Difference between revisions of "Easter Island"
Revision as of 00:51, 4 May 2008
Easter Island  (Spanish: Isla de Pascua, Polynesian: Rapa Nui) is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. Early settlers called the island "Te Pito O Te Henua" (Navel of The World). Officially part of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway to Tahiti. It is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone busts, built centuries ago.
The English name of the island has no real religious significance, but commemorates the island's European discovery by a Dutch exploration vessel on Easter Sunday in 1722.
Ever since Thor Heyerdahl and a small party of adventurers sailed their raft from South America to the island, a controversy has raged over the origin of the islanders. Today DNA testing has proved conclusively that the Polynesians arrived from the west rather than the east, and that the people of Easter Island are descendants of intrepid voyagers who set out from Taiwan thousands of years ago.
Rapa Nui National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
As a territory of Chile, the main language spoken on Easter Island is Chilean Spanish. As it is a popular tourist destination, it is also possible to find a number of people who speak English, or French. Almost everyone will at least attempt those languages.
The Rapa Nui language - a Polynesian language - is spoken by all islanders, and many souvenir-sellers and restaurant staff will greet you with "Iorana" rather than "Buenos días", as well as using "Maururu" as "thank you".
Due to its extreme geographic isolation, many people assume that only the highly intrepid traveler can get to Easter Island. In fact, the island is accessible by regular commercial air service, and tourism is the main industry of the island.
Still, it is rather "out of the way" for most people, with a minimum of more than 5.5 hours in the air from the nearest continent, and very limited routes to get there. The only regular flights are via LAN Airlines , several times each week on the route between Tahiti and Santiago de Chile.  With no competition for fares on an objectively lengthy and obscure flight, fares range between US$600-US$1200 round trip from Santiago.
About the only scenario in which Easter Island is "conveniently located" is on a round-the-world voyage, in which it provides an interesting stop on the way between Polynesia and South America, and will help bolster others' perception that you went "everywhere".
If you want to take the intrepid route Tallship Soren Larsen sails to Easter Island from New Zealand once a year. The voyage takes 35 days, crossing the point on earth furthest from land - one of the last great ocean passages. [www.sorenlarsen.co.nz] tel+64 9 817 8799
Easter Island is extremely small, so it is possible to get around fairly easily. There are rental cars, generally jeeps, available from a few rental agencies in Hanga Roa, as well as a few dirtbikes. With a car, it's possible to see most of the sites on the island in a few hours. Most hosts will also rent out their jeep to you (at a very competitive rate) if you simply ask. Be aware, you will not get insurance with your car hire. Bicycles can be hired on a daily basis. For more rugged visitors, horses can also be rented.
Most of the accommodation on Easter Island are in the form of "guest houses". Representatives of the guest houses will generally come to the airport to greet travellers who may wish to stay with them. Rates are usually quite reasonable. The proprietors of these guest houses will be happy to help you find places to eat, drink, hire cabs, and generally get around.
A number of guest houses describe themselves as hotels, and certainly would pass for them elsewhere in the world as well. These hotels frequently have restaurants offering at least breakfast, and often dinner as well.
See and Do
The biggest tourist attractions on Easter Island are, of course, the Moai. Please note that the Moai are archaeological features and should be treated with care as they are far more fragile than they seem. Often Moai will be placed upon ceremonial platforms and burials called Ahu. DO NOT WALK ON THE AHU as it is an extremely disrespectful gesture. Even if you see others walking on the Ahu do not do so yourself.
All of the sites, which can be visited for free (with one exception), are mostly found along the coastline of the island. The exception is the slightly inland quarry at "Rano Raraku". This 300 foot volcano remnant provided the stones for the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as scattered partially-finished figures.
Easter Island features two white sand beaches. Anakena, on the north side of the island, is an excellent shorebreak bodysurfing location with a bit of north swell. Even the 1" waves barrel (it's also possible to surf in the harbor at Hanga Roa and many of the locals do so). The second beach is a gem so hidden, it doesn't even have a name. Found along the southern shore of the island near Ahu Vaihu (along the road from Hanga Roa to Ahu Akahanga), this beautiful and desolate beach is much larger than that at Anakena and is surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. Note of caution: the path leading down to the beach is somewhat treacherous and unstable and best reached by foot - driving off-road (contrary to the misguided and somewhat callous actions of some tourists) on most of the island is illegal anyway.
Scuba diving and snorkeling is popular near the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti (well known for "The bird man culture") who are located about 1 km. south of the island. There are at least one shop where it is possible to rent the equipment and from there get on a guided tour to the islets.
An often overlooked but particularily fascinating and "otherwordly" aspect of Easter Island is its extensive cave systems. While there are a couple of "official" caves that are quite interesting in their own right, there is also real adventure to be had in exploring all of the numerous unofficial caves on the island, most of which are found near Ana Kakenga. While the openings to most of these caves are small (some barely large enough to crawl through) and hidden (amid a rather surreal lava strewn field that has been likened to the surface of Mars), many of them open up into large and inhibitingly deep and extensive cave systems. Note of caution: these caves can be dangerous in that quite a few run extremely deep. A person left without a torch/flashlight will be immersed in utter blackness with little hope of finding their way out soon...if ever. The caves are also extremely damp and slippery (the ceilings in some have collapsed over time from this water erosion).
Also worth a stop is the Rano Kau. This is a Chilean National Park site, so you will have to pay an entry fee to really look around. Even without entering the park, there is a great view of most of the island from this vantage point.
Most, if not all of the commerce on this island occurs in the port town of Hanga Roa. There are a number of small shops geared toward tourists, as well as an open market. If you join an organised tour, expect to see the same souvenir-sellers at each site selling the same items - generally a plethora of moai-inspired trinkets. The official currency is the Chilean Peso, although, as on the mainland, transactions can often be performed in US Dollars.
When buying souvenirs it is best to use cash. Often the vendors will have a very high minimum charge or will tack on a service fee for using a credit card (about 10-20%). This is only if the vendor accepts credit cards at all; many small vendors will only accept cash. There is only one ATM on the island and it only accepts Cirrus, Maestro and Mastercard branded cards. Another one is about to be installed at the only tank station on the island (january 2007). The local bank can do cash advances against a Visa card, but the bank opening times are limited and the lines can be long.
Pisco, a hard alcohol made from fermented grapes, is the unofficial drink of the island. Try a pisco sour, which is pisco mixed with lemon juice. Another common cocktail is the piscola - pisco and coke. Drinking pisco straight is possible, but not advisable.
There are around 25 restaurants catering to tourists on the island. A few can be found close to the dock in Hanga Roa, with a few others scattered in the surrounding areas. Menus tend to be limited, as most of the food on the island needs to be imported. The range of fish, though, is considerable - as is true for most of Chile. There are also a few "supermarkets" where visitors can pick up snacks, limited sundries, booze, etc.
Like the souvenir vendors on the island many restaurants on the island do not accept credit cards or will have a high minimum charge. Also tipping is appreciated but should be done in moderation, usually spare change or less than 10% works.
As a result of the increased amount of tourists, some of the restaurants may be a kind of "Tourist Trap," so don't hesitate to ask your guide or your host for advice where to go.
LAN Chile airline can take you eastward to Santiago de Chile or westward to Tahiti. If you are departing for a foreign country from the airport, there will be a small exit fee, which must be paid in cash.
If you've managed to sail to Easter Island on your own, a logical next stop would be the infamous Pitcairn Islands, one of the island's "nearest" neighbors and another contender for "most isolated", with no air access and little tourism at all.