Isla de Pascua, or “Easter Island,” is considered one of the most-isolated inhabited places in the world. To the locals, it’s known as Rapa Nui, and it’s quite incredible just how they’ve got there, let alone built the enigmatic, but world-famous moai that visitors flock to see each year. Despite just how small the island is, it boasts thousands of years of culture, along with a warm, tropical landscape so sublime it feels like living in an eternal summer.
Because Rapa Nui is so isolated, i.e. literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, flights are very limited to two destinations (Santiago, Chile or Papeete, Tahiti), each serving no more than two flights per day, even during peak season. Even then, it’s easily a 4-5 hour flight one-way, since the island is located roughly 3000 to 4000 kilometers from either destination. That said, my trip to Rapa Nui was one of the more-difficult places I’ve traveled to, but the 2-1/2 night stay on the island was one of the most-rewarding experiences I’ve had.
From Santiago, my family and I caught an early flight to Hanga Roa (the “capital” of Rapa Nui), arriving on the island just past noon. Even just stepping off the airplane, we realized that Rapa Nui would be nothing like we knew before– essentially, we stepped off in the middle of the runway and, even then, there wasn’t a terminal to head into. More of a small building with one check-in counter, a security checkpoint, and one conveyor belt to bring our luggage in. If I hadn’t known just how small Rapa Nui was, I saw it right at its airport!
After buying our tickets to the island’s national parks (conveniently available at the airport) and retrieving our luggage, we headed out. We would be taking a guided tour with a local company during our stay, so we took the company’s shuttle to our hotel.
Interestingly, the island has local everything: hotels, restaurants, etc– from what I’ve learned, the Chilean government and the Rapa Nui people came to an agreement in the 1960’s-1970’s that the locals have sovereignty over their land, meaning that they forbid big-chain hotels and restaurants to be established– that’s why you won’t see any McDonald’s on the island! Even further, Chileans aren’t allow to buy property on the island, unless they are of Rapa Nui descent. Considering that, despite being a “special territory” of Chile, the island still retains control over their own land!
We reached our hotel, where we checked in and dropped off our belongings before deciding to head out and explore a bit on our own. As said, the island is famous for its moai, and they can be found scattered everywhere on the coastline. Our hotel was no more than a kilometer away from the ocean, so we headed over to enjoy the sea breeze and see a few moai.
First moai we saw was the Hanga Kio’e, which appeared quite lonely standing on its own, before going down the coast and seeing a cluster called Tahai. It consisted of six statues lined up in a row, with one of them slightly off to the side and wearing a pukao, which looks like a red hat that’s actually supposed to represent a hair-knot. According to Rapa Nui tradition, only village chiefs could sport the pukao, as it’s used to symbolize status and power in the community.
The Tahai wasn’t too far from Hanga Roa, so we reached the town to have a late lunch, as well as sight-see around. Since Rapa Nui is such a small island, there really is only one town– Hanga Roa– that has grocery stores, bars and restaurants, souvenir shops, even the airport. It’s where the locals hang out, as well as where tourists can get food and tour information– otherwise, the rest of the island is pretty much nature, moai statues, and more nature.
My family and I settled on a restaurant just before reaching the heart of Hanga Roa, and there we had our late lunch/early dinner. Similar to Chilean food, the island also serves plenty of ceviche. When it comes to food and produce, Rapa Nui imports a ton from Chile, thereby making items actually expensive on the island. Despite being surrounded by the ocean, Rapa Nui doesn’t actually have much seafood, with the exception of some small fish: since it’s so isolated in the Pacific, I suppose that even sea life don’t quite make it out there!
I ordered ceviche, which came in a massive conch with shrimp tails, rice, and some purple sweet potatoes. Aside from being aesthetically-pleasing, it was also fresh and plentiful– I liken it to Hawaiian poke, which isn’t a huge surprise since Hawaii and Rapa Nui are Polynesian islands. The ceviche was filling and, along with the passion fruit mojito on the side, it made for a satisfying meal enough to last even past dinner.
After our meal, we walked around Hanga Roa for a bit. Many of the stores were closed, as the owners were taking an afternoon break before re-opening later in the day. The limited hours reminded me much of those in France (Europe, in general), in that the people take a more-relaxed attitude to work and leisure. I guess with Rapa Nui, it’s a Polynesian island, aka tropical climate all-year round, so it comes as no surprise that the pace of life is slower than, say, cities like Santiago or Los Angeles. Just as I’ve found with living in France, I appreciate the slow, laid-back atmosphere, especially when it comes to fully-enjoying vacation.
Following our brief tour in Hanga Roa, we headed back to our hotel and relaxed for the rest of the day. Around 18:30-19:00, we caught the sunset from the ocean in the distance, which was absolutely gorgeous. It was a great way to end our first half-day on the island, as well as excited us to see what it had in store for us in the next couple of days to come.
Stay tuned for the second part soon!