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Easter Island (Rapanui: Rapa Nui, Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. You can find this interesting little dot on the world map between Chile and French Polynesia, over 2,000 kilometres from the nearest inhabited place, the Pitcairn Islands. Chile, of which the island is a part, is located 3,600 kilometres away.
Easter Island is not your typical tropical island destination. The main drawcard is not the island's beaches, but rather its mysterious statues, known as moai by the locals. There are hundreds of statues across the whole island, but no one knows when or why they were placed -theories abound.
Polynesian or Inca origin?
Another mystery is the ancestral heritage of the local people. While most people think they are of Polynesian origin, others have suggested they originally came from South America.
In the mid 1950s, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed westward from Peru in a reed raft called the Kon-Tiki, trying to prove that South Americans may have settled the island. But recent archeological studies have produced more convincing evidence that the island's early inhabitants were all of Polynesian origin.
But as can be seen on the island there is some evidence for Thor Heyerdahl’s claim, at least at one Ahu (foundation). This Ahu of a Moai has the same shape of rocks and making as the Machu Picchu walls. So the Peruvian people may not have settled the island, it is entirely possible that they at least have visited the island and spread their knowledge of building walls and foundations.
The name Easter Island
The Christian name, Easter Island, for Rapa Nui descends from the day it was discovered. On Easter Sunday 1722, three Dutch ships under the command of Capt. Jakob Roggeveen arrived at Rapa Nui, putting it on the map with this Christian name. The locals call it Rapa Nui, while the Spanish know it as Isla de Pascua.
Easter Island is one of the world's most isolated inhabited islands and its closest inhabited neighbour is not Chile but are the Pitcairn Islands, 2,075 kilometres to the west. It is about 3,510 kilometres west of Chile and the nearest land is Isla Salas y Gómez, 415 kilomtres to the east, but this island is uninhabited. The island is about 25 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide, totalling 163.6 square kilometres. The highest point is the extinct volcano Terevaka at 507 metres above sea level and there are three freshwater crater lakes: Rano Kau, Rano Raraku and Rano Aroi, near the summit of Terevaka, but no permanent streams or rivers. There are two other volcanoes, Poike and Rano Kau, which form the eastern and southern headlands and give the island its roughly triangular shape. Lesser cones and other volcanic features include the crater Rano Raraku, the cinder cone Puna Pau and many volcanic caves including lava tubes.
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Easter Island's most famous attraction, of course, are its statues. Over half of the moai are located at Rano Raraku, the quarry where most of them were made. There are more moais throughout the island, but many of these are in poor shape and have not been restored due to lack of funding from the Chilean government. The moai are made of a soft rock called tuff, which (ironically) is quite weak. These statues are considered one some of the most Famous Ruins in the world. UNESCO inscribed Rapa Nui National Park (which covers the vast majority of the island) as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996.
In 1960, a tsunami swept over the Tongariki site, scattering Moais and Ahu stonework over an area of eight acres. The restoration of this impressive site was partially founded by The Japanese company Tadano who donated the $700,000 crane needed to resurrect the Moais back on its Ahu.
Hanga Roa is the island's only real town and is home to all but a few hundred of the island's population. It's dominated by souvenir shops, car rental businesses, restaurants and guest houses.
Some attractions in Hanga Roa include:
Tapati Rapa Nui is the local carnival, running each year in late January or early February. As part of the festivities, people participate in traditional dancing, horse and canoe races and statue carving, amongst other things.
Easter Island has a very pleasant sub-tropical climate. Temperatures reach almost 30 °C during the day in summer, which lasts from November to April. June to September is wintertime on Easter Island, but temperatures are still pleasantly warm and above 20 °C, though dropping below 15 °C sometimes at night, so bring a sweater for the evenings. Easter Island doesn't have that much variation regarding rainfall, but generally April to July are wetter months, while November to January are the driest. The wind can also get quite strong, as there is very little tall vegetation (= trees) to break it, so a good windbreaker would be essential.
Mataveri International Airport (IPC) is the airport on Easter Island. There are flights between Easter Island and Santiago, Chile. These are operated by Lan Chile and cost upwards of $650. Lan Chile also has flights from Papeete, Tahiti, and from the 5th of January 2011 also to Lima, the capital of Peru.
The landing strip of the airport was lengthened in 1986 by NASA to make it possible, in case of emergency, for the Space Shuttle to land at Rapa Nui. Therefore today the airstrip is covering the whole width of the island.
There are no real regular boat trips to Easter Island, but cruiseliners travel between the American continent and the Pacific islands via Easter Island.
There are a number of car rental businesses operating on the island. If you're driving, the island's main attractions can easily be seen within a day or two. If you spend the night at people's home, you can also ask to rent their car at very competitive prices. Note that insurance is not included so drive carefully.
Since Easter Island is quite small, many of the attractions (read: maoi) are within walking distance from Hanga Roa. But even if you want to go further, it is possible to do some longer day hikes or combine hiking with short bike or car trips.
Most hotels, guesthouses and some specialised biking rental places offer bikes to rent. As the island is small, even a day or two with a bike is enough. It's even possible to get around by horse if you like.
It is easy to rent a horse for a day or even a week, just by quering from the guesthouse you are staying at. As there are more horses than people on Easter Island, horses are used by locals as normal transport. You can either ride around the island by yourself, or pay a bit of extra to get a local (usually a child or a youngster) to accompany you. As the island is quite small, riding is a nice option. Just note that most horses are almost completely untrained, so for galloping and trotting you do need a bit of previous experience.
The same rules apply as for Chile
Easter Island's currency is the Chilean peso. Notes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 peso. Coins come in denominations of 1,5, 10, 50 and 100.
There is only one ATM on the whole island and not many places accept credit card. Therefore, it's a wise idea to try to have some Chilean Pesos on hand before coming to the island. Mastercard is the only credit card that will work at the ATM. Please note that if your stay extends over the weekend, the ATM often runs out of cash on Saturday/Sunday.
The official language of Easter Island is Spanish, but most of the Rapa Nui speak Rapa Nui, a Polynesian language closely related to Tahitian. Basic English is spoken by most people working in the tourist industry.
There are around 25 restaurants catering to tourists on the island. A few can be found close to the dock in Hanga Roa, with a few others scattered in the surrounding areas. Menus tend to be limited, as most of the food on the island needs to be imported. The range of fish, though, is considerable - as is true for most of Chile. There are also a few "supermarkets" where visitors can pick up snacks, limited sundries, booze, etc.
Until recently, most of the accommodation in Easter Island was catered to the backpacker crowd, with costs around US$20-$25 per person per night. As tourism has grown on the island, the range of accommodation options has also expanded.
A few good budget options include:
|Cabins Hakari||Av Hotu Matua Hanga Roa||GUESTHOUSE||-|
|Kona Tau||Avareipua s/n||Hostel||83|
|Pacific Cabins||Atamu Tekena Hanga Roa||guesthouse||-|
|Vaianny Guest House||Tuki Haka He Vari S/N Hanga Roa, Easter Island||Guesthouse||86|
|Tekena inn||Hangoa Roa||Hostel||82|
|Kaimana Inn Bed & Breakfast||Atamu Tekena S/N||Guesthouse||89|
|Fatima's Hostel||Reimiro s/n casa de Fatima Hotu en Tahai||HOSTEL||-|
|Hotel Rapa Nui||Avareipua sn° 64||Hotel||-|
|Busqueda del Viajero||Hanga Roa||Hostel||-|
|Inaki Uhi||Atamu Tekena S/N||GUESTHOUSE||85|
|Hotel Orongo||Atamu Tekena 1 Hanga Roa, Easter Island||Hotel||85|
|Tea Nui||Av. Pont s/n Hanga Roa||HOTEL||-|
|Hostel Petero Atamu||Petero Atamu s/n Isla de Pascua||HOSTEL||79|
|Hotel Atariki||Tuki Haka Hevari s/n||HOTEL||-|
Many upscale guesthouses have popped up, including ones such as Casas Rapa Nui (operated by luxury chain Explora) and the Hanga Roa Hotel, which cater to those looking for more luxurious accommodation. If you're feeling a little flush, book in with Patricia at Mana Nui Inn where you stay in your own private cabana overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the famous Moai site of Tahai. This will set you back about US$50 a night but the breakfast alone is worth it, not to mention the bliss of sitting on your outdoor deck with a cocktail watching the sun sizzle into the sea at the end of the day. And if you're really lucky, Patricia might even let you borrow her jeep to tour the island! For the more budget conscious backpacker, there is a HI hostel located on the island costing approximately US$20 a night. Facilities are clean and the owners are friendly and this is where most backpacking visitors to the island congregate.
Pisco, a hard alcohol made from fermented grapes, is the unofficial drink of the island. Try a pisco sour, which is pisco mixed with lemon juice. Another common cocktail is the piscola - pisco and coke.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Easter Island. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Easter Island. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
There are cybercafes in every major and midsize city and at all tourist destinations. Some libraries are in a program called Biblioredes, with free computers and Internet. Wifi is getting more and more common. They're usually in metro stations, airports, malls, cafes, public buildings and several public spaces. Check for the ones that say gratis - for free. McDonald's and Starbucks are chains which almost always have free wifi.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Chile is: 56. To make an international call from Chile, the code is: 00. Emergency phone numbers include 131 (Ambulance), 132 (Fire) and 133 (Police).
Public phones located on streets are very likely to be tampered or vandalized, so it's better to use a phone located inside a commerce or a station. Prepaid cards for mobile phones and public phones are sold at most newspaper kiosks, supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies and phone dealers. Mobile GSM networks are ubiquitous in all major cities and most of the territory of central and southern Chile. A basic prepaid cellular phone usually costs about 15,000 pesos, most frequently charged with 10,000 pesos worth of prepaid minutes. No ID is required to buy a prepaid phone. GSM SIM cards from ENTEL, Movistar or Claro are usually available for 5,000 pesos, but without credit, so you'll need to buy some prepaid minutes to be able to call. Money can be charged into a cellphone from some pharmacies (Ahumada, Cruz Verde and Salco Brand) on the counter and in cash, or by using a credit card through an automated service operator, with directions in Spanish or English.
Correos de Chile is the national postal service, and although relatively slow it is reliable with post offices throughout the country. On the website you can find more information about prices to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. Post offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 6:00pm and Saturday until 2:00pm, although there are sometimes longer opening hours in the bigger central post offices and shorter ones in small places. Ask around. If you want to send packages internationally, you might consider companies like DHL, TNT or UPS, which are fast, reliable and usually competitively priced as well.
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