Sunrise at Tongariki
Santiago is quite literally the jumping off point to get to the most remote inhabited island in the world, Rapa Nui. The island’s first recorded European visitor, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, give it the name Easter Island when he landed there Easter Sunday 1722. I prefer, and so does almost everyone who lives there, the indigenous name.
The island has this magical ability to quietly win you over. There are no critters to bite you (except the occasional unseen mosquito), or animals that can hurt you, only well fed stray dogs roaming the streets and cows and horses roaming the countryside. You’ll enjoy the healthiest sounds at all hours of the day—water, wind and birdsong. Those and the bells of Holy Cross Church ringing every morning at 8am.
[PRO TIP: Visit the Catholic Church for a mass or just to see where traditional Catholic meets Rapa Nui symbolism.]
Holy Cross Catholic Church in Hanga Roa
I had done my homework, read blogs and travel guides as I usually do to prepare. If I read one post telling what to photograph and when, I read a dozen. But no one mentioned some of the logistical issues I encountered, so I’ll cover some stuff that’s super helpful for you to know!
Let’s begin with getting there.
Obviously you need to fly to Hanga Roa. Only one airline flies once a day to and from Santiago, LATAM. You can book directly through them or a third party travel provider. Either way, book early. Also, be prepared that airfare is not cheap. Buying your ticket goes hand in hand with…
How many days?
Tourists can stay a maximum of 30 days. My friends and I spent five nights six days. To me, that was just about right. If you make tour bookings in advance, you could spend four nights. Consider that it cost a lot to fly, so you’ll want to maximize your airfare investment.
Where to stay?
Because about 80% of the 64 square miles of the island is a national park, all of the accommodations are concentrated in and around Hanga Roa, the only town. Same with restaurants, bars, shops, banks, markets. You get the picture. Therefore staying in town is the best and most widely available option. There are a couple high end properties, but I highly recommend choosing a place in town either an Airbnb, a small hotel or lodge. They often include breakfast, have friendly and helpful staff and are a short walk to food, shopping and some sites.
To tour or not to tour?
I say tour. You don’t need to book tours, but I highly recommend you do, at least one or two full days. You’ll benefit from having a knowledgeable guide, likely someone born and raised on the island. We had a wonderful experience getting to know our guide, the culture, history and current way of life just from interacting with him. Well worth the price of the tour.
[PRO TIP: All property and business are locally owned. By law you must be of Rapa Nui decent. So your money will be benefiting the local economy and the local people.]
The beach at Anakena
I highly recommend Easter Island Travel company. They offer small group tours, no more than 8 people and have a superb reputation. Booking in advance will save you time when you arrive. We booked two tours showing us all the highlights, and then some. This allowed us to get our bearings and learn the history. (We didn’t book in advance, so we went to their office in town on our first day to make arrangements.)
On our fourth day, we rented a car, and had a fantastic time driving around on the island, stopping as we pleased and hiking in a leisurely manner, simply enjoying nature. This was our favorite day, but I don’t think it would have been if we were trying to see all the Moai and other big attractions. We’d already done that on our tours!
[PRO TIP: Once there, head to any of the car rental companies on Atamu Tekena, the main street lined with shops of all sort, and book your rental for whatever day you desire. It’s much cheaper to get around in a car for several people, especially since rentals are 24 hours.]
Before Departure in Santiago
This is new, as of 2019. Before you can get on your flight you’ll need to fill out a form online (only online) in order to visit Rapa Nui. Neither the airline nor my third party travel agency made me aware of this form. It was a bit annoying having to fill it out on my phone as I stood at the ticket counter in the airport, but it is essential. Go to the website in advance and you’ll have an emailed confirmation upon arrival, which you’ll need to board your flight.
Upon Arrival in Hanga Roa
When you arrive in Hanga Roa head straight for the queue to purchase your Rapa Nui National Park pass. It a must if you are going to see what you came for, since, as I mentioned, nearly the entire island is a national park. Use your one time purchased park pass (don’t lose it!) to enter at the ranger stations.
[PRO TIP: If your currency is doing well against the Chilean peso, have pesos ready to pay for your pass, $54,000 pesos. Or $80 US dollars, which will most likely amount to more than $54,000 pesos. CASH ONLY.]
Unless your hotel offers an airport transfer or you’ve made other arrangements, you’ll need to get a taxi. If you don’t see someone holding a straight up “taxi” sign, head to the small convenience store in the parking lot and ask around in there. Hotels will charge as much as $25,000 pesos but a taxi will only be between $3,000-$5,000 pesos. It’s about a two mile walk on some unpaved roads. No Uber. Take the taxi.
Hanga Roa Harbour
- ATM – There’s one in town. It’s super helpful to travel with pesos instead of always having to use the credit card. In some instances, you’ll need pesos.
- If you want a Rapa Nui Moai passport stamp, you NEED to get it at the Post Office in town. You won’t get it at the airport. If it matters, take heed.
- Pick up bottled water (unless you have a filter for your water bottle) at any of the local mini markets. You can also find spirits, wine and beer (don’t forget to procure a bottle opener if you don’t have one) and some snacks. Unless you want to full on cook….but the restaurants are SO good!
- Try the local beer, Mahina, it’s quite good!
Our Favorite Restaurants & Shops
- La Kaleta – Great ceviche and wonderful water views
- Haka Honu – Nice for sunset dinner
- Tataku Vave – A little out of the way, but, THE BEST ceviche
- Te Moana – Fabulous food, service and views
- Made in Rapa Nui – terrific little shop with chocolate Moai, locally made and sourced products
- Maea Moana – silver jewelry, gemstones and wonderful designs some based on local folklore
- Artisan Market – Near the Holy Cross church is best, various local vendors with shell jewelry and carved Moai being the most ubiquitous souvenirs
Ceviche and Mahina at Tataku Vave
Here’s what we did with a few tweaks!
Sunset from Haka Honu
- Fill out this required online form before heading to the airport.
- Upon arrival get your national park pass.
- Taxi or transport to your hotel.
- We arrived on Sunday, and a lot of businesses are closed.
- Check in. Get some food. I recommend La Kaleta.
- Head down to the water for sunset. Grab a drink or bit at Haka Honu.
- Take lovely sunset photos.
- We used this day to find a tour company and book excursions. If you book in advance, you can head out on your tour. We booked with Easter Island Travel.
- Wander around town. Check out the local craft markets and coffee shops. The one near the church is even better than the one on the main street. Head to a mini market to pick up water, booze, snacks.
- We walked to eat lunch at Tataku Vave, which is about 1.5 miles, so plan on a half hour. We were convinced we were going the wrong way a few times! Press on through the shipping yard, up the hill to the Hanga Piko.
- Rent bikes or rest up before dinner. Earlier in the day we booked Te Ra’ai dinner and cultural show. The food was surprisingly excellent, even for vegetarians and vegans. It was a fun night out, even if a bit pricey ($50,000 pesos per person).
Tongariki – Arguably the most famous site of the Moai
- Since the six of us booked a private tour, we opted to have our guide pick us up early and take us to Tongariki to see the sunrise. It was awesome, enough said. We went back to the hotel for our breakfast then headed out again along the southern circuit (Megaliths Tour) and finished up with a homemade lunch!
- Visit the museum in town if you feel up to it. This was the one thing on my list that I didn’t do, but wished I had. See the cemetery by the sea on the way.
- Late afternoon and early evening it rained buckets! Since we had our own drinks, snacks and our hotel popped some empanadas into the oven for us we ended up sitting on the covered porch of our room, listening to music, drinking, eating, reading “Deep Thoughts” and laughing until bedtime! It’s great to have a few tricks up your sleeve when you travel.
Sunset at Tahai
- Group tour (again only 8 people max) to see the other highlights (Journey of Legends Tour) points south and northeast of town.
- Walk to Tahai to see the sunset. Loads of people will be out. If you can, bring a blanket or just sit on the ground. Wait and watch!
- Dinner at the fabulous Te Moana. I had walked to the restuarant earlier that afternoon and booked us a table, so that we could see the sunset at Tahai prior.
Anakena, Te Pito Kura, Ahu a Kivi, Orongo Sunset at Tahai
- Rent a car and explore! Because we’d been out with a guide, we had ideas about where we wanted to go on our own. It was so much fun! We hiked along the Rono Kau, found the lava tubes and caves near Ana Te Pahu, hiking nearly 10 miles. [PRO TIP: If I had one DO OVER, I’d have booked the tours in advance for Day One and Two, and then spent Day Three and Day Four with the car.]
- Since you have the car, drive to Tataku Vave for another fabulous meal! We went back because we liked it so much. Remember, it’s windy and may be chilly out there so dress appropriately.
- Sadly, it’s time to depart! Thankfully, it’s not an early morning flight back to Santiago. [PRO TIP: Since we rented a car the morning before, the rental company allowed us to drop off the car at the airport, so we didn’t have to get another taxi. Super simple!]