Beyond the Moai: Discovering Easter Island

Adventure Travel, Central and South America, Chile, Destinations, Extras, Ideas — By on April 7, 2011 at 6:00 am

Lost Girl Julie Falconer recently took a trip to Chile and spent two days exploring Easter Island. Read on for a selection of her personal essays of her trip experiences. See Julie’s London travel blog and Chile travel website for more stories.

A five-hour flight from Santiago de Chile takes one to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Out in the vast blue waters lies a fabled triangle of land isolated from the rest of the world by vast stretches of sea. This is Easter Island, land of the Rapa Nui, home of the moai statues that are famous the world over for their mysterious origins and stunning picturesque qualities.

I recently landed on Easter Island and was taken to my hotel, explora Posada de Mike Rapu. The hotel’s lodge and outer buildings comprised of not just the only hotel outside of the main town on the island, but also the only LEED-certified building in South America. The eco-friendly, stylish dark wood structure overlooked the windswept plains of Easter Island and offered great views of the ocean in the distance.

After enjoying a Pisco Sour on arrival, I was given an orientation in which there was an overview of the history of the island and its inhabitants, both human and moai. Then my guide, Beno, who like most of the hotel’s guides was Rapa Nui himself, explained the 15 choices for hiking, diving, boating, and other excursions available.

Immediately after the orientation, Beno and I jumped into one of the hotel’s vans and drove to Ahu Akivi, one of the island’s moai platforms. As soon as I stepped out of the vehicle I was struck by the massive size and historical importance of the statues, as well as their significance to the Rapa Nui culture.

I was lucky to have Beno as a guide. An expert in Easter Island archaeology, he explained everything from the various theories behind the statues’ origins, to the uniqueness of Ahu Akivi in that it was the only platform on the island where the moai were facing the ocean instead of inland.

From there we continued our walk to the remains of a centuries-old Rapa Nui settlement, passing several caves along the stunning cliffs. Eventually we drove out to another moai platform on the outskirts of the island’s town and watched a spectacular sunset behind the stone statues as we sipped cava and ate canapés.

The next day I enjoyed a breakfast overlooking the ocean before going on an excursion to the quarry where almost all of the moai on the island were carved. There the group of us saw many moai that had been damaged or broken on their way from the place they had been carved to their ultimate destination on the island.

As we walked past the statues, Beno and our other guide for the morning told us more about the moai, from the fact that each statue was unique and modeled after a specific family, to the various theories about what the moai represented and why they were so significant to the Rapa Nui people.

After visiting the quarry, we returned to the hotel for a three-course lunch. That was followed by a mini-excursion to one of the island’s two white-sand beaches, complete with another moai platform.

After the beach I went on an afternoon excursion to the Rano Kau Crater. Starting from a field near the airport, a group of us climbed up the side of a cliff and met with the impossibly beautiful sight of a huge crater. The center was filled with sapphire blue lakes and electric green plants like a two-dimensional picture of the Earth from space.

After taking a few minutes to absorb the beauty of the scene, we walked all along the rim of the crater until we reached Orongo village on the opposite side. The village was built as part of the island’s historic Birdman Competition, in which representatives of the heads of each tribe on the island competed each year to have their patron crowned king for the year. The competition involved a race to swim out to Motu Nui island, off the edge of the cliff, and bring back the egg of a sooty tern.

Today Orongo is a historical site featuring unique low-slung rock buildings with numerous petroglyphs of the mythical Birdman, which is half avian and half human. With stunning views over the ocean and the rest of the island, Orongo was a beautiful place to visit.

After returning to explora, I enjoyed one last dinner and then went to bed early in preparation for my morning flight back to mainland Chile. My time in Easter Island had been extremely enjoyable, if too short. I wished I had another few days to explore more of the moai-studded island in the Pacific, but there were more adventures to be had in other parts of the country. Namely, I was off to Patagonia for the third leg of my Chilean adventure.

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  • Anne says:

    I love the travelogue, the descriptions let you picture Easter Island on your head and feel you’re also there. Great writing.

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