santiago (International Terminal) Review
• Delta Sky Club Atlanta Terminal F Review

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Comments
  1. I’m traveling solo to Easter Island before I hit up Patagonia, so reading your trip reports is giving me a better understanding of what to do. Thank you!

  2. I do love Easter Island but renting a car is not recommend unless you are ok to risk driving without any insurance. There are no organized rental companies on the island just informal rentals that do not include any real insurance coverage. And no a credit card will not bail you out in such situations.

  3. The remoteness itself is a great part of the charm, and all the ideas mentioned are good ones. After all how many statues of Kathy Griffin can you look at .

  4. I was very happy that I hired a local guide on Easter island. It was only a bit more expensive than renting a car. We visited a bunch of cool places where it seemed like we were just driving through a field where there was no road. I never would have found them on my own.

  5. Wow, what a great and insightful post. Easter island is on my bucket list and I had wondered what else I can do. Those short hikes would be perfect for someone like me. Thanks for sharing!

  6. @CF Frost

    To get into a car accident on Easter Island, you would have to be actively trying to do so.

    If you are capable of driving around a giant empty parking lot without hitting anything, you can drive around IPC

  7. Three activities I enjoyed:

    1. Cliff/rock climbing free-hand up around Innuendo Spire to reach the top for the most sublime view.
    2. Take part in a traditional Polynesian dance and
    3. Get a Polynesian tattoo from Andres ‘Panda’ Pakariti

  8. @ CF Frost

    The biggest driving risks are not seeing a horse standing in the middle of the road (but if you can’t see a horse, you probably shouldn’t be driving), or jarring your back on a pothole. There are perfectly professional car hire companies there.

    The car in the photo, incidentally, is a Suzuki Jimny – as is almost every car available to hire (about half of all the cars on the island). They’re tiny. But that’s because there’s no proper harbour, so cars have to be lowered from a ship moored off the island onto a smaller boat, and then ferried onto the island. A tiny Jimny is the biggest I’d feel comfortable ferrying on the modest launches.

    Still no mention if the museum, eh? Did you not go?

  9. Very nice report.. would just like to clarify that the tiny landing strip is actually 10900 feet (almost as long as JFK’s longest one), since it was an emergency landing spot for the space shuttle prgram 🙂

    I’ve been to “the island” more times than I can count and I think that the nicest thing of going there is being able to get in the island time.. and that requires longer stays of course. The most magical things for me (besides the moai and the history of the island) are the sunsets, the fresh food, the overall mood, the more unknown corners only reachable by bike or horseback riding and the pure skies.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip!

  10. @The nice Paul. I’ve spent lots of time there. The risk of an accident on Easter Island is indeed low. The fact remains that none of the rental companies offer insurance for physical damage or liability. Some are ok with that arrangement so it’s good to be aware.

  11. Very well written piece, and I would say you hit every nail on the head bar one. The lava tube cave just a mile North of Hanga Roa was my favourite experience of the island not including the Maoi.

  12. Easter Island is amazing and that feeling of being so remote was quite extraordinary. I can certainly recommend a trip there.
    One note though: the landing strip is anything but tiny. At 3.3km long, it’s not tiny. Hehe! 😉 In fact, the runway was built by NASA in the 1980’s as an abort site for Space Shuttle missions. It was never used for that purpose but it sure helped to bring more visitors to the island.

  13. Fantastic trip and we were fortunate enough to have stayed at the very special Explore which features mostly excellent native Rape Uni guides.

  14. My wife and I visited there in 2014.
    The night sky and southern stars are magical

    Our guide told us he thinks less than 50,000 visitors have ever been there

  15. I rented a car somewhat hesitantly. But the guy who set up the rental said I only needed one thing as a guide. There is an app called Imagina Isla de Pascua. It lists everything you can think of. Easiest app I have ever used. I downloaded for iPhone, cost was zero. It has all info in English, Spanish, and French. There are guides on how to get to some hidden gems that don’t have great signage (Ovahe Beach). It was a wonderful help. BTW, there are lovely tropic birds at the top of the volcano – graceful with their tails streaming behind them.

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