Photo by Marla Wold
Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is the destination of choice for many travelers who are intrigued by the famous statues, the isolation, and the mysterious history of this island. But, hard facts for serious travelers are hard to come by. We thus are presenting what would be a fantastic five-day vacation on that tiny island in the Center of the World.
But first, a few facts: there are not many options for reaching this remote island: only one airline, LATAM, flies to Easter Island. Flights originate from Santiago (Chile) and Pape’ete (Tahiti) and are a little more than five hours in duration. The airline schedule is seasonal, with more flights scheduled during the week in the austral Summer (December-February). Cruise ships do visit Easter Island, but usually stop only for a few hours, which is not enough time to get even a slight feel for the place. Private sailboats occasionally visit the island, but special permission to land is required.
Few travel agencies have a staff person who has actually been to the island and they sometimes give erroneous information about what to see, how long to stay, and where to stay. The most expensive hotels are not necessarily the best, and they seldom book anyone into a “residencial” (a small pension).
Travel agents unfamiliar with Easter Island look at a map and see a tiny island, only 7 by 15 miles, and think “What can one possibly do there for more than a few days?” So they book their clients into three-day tours. This is a big mistake. For starters, there are some 15,000 archaeological sites of all kinds, nearly 1,000 statues, thousands of petroglyphs, a couple of beautiful beaches, snorkeling, diving, horseback riding, shopping, caves to explore, fishing, hiking, and for party animals, discos that run all night. The islanders are friendly and visitors can make acquaintances easily.
Far Horizons has offers an excellent ten day trip to Easter Island. For over 30 years (with the exception of the last couple of years due to COVID-19 travel restrictions), they have conducted a tour that coincides with the Tapati Festival. You will visit culturally important island sites with an expert guide. Far Horizons books the best accommodations and food for their tour participants. The Easter Island Foundation fully recommends this tour.
Dancers at the Tapati Festival. Photos by Hilary Scothorn
A huge festival that pulls out all the stops, Tapati Rapa Nui, takes place in early February.
Tapati was first held in 1969 and was called Semana de Rapa Nui. At that time, it was a summer festival featuring singing, dancing and a small parade. Tapati has evolved into a spectacular festival that includes dancing, ritual chants, art exhibits, carving competitions, horse and boat races, body painting, a string figure (kai kai) contest, the selection of a queen, an amazing parade and a triathlon event, among other attractions such haka pei, where participants slide down the side of a mountain on banana trunks at top speeds. The entire village participates and the event ends with the annual crowning of the festival queen by moonlight at the Tahai complex. Visitors are truly enveloped in a unique and exotic Polynesian happening.
Photo by Hilary Scothorn
More Images of the Tapati Festival
Photos by Charlie Love & Dave Rose
Easter Island is sub-tropical so there is relatively little variation in temperature and precipitation. It can rain anytime of the year. While temperatures do not vary much, there can be a wind-chill factor. However, tourism does vary! January and February are the busiest months on the island. October, November, and December have slightly fewer tourists. June, July, and August are the slowest months for tourism, as that is wintertime in the Southern Hemisphere.
Photo by Julie Francis
Photo by Julie Francis
Visiting Sacred Sites
Because of the fragile nature of most of the sites and the exponential increase in travelers to Easter Island, visitors who wish to see ‘Orongo and Rano Raraku must pay a fee to visit those sites. The fee ($US60 for adults and $US10 for children 12 & under) includes unlimited visitation to all of the other island sites; however the sites of Rano Raraku and ‘Orongo can each be visited only once during a period of 5 days. With this in mind, we recommend you plan your visit carefully so that you have plenty of time at each place; if you wish to return to either of these sites a second time, the fee must be paid again. The sacred precinct of Mata Ngarau at the site of ‘Orongo is closed to visitation while conservation strategies are undertaken. Site passes can now be purchased only at the Mataveri Airport or at the CONAF office.
A Few More Facts to Know Before You Go
Over 8000 people now live on the island, which is governed by Chile. The residents speak Spanish; Easter Islanders also speak their own language, Rapanui. Nearly all live in the village of Hangaroa, where the hotels, shops, and restaurants are located. There are vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles for rent. While you can get around the island on your own, hiring a local guide will ensure that you will be able to visit all the sites that are currently accessible to the public.
You can take your meals with your hotel room, or only have breakfast, and eat lunch and dinner out. The local stores have food items for lunch, like cheese and bread, etc. The water is safe to drink but has a high mineral content; if you find it a problem, bottled water can be purchased in the stores.
Do not head out without taking water. There is no reliable source of drinking water outside the village.
If you are on the island on a Sunday, attending Mass at the Catholic Church, regardless of your religious persuasion, is highly recommended. The singing in the Rapanui language is wonderful. Note the wooden saints and holy figures, carved by local artists.
There are many places to stay on the island. Some are well-appointed hotels with swimming pools; there are smaller hotels with fewer amenities, as well as residenciales, which may have from 2 to 10 rooms for rent. There are several places to eat in the village; ranging from snack bars to full-on restaurants. Food can be expensive on the island, so expect to pay mainland prices.