Rapa Nui's enigmatic stone statues have long drawn travelers to this isolated Pacific island, but with its wealth of outdoor pursuits and culture there's so much more to discover.
It was the eighteenth century Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen who named this far flung isle Easter Island after he stumbled across it on Easter Sunday 1722 on his way across the South Pacific. In later years the Polynesian islanders gave the island the title Rapa Nui, but to this day locals still use the name that's so commonly known worldwide. Situated 3,700 kilometers from the coast of Chile, Easter Island is the most isolated inhabited place on Earth. Perhaps due to this isolation the distinct Rapa Nui culture has been retained since they made it their home in around the year 300. It's this cultural heritage, along with the island's natural riches that make Easter Island so compelling. Here's just a taste of what visitors can experience.
1. Come Face-to-Face with the Moai Stone Statues
Image by Richard Lehoux
Easter Island is most famous for its mysterious monolithic stone statues. Known as Moai, these statues are believed to have been carved by the Rapa Nui people sometime between 1250 and 1500, depicting the faces of their ancestors. Around half of the Moai are at the Rano Raraku site but many that were originally there have been moved to other spots along the coastline and positioned facing inland. Guided tours take visitors around the island to see the ancient statues up-close.
2. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Rapa Nui National Park
Alongside its extraordinary cultural heritage, Easter Island has a great wealth of natural riches with extinct volcanoes, lava tunnels and caves that were formed by volcanic eruption, and a rugged coastline of cliffs and hidden bays. For this reason a large proportion of the island has been designated national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, of the island's 16,628 hectares, 7,000 hectares are protected within the national park's borders.
3. Hike to the Island's Most Isolated Spots
Image by Erik Charlton
A number of guided hikes lead visitors around the island to see archaeological sites amidst scenic landscape. In around seven hours, trek along the dramatic northern coast - an area that's only accessible on foot - from the western edge of the extinct volcano Maunga Terevaka to Anakena beach, with Moai, caves and rock carvings to see along the way. For a shorter three-hour hike, follow the route around the eastern rim of Rano Kau crater to Vai Atare where there's a view of the islets off Easter Island's coast. In around five hours, explore the remote eastern peninsula to see the island's oldest volcano Poike, as well as Moai and the cave of Ana O Keke, or hike to the island's highest point, Terevaka, that lies at 507 meters.
4. Hop between the Island's Remote Beaches
Anakena on the northern coast is the island's most popular beach - particularly during the southern hemisphere's summer months - where white coral sand is lapped by the warm Pacific Ocean with coconut trees swaying in the sea breeze. The beach is home to two archaeological sites: Ahu Ature Huki stone platform with its one remaining Moai, and the Ahu Nau Nau stone platform, which has seven Moai still standing. Smaller beaches are dotted along the coastline, including Pea Beach in Hanga Roa.
5. Ride the Waves of the South Pacific Swell
Due to its location in the South Pacific, Easter Island has world class surfing conditions with lava reef breaks and all-year-round swell. Surf lessons can be arranged in Hanga Roa with waves that are suitable for beginners, while experienced surfers head to Tahai on the northwest coast and the beach of Mataveri in the southwest.
6. Venture through Lava Tunnels and Caves
The most impressive caves on the island are those of the Te Pahu network. Situated below the Akivi Ahu archaeological site, the cave network was formed when a tunnel of lave solidified after Mumga Hiva Hiva erupted around 10,000 years ago. The caves can be accessed by climbing down through the collapsed ceiling and are easily navigated with a numbers of openings for the sunlight to pour in. Elsewhere on the island, the smaller caves of Ana Kai Tangata offer historic insight with ancient paintings of birdmen, while the Te Peu caves and lava tubes are characterized by their rock carvings and lava stalactites.
7. Celebrate Rapa Nui Culture at the Festival of Tapati
Image by Alvaro Valenzuela
Literally meaning 'the week', Tapati is a celebration of the Rapa Nui culture in which two teams from different areas of Hanga Roa compete by sliding downhill on banana trunks, spear-fishing, surfing and canoeing, as well as competing in singing and dancing contests and crowning the Queen of Tapati. Events are held islandwide and involve all of the islanders while welcoming visitors to experience the occasion too. The festival takes place from the end of January to the beginning of February each year.
8. Fill up on Authentic Rapa Nui Cuisine
Rapa Nui fare utilizes the island's abundance of seafood and fish, with lobster, shrimp, tuna and mahi mahi among those on offer, along with fresh produce such as sweet potato, yam and sugarcane that was originally brought over from the Marquesas Islands. Ceviche and tuna empanadas are both island staples, but the most traditional dish is Uma Rapa Nui in which meat, fish and vegetables are wrapped in plantain leaves, then cooked on hot stones in the earth.
9. Stay in a Luxury Eco Lodge
In this rugged and remote setting eco resorts take a pride in sustainability and environmental awareness. Explora Rapa Nui is a luxury lodge that's noted for its energy efficiency and environmental design, as well as a focus on authentic cultural experiences with the use of local guides. With its isolated setting in a peaceful area outside Hanga Roa, the lodge is ideally based for outdoor exploration and cultural tours, while the pool, spa, Explorer's Bar and expansive rooms all make the stay more comfortable.