I try to do something cool for my birthday every year. Three years ago I flew around the world for my 30th birthday, for example. Two years ago I went on another crazy trip, and that’s the one I’d like to share with you today.
Have you ever heard about Easter Island? Yes, the one with the face statues. That is also exactly how much I knew about Easter Island when I saw a cheap deal pop up on one of my favorite cheap flight sites. Flights from Mexico City to Easter Island were on sale for the jaw-dropping price of $400! It’s never that cheap to get from North America to Easter Island. Heck, it’s usually never that cheap to fly from mainland Chile to Easter Island, so I had to book it!
They don’t exactly do nonstops to Easter Island, so my journey included stops in Mexico City, Lima, and Santiago de Chile on my way. And no, not in some mega first class or anything like that, this was in coach.
Quick geography lesson: where is Easter Island? Either search for it on Google Maps like an adult or, if you want to do it the old fashioned way, find Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on a map. Then find Santiago, Chile, on a map. Draw a line south from Cabo and west from Santiago and Easter Island is just north of where those lines meet.
In other words, it’s in the middle of nowhere. You think you’re close once you get to Santiago, but the flight from Santiago to Easter Island is 5 and a half hours long.
When you land on Easter Island you’ll notice that the runway appears to be really huge, because it’s really huge. Back when NASA was working out the flight plans for the space shuttle in the 1980s, Easter Island aligned perfectly with one of the designated landing spots and the US government made a deal with the government of Chile to upgrade and extend the runway on Easter Island in exchange for possibly letting the space shuttle land there in case of an emergency. Although never needed by NASA the runway expansion helped Easter Island greatly, as this meant larger planes could ferry tourists and supplies to the island.
When you land on the island the first thing you’ll need to do it walk over to the National Park ticket booth and purchase your ticket. It’s mandatory to do this because, well, nobody really knows where the boundaries of the national park are, since the park area is defined as “land which nobody already owns on the island”. A 5-day pass runs about $60 USD for foreigners, around a third of that for Chilean nationals.
Easter Island doesn’t have very many hotels to the standard most Americans are used to, which is actually great in my opinion. You don’t go to Easter Island to live your life back home, you go there to forget it. Wifi is sparse on the island, there are frequent power outages, and the food is surprisingly expensive, but somehow everything works out just fine. If you choose not to pre-book a hotel, they have stalls at the airport where Rapanui (what locals are called) who have rooms to let will greet arriving passengers with excitement and offers to stay in their “hotels”.
I speak Spanish (although I can’t understand it very well, which makes no sense), so I walked up to a nice looking guy called Oscar. I asked what he charged and he gave me a price. I had a sudden and shocking revelation in that moment: I had never bothered to look up the exchange rate. So I negotiated with Oscar a rate of 50,000 pesos per night, which sounds extreme but turned out to be only $70 or so, luckily for me.
(If the picture of the room looks like it was simply a small cabin in the backyard of someone’s house, it’s because the room was simply a small cabin the backyard of someone’s house)
Renting a Car
Yes, you will need to rent a car. Easter Island is not huge, but it’s big enough where you’ll want to rent a car. To rent a car you can walk into the town of Hanga Roa (it’s probably at most a 10 minute walk from wherever you stay on the island) where they have quite a few car rental agencies. I picked out a
super luxurious cute widdle 4WD SUV. And when I say “cute widdle” I mean it.
Ok, so I had my accommodations squared away and rented a car…bringing us to a logical next question:
What the heck do you do on Easter Island?
Well, you can go hike, see nature, or do what everyone else does: drive the ring road and look for these guys.
That’s right, Moai are all over the place on Easter Island. Now you might wonder if it’s worth it to fly 24 hours and spend a bunch of money just to see statues of faces. Well, yes, although keep in mind my ticket was $400 and a typical plane ticket costs upwards of $1200-1500 at the best of times.
There are a few theories about the significance of the Moai and the explanation for their existence in the first place. The theory to which I ascribe is that Easter Island used to be a lush tropical island with plenty of trees and bountiful fishing areas. There were quite a few tribes on the island and they would occasionally war with each other. The Moai represented their gods (again, the theory I ascribe to). Since the island is so small is was inevitable that they would deplete the natural resources of the island. The native islanders, ashamed of the damage they had done to the island, had no choice but to flee the island in search of food and shelter after all the wars and lack of trees. As their final act of shame they pushed over the Moai so their gods would not have to see the sparse wasteland.
When Dutch explorers found the island (on Easter Sunday, from where Easter Island gets its name) in the 1700s they found the Moai pushed over. Very quickly many were lifted and placed either back on their base or pits were dug in the surrounding area to create a base for them to rest peacefully, casting their gaze once again on the surrounding landscape.
The quarry where most of the statues were hewn can still be explored today, you can even see where statues were in the middle of being carved before the work just stopped.
So my day was spent exploring the area and checking out some statues. What would the next day hold?
That’s right, more statues! The biggest ahu (the platforms on which the statues rest) is Ahu Tongariki, where you’ll see an absolute ton of people watching the sunrise, with good reason, the shadows the statues cast are absolutely stunning.
So there’s a main town (Hanga Roa) and there’s a sandy beach called Anakena, where there are some food stalls and, yes, some more Moai.
It’s pretty much the only place on Easter Island where you’ll see palm trees as well.
Other than that on the second day it was more island exploration and random ahu.
(yes, the second one from the right looks like it’s wearing sunglasses)
On my final day there (it was a 3-day, 2-night trip) I explored Hanga Roa a bit. It was a nice enough town, but you have to be prepared for the pace of life there, everything runs on island time.
The main street through the town/island has a few vendors on the side of the street selling fruits and trinkets and such.
After a quick and relaxing trip, I made my way back to the USA, missing such a remote and unique place.
So is it worth it? Would I go back?
I’d absolutely go back. In fact, I frequently check airfares out there to do just that. This was before I knew what I was doing with photography so I want another chance to get some epic images of the Moai. There are few lights on the island, so looking into the sky at night is absolutely unforgettable, so many stars!