This planet is filled with so many mysterious and unexplainable structures—including the pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge in England, and the Puma Punku stone blocks in Bolivia that bear no chisel marks and interlock with very fine precision. These sites are sometimes considered the products of aliens. Those places are easily accessible. On the contrary, the mysterious Rapa Nui Island (Easter Island) in Chile is very difficult to approach, as it stands isolated at the end of the world. Let’s discover the hidden island through my Easter Island travel blog.
This was the destination I chose to visit in order to discover one of the most secluded inhabited islands in the world.
Rapa Nui is a volcanic island in the middle of the immense Pacific Ocean. In order to reach this place, visitors must fly from Santiago, the capital of Chile, or take a month-long boat tour on the sea. Rapa Nui means “deserted island” in the local language. Tourists often call it Easter Island, as it was discovered on Easter Sunday in 1722 by Dutch captain Jacob Roggeveen. I prefer to call it Rapa Nui because it contains a bright visual culture built by the local people for thousands of years.
The heritage of the mysterious culture
Despite the high cost of transport and accommodation, I still wanted to set foot on this distant island to witness its mysteries. I could feel the native culture as soon as I arrived at the airport and saw the copies of the Moai statues, specific to the Rapa Nui culture. Though they live in modern times, the people of Rapa Nui still preserve their millennia-long cultural identity. More and more tourists are coming to visit the island, but there are still “regulations” if tourists want to enter the island. One of these immutable regulations is not to touch the Moai statues. Those who deliberately touch the Moai are fined USD500, no matter who they are. Currently, there are 887 statues left on the island. Most of them are not protected by any fence. Touching the statues means that you are touching the visual culture of the ancestors of the Rapa Nui people. More simply, it is a violation of the valuable assets that have brought a large number of tourists to the island when its own natural resources and soil are not rich enough to feed 6,000 inhabitants.
Rapa Nui covers an area of 163.3km2, equivalent to three-fourths of Phu Quoc Island. Behind its smallness and lack of resources, however, is a great mysterious civilization. It boasts marvelous architectural structures that the whole world can admire. A convenient way to explore Rapa Nui if you do not have much time is to rent a car.
One of the island’s mysteries is why most of the Moai statues stand in line facing the inside of the island instead of facing the sea and protecting the island. Perhaps in the distant past, the Rapa Nui residents did not expect anyone from the outside to try and enter the island. The statues seem more interested in defending their own customs and beliefs. This theory was strengthened by the native Rapa Nui people I saw, who often looked at tourists suspiciously, as if they were seeing aliens who were threatening their culture and society. The Rapa Nui people were tall with dark complexions and bodies covered in tattoos, wearing traditional costumes and big earrings. I sometimes smiled at them, but they responded with an indifferent and vigilant attitude. I actually liked their straightforward and somewhat rude method of expression.
We rented a car and spent two days learning about the Moai statues across the island. Rapa Nui is shaped like a triangle, with volcanoes and freshwater at each point. The island’s secluded and pristine nature made us feel like we had entered another world—one completely different from what we had previously known. Although the road network had not been completed yet, it was enough for us to travel around and contemplate the island’s beautiful natural sights.
The stern faces of the Moai statues have been watching the island for thousands of years. Some have red hats made from volcanic cinders. The construction of the statues took lots of people and lots of time. Archeologists have put significant time and effort into studying how the statues were built and transported—most weigh tens of tons. Some weigh hundreds of tons and are over 20 meters high.
Although Rapa Nui is just a small island formed from volcanic eruption and ocean tides, the local people dedicated all of their resources to the construction of the huge statues. In order to transport and place the colossal statues on the stone platforms, the Rapa Nui people needed a large quantity of wood. They deforested the island so extensively that they eventually ran out of trees. With no means of transport, the construction of Moai came to a standstill. Lack of resources, population growth, exhaustion of food sources, rampant epidemic diseases, bloody civil wars, and cannibalism caused the gradual disappearance of the Rapa Nui civilization. As I viewed the scattered and solitary statues lying in the Rano Raraku quarry, it seemed to me that the civilization had disappeared because of an excessive dedication to visual elements.
The world of nature lovers
I am a nature lover and selecting Rapa Nui as a relaxation destination after a long journey exploring South America was a worthy award. Four days on the island was long enough for me to mix with pristine nature. I had opportunities to wallow in sunshine on the Anakena beach and to admire the coconut forests winding along the white-sand dunes. Legend has it that this beach was the first place that the Rapa Nui ancestors set foot on after their long and dangerous voyage on the vast ocean. It also seems to be the last stop in man’s migration journey to the distant lands of South America thousands of years ago. A small and calm channel facing the Pacific helped me to get rid of my fatigue and brought me peace of mind. I imagined the peaceful life of the island guarded by the rows of solemn and mysterious Moais.
Rapa Nui is a very expensive place to visit, as nearly everything is transported in from mainland Chile. We stayed in a campsite close to the sea and Hang Roa Town. We shared the kitchen with the house owner. Visitors can save a substantial amount of money by buying and cooking food from the market—an area with several vans in the center of the town. Seafood, however, and particularly fish, is relatively cheap. Following tourism, the island’s fishing industry is its second largest economic sector.
In order to save our money, we often had quick lunches of sandwiches or cheese bought from Santiago. But we treated ourselves to a good dinner that we prepared. One day when we were given banana flowers we made nộm and could taste the distinct flavors of Vietnam.
The roadside wild guava forests laden with fruit in the springtime were an interesting present for tourists. We read this information and decided to enjoy the free guavas. The fruit is small and red on the inside, as sweet as sugar candy. The nature in this place is truly generous to visitors.
The sunset gave us a wonderful opportunity to sit and contemplate. Nighfall brought silence over the island, broken only by the murmur of waves. Under the moon the moai become even more prominent, shining under halos of light.
From Vietnam, you fly to the capital of Santiago, Chile, transiting in one of three airports—Sydney, Auckland, Doha or Sao Paulo—depending on the airlines you fly with. A return ticket costs between $1,500 – 2,200, depending on the time of the year. From Santiago, you fly with the Latam Airlines to Rapa Nui, a return ticket costs $300 – 600.
You should spend at least one or two days riding a bicycle around the island. You will have a wonderful experience when you contemplate herds of wild horses grazing in a carefree way on the grasslands close to the blue sea of the Pacific, and moai scattered everywhere guarding the mysterious island. You can rent a bike at the campsite or in the center of Hanga Roa Town.
Go to the island office to affix the symbol of a moai on your passport.
Things to do
The followings are the must-do things on Rapa Nui Island:
+ Bathe in the sea and pick coconuts on the Anakena beach. Legend has it that the beach is the first place the ancestors of the Rapa Nui Island people set foot on.
+ Contemplate sunset from the top of the Orongo Volcano.
+ Visit the Rano Raraku quarry, where the Rapa Nui people created the mysterious moai during ancient times.
+ Enjoy wild guava fruit from the roadsides.
+ Cook for yourself and book a homestay accommodation to save on costs.
+ Enjoy the traditional dance of the local people every afternoon.
+ Kayak around the island.
+ Make an offshore fishing trip with the local people.
Chilean use peso (CLP). Tourists should change your money from USD to CLP in the mainland ($1 = CLP650). In the island, the exchange rate is lower ($1 = CLP500). There are some state-owned banks in Hang Roa Town where you can exchange your money during office hours. If you do, remember to bring your passport with you.
Hotels and resorts are rather expensive (about $250 – 300/per room/per night). However, you can rent a tent on the campsite with a cost of $15 – 20, or a double room in this area at the price of $50 – 55/room/night.
You can find, check rates, availability & booking for Rapa Nui Island hotels (Easter Island hotels) on Booking.com.