Questions About Easter Island

What kind of traveler is Easter Island best suited for?

Easter Island is for those who like wild, unspoiled places with lots to see and do. It's not suitable for anyone looking for beaches, shopping, or nightlife. Independent travel is possible yearround, via Chile or French Polynesia.

What makes Easter Island such a great destination?

Easter Island's concentration and variety of archaeological sites is unparalled anywhere in the Pacific. Around 1,000 of the famous statues or “living faces” lie scattered around the island, and there are stone walls, rock carvings, and lava caves. The coastlines are striking with huge waves crashing ashore and dormant volcanoes in each corner of the island. Most of the 4,000 inhabitants live in Hanga Roa village next to the airport and the remainder of the windswept island is largely unchanged since the statues were toppled centuries ago.

What should you not miss? Anything really unusual?

Easter Island's top site is the quarry at Rano Raraku, where the statues were chiseled by hand from the yellowish volcanic tuff. Rano Raraku is now a huge sculpture park with hundreds of statues in various stages of completion scattered around the side of the volcano or along an ancient road to the coast. The island's second must see is Orongo, the ceremonial center where an egg-collecting race to tiny Motu Nui island just offshore decided who would hold the title of Birdman for the following year. A number of circular dwellings were reerected at Orongo by archaeologists in 1974, and there are numerous birdman carvings in the adjacent cliffs. Orongo itself sits on the rim of the island's most colorful volcano and the sea views are spectacular.

When is it best to go?

The best time to go is for the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival in late January or February when the whole population participates in traditional dancing, sporting events, canoe races, handicraft and agricultural exhibitions, statue-carving and shell-necklace-stringing competitions, body painting contests, mock battles, feasts, and the crowing of Queen Tapati Rapa Nui. A favorite of visitors is the haka pei when young men slide down a grassy hillside on banana-trunk sleds. The catch is that all flights into Easter Island are heavily booked during the festival season, especially the flight from Santiago de Chile. Finding accommodation is less of a problem as there are most beds on the island than there are seats on the plane.

Can you do it cheaply? If so, how?

The vast majority of places to stay on Easter Island are small hotels operated by local residents and most are inexpensive. Booking a room in advance is unnecessary as several dozen innkeepers meet each flight and compete enthusiastically for guests. Hanga Roa also has a reasonable selection of small restaurants. There's no public transportation, but bicycles, cars, and horses can be hired. Local companies schedule daily sightseeing tours, but it's also possible to take a taxi to any of the main sites around the island and walk back to town along seaside trails. The all-day hike from Anakena Beach to Hanga Roa around the wild northwest corner of Easter Island is one of the finest coastal walks in the South Pacific with fallen statues sprinkled along the way. A one-way taxi to Rano Raraku will allow ample time to explore the quarry then walk back along the south coast. From Orongo, it only takes an hour to walk back down to town. Sufficient food and water must be taken along on these expeditions.

Can you plan a trip there by yourself or is it better to book with a travel company?

All that is really needed for a visit is an airline ticket: Everything else can be easily arranged at less expense upon arrival. The only time when a package tour might be advisable is during the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival when bookings for everything are tight. Most visitors don't require a visa to visit Chile but a head tax or “reciprocity fee” is collected upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, with the amount varying according to nationality: United States citizens US$130, Canadians US$132, Australians US$56, Mexicans US$15, etc.

Answers by David Stanley, author of Moon Handbooks South Pacific.

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