It was a long time dream to visit this mysterious island with the “giant head” statues, as I USED to call them. Now I know that they are called “Moai” and are not only heads. I finally got the chance earlier this year and enjoyed the beautiful tropical island as well as the fascinating history. I will give you all the information to plan your own trip to Rapa Nui, as the locals call it. Here are some ideas for a 4 day Easter Island itinerary.
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Ok, it’s kind of a bitch. In many ways. Easter Island is technically part of Chile and as a way to control the number of people going to Easter Island, the only way to get there is on a LATAM flight from Santiago, Chile. The airport code for Easter Island is IPC. There are two flights departing Santiago daily at 630 am and 930 am. The flight time is 5 hours and 25 minutes.
Getting to Easter Island is a bit of a bitch, but totally worth it! Learn how and more importantly what to do once you're there! Click To Tweet
This is an expensive flight. It is also heavily discounted for Chilean residents. I just did a quick google flights search and saw it listed at $322 for October which is so low that even Google was like “hey this is the lowest price ever!”. When you click on the flight and move forward in the process, eventually you see a disclaimer that price is for Chilean residents only! For everyone else that same flight is $1455. Outrageous right?
One trick I learned after doing tons of “internet research” and discussing in forums with other travelers is that this action by LATAM airlines may not be 100% legal. One way around it, other than being able to prove somehow that you reside in Chile, is to book your flight on the LATAM Chile website, not the US or other foreign country sites. That means it will be in Spanish so find an interpreter to get the months and days correct! I have a decent understanding of Spanish so this is what I did and I was able to book my ticket for half of what it would have been otherwise.
I went in the high season and (accidentally) at the same time as the yearly Tapati festival and the island was at peak crowds (which still wasn’t terrible) and everything was more expensive. My flight cost $1000 round trip.
Santiago airport is a BEAST. LATAM airways is poorly managed and unorganized. Be prepared for a madhouse. I have been to over 80 countries and have not seen anything like what I saw there in the wee hours of the morning. If you are checking luggage, plan to be there 3 hours ahead of time because the line just to check your bag will be over an hour (that’s assuming you can figure out the right line in all the chaos).
I highly recommend bringing a carry-on and then you really only need to be there 90 minutes in advance. This matters when you have a 630 am flight, my friends. You will likely need to stay in Santiago before and after your flight, whether you are planning to visit Santiago or not, because of flight times. I stayed at a hotel 5 minutes from the airport and left most of my luggage there (I was on a 6 week South America trip and had cold weather clothes I did NOT need in Easter Island). This enabled me to go to Easter Island for 5 days with just a small bag.
***FYI in the international terminal of the airport, you will see stairs going down from where the check-in desks are. This is a little known security and customs entrance only for people flying to Easter Island. You will go through a special sort of customs here. Make sure you have your immigration card you obtained when arriving in Chile. The line is virtually empty here and you breeze through security in no time.
I spent a lot of time in and out of Santiago Airport and I truly hope this info helps you avoid the pain I felt!
This is one of the most remote places in the world with a fascinating history that I must share a little of. The nearest inhabited land, Pitcairn Island, is 2,075 km (1,289 mi) away! The nearest continental point is in central Chile, 3,512 km (2,182 mi) away.
Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888. In 2007, the island gained constitutional status as a special territory. Rapa Nui National Park has had UNESCO status since…
The currency is the Chilean Peso (681 CLP = $1 USD) and the language is Spanish. There is a small percentage of the population that speak Rapa Nui. The population is under 7000 and a little over half claim Rapa Nui ancestry but only a fraction of these speak the language. Aside from tourism-related things such as hotels, guest houses, tour guide, car rentals, etc, English isn’t widely spoken.
In the capital Hanga Roa, you can find ATMs in a few places. Many restaurants are cash only but you can use a credit card when booking transportation and tours.
***You will need a Rapa Nui National Park ticket to enter all the sites with moai. This is CLP 54,000 or $80 USD. There is a wooden national park booth before the arrivals hall at the airport. Definitely get it here. I think it is more expensive to get it elsewhere. It is good for 10 days. There is one line for credit card and one for cash at this booth.
Please note and respect the rules to preserve this cultural treasure:
In 1722 the Dutch first visited this Island and it happened to be on Easter Sunday of that year, which is how the island got its name. Isla de Pascua is the name in Spanish and the local name is Rapa Nui.
Historians believe that the Polynesian inhabitants arrived sometime around 1200 AD. There’s a story passed down orally that states the island was first settled by a two canoe expedition led by chief Hotu Matu’a. Historians think these people came from the Gambier Islands or the Marquesas. (These are in French Polynesia)
According to reports from missionaries, the island originally had a strong class system with an Ariki, or high chief, wielding great power over nine other clans and their respective chiefs. The high chief was the eldest descendant through first-born lines of the island’s legendary founder, Hotu Matu’a.
The most striking part of the culture was the production of massive moai statues that may have represented deified ancestors. According to National Geographic, “Most scholars suspect that the moai were created to honor ancestors, chiefs, or other important personages, However, no written and little oral history exists on the island, so it’s impossible to be certain.”
Most settlements were located on the coast, and most moai were erected along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the sea.
The fact that so much is unknown adds to the mystique of this very remote island. Click To Tweet
When Europeans first visited this island in 1722 they encountered these mysterious statues, mostly situated along the coast, gazing inwards. On later visits at the end of the 19th century, all the moai were found fallen and the population decimated. Some think that the eventual destruction of the moai was because of war between clans or the “lower” classes revolting against the upper class who were the ones commissioning statues.
Regarding the population, much of the downfall of this civilization came from Peruvian slavers who came in the late 1800s. They captured or killed half of the island’s population. After international protests, the slaves were freed and sent back less than a year later but by then many had died of disease. The few that managed to return brought smallpox back which caused further devastation.
A long-held theory is that the Polynesian seafarers who colonized this island and formed different tribes and societies ultimately destroyed each other through in-fighting and exploitation of natural resources. This “eco-cide” theory is now being disputed. More recently archaeologists think that contrary to the theory above, there is evidence of large-scale cooperation among societies. There’s also evidence of a Polynesian rat that may have arrived with the first canoes, ate the palm seeds and is ultimately responsible for the vast deforestation.
I’m giving you a 4 day itinerary because you can see everything easily in 4 days. I actually stayed 5 nights but I wanted to allow extra time to relax and in case of bad weather. It rains often in Easter Island so scheduling in a day extra or two to allow for bad weather to come and go is not the worst idea. I experienced a few hours on at least 2 days where I couldn’t do anything because of strong rain.
Most things to do on this island are Moai related because there are just under 1000 moai statues on this small island! You can also do this itinerary in any order you like. I just grouped things together that made sense because of time and geography. You can see on this map that there are tons of “Ahu“. Ahu signifies a sacred ceremonial site where moai stand or used to stand.
“The 15 Moai”
This is a great place to catch the sunrise. Luckily the sunrise isn’t super early here (around 8 am) so it’s not the most painful wakeup. Stay long after everyone else has left from sunrise and enjoy the statues in a different light and you may have them all to yourself.
This is the quarry that contains the volcanic stone that all the island’s moai are carved from. All the statues were carved here and then moved to other locations. Just wrap your head around that! These statues are on average 4 meters (13 ft) high and weigh 14 tons! This was occurring between the 13th and 16th centuries. One theory is that the moai were placed on logs and rolled (leading to mass destruction of trees aka the “ecocide” theory I mentioned above). The most recent study has evidence that the statues were harnessed with ropes and tilted side to side while pulling them forward, kind of like they were walking. Either way, it’s crazy to imagine. Note that the heads you see in the photo have bodies buried under them!
Spend the rest of the day relaxing at the island’s prettiest beach. There are also Moai here because there are Moai everywhere! This was actually the first settlement on the island so kind of special.
Visit this beautiful volcanic crater. The early morning or late afternoon light is the best. I made the dubious decision to rent a bike and bike my way to the crater since it isn’t very far from Hanga Roa. While this is true, the road is a steep incline THE ENTIRE WAY. What this means is that instead of it taking 30 minutes, like Google told me it would, it took 2 hours and I had to walk the bike up many of the steep hills since I am not a Tour de France contender. Coming down was a breeze, literally. I was back to the hotel, Pisco Sour in no time.
If you ahem “exerted” yourself with this morning activity like I did, a rest by the pool with some drinks is a good idea then you can head out for dinner and sunset viewing. The sun sets late here so this is usually an after dinner activity. In February when I went this occurred around 9:30 pm.
This is the best place to see the sunset. Bring some drinks and a towel or blanket and get cozy on the grass an hour or so before and enjoy the light show behind the mystical statues.
Another great place to see the sunset with a meal or cocktails is Mahia Resto restaurant or Te Moana restaurant. I mention those below in the Where to Stay /Eat sections.
These are the only moai not along the coast and the only moai facing the water. It is oriented astronomically with the moai looking straight to the sunset during equinoxes. According to legend, these represent the 7 explorers who first came to the island before colonization.
I decided to walk to this site from Hanga Roa. It wasn’t the worst decision but it was a long hot walk. Not incredibly steep or anything and I got to walk through little villages plus I picked up a dog friend along the way who stayed with me for hours. On the way back a couple with a little boy stopped and offered me a ride into town. They only spoke Spanish and I was happy I could converse a bit.
Here you can see how the moai face the water. Also, note my canine friend shamelessly walking on the forbidden part of the Ahu platform. Dogs don’t read the signs I guess!
This area has the ruins of one of the best preserved ancient villages with earth-ovens, boat-houses, and other features. Most importantly, according to tradition, the remains of the founding ancestor, Hotu Matu’a, are here. This site has not been restored and moai are seen both face down and face up in vulnerable positions, giving us a glimpse of what it was like when the European explorers found the island in this state.
This is another archaeological site where moai were knocked down and destroyed. What is very interesting here is the presence of the “Inca Wall”. The technique used to build the wall is not seen elsewhere in Polynesia and gives rise to a theory that maybe some of the original inhabitants came from South America, where this building block technique is seen in Inca architecture.
This is a day to catch up on anything you didn’t do before. Maybe you missed that sunrise or want to see some of the moai at a different time of day than before. Or maybe now you have better weather to take a bike ride around the island.
I decided to see Ahu Tahai in daylight since I had already seen it at sunset. This is one of the only moai within a 20 min walk of Hanga Roa so it is easy to make multiple visits. I also went back to see Ahu Tongariki in the afternoon light since I had seen it in the morning. After that, I rested by the pool and read a book.
This statue still has its eyes and its pukao, or headdress.
Spend the evening with dinner and a cultural dance show. The best one is called Ballet Kari Kari and includes dinner at the Ma’ara restaurant starting at 7:00 pm. You should make reservations for this.
This looks really cool but is weather dependent and extremely expensive at almost $90 USD! It also doesn’t depart until later in the evening.
I recommend Oceanic Rent A Car. The guys there were really sweet and easy to communicate with. I got my quad and bike from here.
A manual car is $65,000 CLP (90 USD). Automatic is $70,000 CLP (102 USD).
This costs less to 50,000 CLP (73 USD) for 24 hours.
These are the cheapest wheels at around 8000 CLP (12 USD) per day.
You can easily walk all around Hanga Roa (if you stay in Hanga Roa) and to Ahu Tahai. If you like really long walks can walk to the Rano Kau volcano, Ahu Akivi. Other than that, you need wheels.
You can book a Sunrise Transfer to Tongariki for 20,000 CLP ($29 USD).
There is transfer service to Anakena Beach from Hanga Roa for $7000 CLP (13 USD) round trip. The vans leave at 10 am, 12pm, 2pm and 4 pm. You can find this at Te Ao Tours office on the main street in Hanga Roa, Atamu Tekena.
I recommend staying in the capital, Hanga Roa. This is the center of tourist life and all the things you will do start here. I stayed in two different places while there one for 2 nights and the other for 3. Long story. I was happy to experience both and really liked them both. I will give you other options as well. It isn’t cheap to stay in a hotel or guest house but there are hostels and campsites.
The owner of my guesthouse greeted me at the airport with a flower necklace, which seems to be standard here. The guest houses usually include the airport pick up in the price but not always the drop-off. This place only has a few rooms and a homey feeling. Plus it is right next to the ocean. I booked the only room with the sea view and the sunsets from my room were spectacular.
The staff was amazing and they had a great chef. This is a wonderful place to have dinner or lunch even if you don’t stay here. The patio has a great ocean view as well. Every morning I got complimentary breakfast with fresh blended pineapple juice.
This place was more expensive than the first, probably because it was a bit fancier with its own pool and located on Atamu Tekena, the main street in Hanga Roa. The breakfast here was phenomenal courtesy of their pastry chef/waiter who was a doll. I looked forward to it each day.
Search for a hotel in Rapa Nui here:
The food here was better than I had imagined and also much more expensive. The fresh fish is out of this world. Tuna. Empanadas here are not the same as on the mainland or in other countries. The fresh fruits and juices are phenomenal too. You can also find places for sushi, Italian, pizza, cafes and burgers. I was happy to live on ceviche and empanadas.
No Easter Island itinerary is complete without at least one visit to Tia Berta’s. The empanadas here are not like empanadas I’ve had anywhere (and I’ve had MANY). There is a location in town and this one near the beach. I liked this one better because it has a nicer ambiance and slightly faster service. Both are slow but the empanadas are made fresh. I had the tuna and cheese and a shrimp and cheese (not all at once!). Also, they have fresh juices such as guava, watermelon, passionfruit, pineapple and these can all be blended into a pisco sour. MMMMM.
On the main street, this is a charming place with sweet staff. I came once just for drinks and another for dinner where I tried a local dish called Shrimp Pil Pil. I practically licked the bowl and came close to ordering another one. It is spicy as hell and heavenly.
I had ceviche with ginger and coconut, served with fried sweet potato chips and coconut rice. This was so unbelievably tasty and a HUGE portion of the fresh ceviche. I enjoyed with an ocean view and a maracuya pisco sour. Maracuya means “passion fruit: and I suggest you learn that word…quite possibly the best word to know in Spanish.
I came here to watch the sunset and have drinks but got hungry and was pleasantly surprised by the high-quality delicious pasta dish I had.
I didn’t get a chance to eat here because you need reservations way ahead of time. It is very small and has a notorious and famous chef. People on-line RAVE about this place so go if you can and tell me about it. It’s not right in town but not too far either.
Bring tons of sunscreen and mosquito spray! Also comfortable walking shoes.
Make sure to get one of these flower crowns to wear one day.
Hope you found this Easter Island itinerary helpful. Feel free to ask me anything!
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