Rapa Nui: How to Discover the Magical World of the Moais


I had the chance to visit one the world's most famous places: Rapa Nui or better known as Easter Island. Discovering this amazing little island is one of the greatest travel adventures I've ever had, and thus, I want to share this unique experience with you...

When I was a child, I loved to look at all the big books about history, civilizations, and travel adventures we had at home and even if I didn’t understand all what was written there, I was simply fascinated by all these stories of ancient cultures and what they left behind. One day, I stumbled upon some incredible pictures in an old book, showing some strange giant statues, and the dramatic history of Easter Island. And I promised myself that one day, I’ll go there to see the giant statues called Moais. And 30 years later, here I am, I went there and saw with my own eyes what had fascinated me for so long.

My aim in this article is not to retrace the whole history of the island, neither to bother you with all the different theories surrounding the statues, nor to give any kind of answer to a mystery that, in my opinion hasn’t been answered. You can look for further details on different websites, beginning with the Wikipedia article and links about Easter Island.

No, I just want to share my travel experience and give you a little taste of what can be seen in this tiny island and encourage you to go there one day if you have the chance to do so…

Hanga Roa, the only city of the island

Hanga Roa
Let’s begin with the only little city and capital of the island, Hanga Roa. It’s a charming little city with 5000 people living there, which is the whole population of the island! Indeed, this strange situation stems from its past when Chile took possession of the island and made it a military zone, allowing the people to live only in the south-west corner of this small territory.
It’s a small place, but with the increasing touristic activity, a lot of boutiques and restaurants of all kinds developed very quickly, and you can find a lot of them on the main street. The other interesting part is the seafront. There’s no recife so the sea and the big waves come directly towards the island, and that’s like heaven for all the surfers! There’s no long search for a surfing spot, even if you must be brave enough to surf between the rocks…and it’s not difficult to find nice little “cabañas” to stay in during your holiday. But, Hanga Roa is not the most interesting place to see on the island…

The Moai’s of Ahu Tahai

Ahu Tahai
Very close to Hanga Roa, it is the first great place to see on the island: Ahu Tahai. “Ahu” is in fact the name for a sanctuary with some of the giant statues called “Moai”. It’s interesting to know that all the Ahus (except one, I’ll talk about later again) are on the seafront but looking only towards the inside of the island.
The Ahu Tahai is only a 10mn walk from Hanga Roa, and is well known for its amazing sunsets, as it is located on the west coast of the island. We went there a lot of times, almost every day, to watch the sunset and try to catch the best pictures of this magical moment… There, you can feel this sense of mystery and magic while looking at the silhouettes of the statues in the orange sun. An incredible moment!

Sunset on Ahu Tahai, some magic moments

Orongo and Rano Kau
At the extreme southern point there’s another beautiful place to visit: Orongo and the volcano called Rano Kau. Even if this place has no Moais, it’s still very impressive. It’s the place were the ritual of the “Birds man” took place in ancient times and still today, the annual celebration of the island called “Tapati” takes place there. The “Birds man” ceremony was created to determine which of the tribes in the island had the power of the gods and for that, the chosen warriors had to jump from the rocks, swim towards the peaked rock where some special birds had their nest. They had to climb on the rock, take the egg, swim back again, and climb up on the island again – all this without breaking the egg of course! And when you know that the waters are full of sharks and the rocks very dangerous, you can imagine how difficult and dangerous such a task was!
The volcano is simply breathtaking with a perfect round shape and beautiful colors. You can walk almost all around the volcano and admire the view from different points, but it’s not allowed to go down into the crater. Only locals have this right during the Tapati celebrations.

Orongo and Rano Kau volcano, the “Bird’s Man” place

Rano Raraku
Perhaps the most stunning place of the island is the volcano called Rano Raraku. It was the stone quarry where all the Moais were made from and today there are still a lot of unfinished ones or simply abandoned ones, waiting to be put somewhere. It’s still a mystery today why the people of Rapa Nui one day stopped to built these Moais and why they didn’t pray to them anymore. The fact is that hundreds of them were almost ready to be put on some new Ahus, but never went out of the quarry. And when you see that the quarry is in a huge volcano, and all the Ahus are far away on the seafront, you can only be impressed by how they transported these giant heavy statues so far away and erected them on some specific sites…
In a way, Rano Raraku appears a bit like a Moai cemetery, with a dramatic mood…all these Moais are in disorder, some of them are lying on the ground, the nose in the earth, some are bent over, some are straight, but they all have different positions, looking in different directions. They all seem lost, abandoned, and you’ll get the impression when visiting the site that they are all call for help. It’s dramatic, but at the same time, totally fascinating and you feel like you’re in a different universe, lost in the world of abandoned Moais…

Ranao Raraku, the Moai cemetery

Ahu Tongariki
Another stunning place, and not so far away from the previous one is the biggest Ahu of the island, and perhaps one of the most famous one in the world. The 15 statues of Tongariki are like 15 kings (it’s in fact difficult to determine if the statues are only representing “males” or if some of them are “females”…), still looking towards the inside of the island, even if the sea behind them offers a beautiful scenery. And the place is located perfectly on the east coast, so that means that it is the perfect place for the sunrise. But it’s not as easy as for the Ahu Tahai sunsets: the place is at the other side of Hanga Roa, and needs at least 30-40mn by car to go there, and sunrise is before 6:00am, so you need to wake up early, take the car in the night, and hope the sunrise will be good enough. We made it once, but were unlucky as the sky was fully covered with clouds and we absolutely didn’t see the sun come up, just a lot of big heavy clouds.:( We could have tried to make it again, but truly, it’s not easy to wake up so early every morning when you’re on a holiday. But besides the sunrise, the site is absolutely gorgeous and impressive!

Ahu Tongariki, the biggest alignment of Moais on Rapa Nui

Anakena Beach
If you try to wake up early to watch the sunrise (and even if you don’t see it, you can at least take the liberty of such an early wake up time to go to the beach and enjoy the sea!) Yes, there’s a beautiful paradise-like beach on Rapa Nui called Anakena Beach. Of course, your lazy day of sunbathing and swimming will be closely watched by some Moais, which are at the entrance of the beach. Well, they can’t watch you in fact, because, once again, they don’t look towards the sea, but towards the inside, so don’t be worried about the giants and enjoy the great white sand and the (fresh) blue waters of Anakena! If you’re hungry, there are some little restaurants to eat delicious “empanadas” (cheese and tuna is a good combination! ;) and drink some fresh beer).

The beautiful beach and Moais of Anakena

Ahu Akivi
Last but not least, is an archeological site to see which is the strange and unique Ahu Akivi. Strange because it’s the only Ahu that’s located inside the island, on a higher viewpoint, and not on the seaside like all the others; unique, because it’s the only Ahu where the Moais are looking to the direction of the sea. Why all this? That’s the mystery. Some are thinking that it is the very first Ahu, and the ritual of the seafront situation and the position towards the inside came later. But who knows? And in fact, it doesn’t change the beauty of the place, if you know or not why all this is like that…
I think that’s something important about Rapa Nui, you’re surrounded by mystery, a lot of questions come to your mind, and you’d like to understand, why, when, how, etc. But in fact, the magical mood of the island comes from the mystery and from the fact that nobody really knows the answers to all these questions. So the best is to keep it a mystery, to let your imagination play with all the magical feelings, and finally, just don’t care if it’s true or not. Magic comes from mystery, and to keep it magical, you should not try to explain it.

The strange and unique Ahu Akivi

Maunga Terevaka
If you’re fed up with Moais, Ahus, history, and mystery, you still can have beautiful walks in the mountains without seeing any of the giant statues.
At the end of our stay (1 full week, and it’s really ok to visit the island in 7 days by taking your time) we wanted to explore the mountains inside the island a bit. We took the path from the Anakena Road and climbed up towards the volcano called Maunga Terevaka, the highest point of the island (around 500 meters in height). After a little exploring in the forest, we quickly came up to a huge landscape without many trees, like a kind of steppe, and a huge amount of wild horses everywhere! I forgot to say that the people of Rapa Nui are absolutely big horse lovers and there are a lot of horses on the island. A lot of wild ones, totally free in the nature, and some in the city, as many people still use their horses to go from one place to another, instead of a car.
There in the mountain, the sensation of freedom is absolutely great, even if it was very windy and fresh! After a few hours’ walk we came up to the volcano mountain, took a little rest by looking all over the island. After that, we slowly came back down, but these 5 hours in nature was simply the perfect way to end our stay on the magical island of Rapa Nui!

A great walk in the mountain!

Well, I think I could tell you a lot of more things about this island, but I fear that I already lost you, talking/writing to much – without being stopped…sorry for that! If you want some more information, just ask me! :) But I hoped you enjoyed this little trip, and really, you MUST go there at least once in your life!

written by vicuna on 2012-06-18 in #world #locations #art-and-culture


  1. coca
    coca ·

    The mysterious and magical Easter Island, the most stunning place i've ever been... my favourite place? Ahu Tongariki for sure.. Reading your location makes me wanna go back again!!! thanks for sharing Stephane :)

  2. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    thanks @coca! :) Your first travel location and pics about Rapa Nui inspired me for going there! :)

  3. jeabzz
    jeabzz ·

    great article and wonderful gallery Stephan ! :)

  4. disdis
    disdis ·

    this is not another location! This is THE LOCATION!

  5. coca
    coca ·

    really? that's great :)

  6. iaki
    iaki ·

    How I want to go there!

  7. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    thanks a lot @jeabzz @disidis
    @iaki: you should really go there if you can, it's an amazing place!
    @coca: you were the only one on the site to have shot the moais and wrote a location... now we're 2 ;)

  8. disdis
    disdis ·

    And I love the where is this map!

  9. vtayeh
    vtayeh ·

    This is already on my list to visit and your article/photos makes me want to go tomorrow!

  10. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    @vtayeh: thanks! And the aim of this article is to share my trip but also encouraging people to visit this place! :)

  11. wil6ka
    wil6ka ·

    I just fell in a coma!

  12. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    @wil6ka: you're such an emotive guy! ;))))

  13. kiri-girl
    kiri-girl ·

    Great article! My aunty just came back from visiting there... She's been trying to hook all the cousins up with potential Rapanui men and extend the family hahah They are all such good looking people!!

  14. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    thanks @kiri-girl! :)

  15. guanatos
    guanatos ·

    wow! this is amazing! thank you for sharing this it's almost as we tagged along for the trip!

  16. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    @guanatos: thanks! did you already went there or are you planning to?

  17. guanatos
    guanatos ·

    @vicuna I've never been there, but I would most definitely love to go.
    They remind me of the Toltec Warriors we have in Tula Mexico, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tula,_Hidalgo

  18. stouf
    stouf ·

    AAAAAAHHHHHH ! BEST LOCATION EVER !!!! Going there is a dream to me... Thank you for this perfect post my friend !

  19. stouf
    stouf ·

    And I know there is no need to break mysteries, but I recently saw this, and I believe it's worth checking out : ) (ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/easter-island/walking-st…)

  20. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    @stouf: merci l'ami! :) Et pour le reportage des statues qui marchent, on l'a vue il y a quelques semaines et on a adoré! Et on pourra en parler de vive voix la semaine prochaine ;)))

  21. andpoto501
    andpoto501 ·

    an amazing place!

More Interesting Articles

  • Photo Stories: Ahu Akivi by vicuna

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-06-26 in #world #locations
    Photo Stories: Ahu Akivi by vicuna

    Rapa Nui, commonly known as the Easter Island, is dotted by mysterious, towering moais created many centuries ago by its ancient inhabitants. One special collective of moais is the Ahu Akivi. Here, vicuna tells what sets it apart from the others.

  • The World According to Herr Willie: The Amazon

    written by wil6ka on 2015-04-09 in #world #locations
    The World According to Herr Willie: The Amazon

    It was the Amazon which I had longed for my whole life. And when it was finally a set deal that I will travel to Brazil with two of my best friends for the Copa do Mundo (World Cup), we really had to start our adventure in the Amazon. I had known about this magical place deep in the rainforest. There was a lodge run by local people of indigenous background, with wooden houses that float on the water and a limited number of visitors. It was eco-tourism as how it should be. To preserve and to celebrate one of the most impressive locations I have seen so far.

  • Pixelstick + Lomo'Instant: Take Light Painting to the Next Level

    written by bgaluppo on 2015-04-20 in #gear #lifestyle
    Pixelstick + Lomo'Instant: Take Light Painting to the Next Level

    Ever since the Pixelstick came out, I've been dying to try it out. This past week, I finally got my chance! With one goal in mind — getting some super cool light-painting shots — I grabbed some friends for an amazing session with my Lomo'Instant and the Pixelstick. Take a moment and have a look at these priceless pics!

  • Shop News

    Shoot recognizable images with the Petzval

    Shoot recognizable images with the Petzval

    You want your subject be the center of attention? Petzval lens photos are recognizable for sharpness and crispness in the centre, strong color saturation, wonderful swirly bokeh effect, artful vignettes and narrow depth of field that will make your subjects stand out!

  • A Review of the Nikon F2

    written by Alexandra Pillet on 2015-06-15 in #gear #reviews
    A Review of the Nikon F2

    Considered as one of the best 35mm SLR cameras, the Nikon F2 is indeed one of the best experiences on film I’ve ever had. Fully manual and almost impossible to break, this historic camera is really marvelous to use.

  • 4 Years in Paradise: Living and Learning in French Polynesia

    written by Jill Tan Radovan on 2015-02-04 in #world #locations
    4 Years in Paradise: Living and Learning in French Polynesia

    People seek extraordinary experiences while traveling, but not everyone gets to have an adventure of a lifetime. When lomographer Stephane Heinz (popularly known as vicuna in the Lomography community) saw the opportunity, he took the chance to travel and live miles away from his hometown in France. He and his wife, Kathi, came back home with a luggage full of valuable experiences and life lessons. Vicuna tells us about his four-year adventure in French Polynesia in this travel special.

  • A Sunday on Pfaueninsel ("Peacock Island")

    written by petit_loir on 2015-08-15 in #world
    A Sunday on Pfaueninsel ("Peacock Island")

    The Pfaueninsel ("Peacock Island"), also known as "Pearl in the Havel sea," is a world cultural heritage and popular destination for Berliners. Loose peacocks, water buffalos and the magical character of the island were also a reason for me to go and spend one Sunday afternoon there, with my LC-A+ and the LomoChrome Purple film.

  • Shop News

    Give your space a facelift with your own analogue print

    Give your space a facelift with your own analogue print

    Really want to bring your film photos to life? We’re now offering totally analogue fine art prints in a host of large sizes and formats! Carefully enlarged from your negatives onto premium photographic paper by lab professionals, each picture is a unique piece of craftsmanship.

  • The World according to Herr Willie: Brasília

    written by wil6ka on 2015-07-10 in #world #locations
    The World according to Herr Willie: Brasília

    It's a modern utopia, a one-of-a-kind in the world: Brasília. The capital of marvelous Brazil is the wet dream of every architecture aficionado, the masterpiece of Oscar Niemeyer. This architect created an illusion of better living; thus, Brasília was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. This is a homage to lines, curves, and boldness.

  • Photo Stories: Snow Monkeys by ihave2pillows

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-06-28 in #world #locations
    Photo Stories: Snow Monkeys by ihave2pillows

    Ever since it opened in the '60s the Jigokudani Yaenkoen park in Nagano Prefecture, Japan has been visited by people from all over the world to observe the famous snow monkeys, or the Japanese Macaque. Lomographer ihave2pillows had the wonderful opportunity to see the snow monkeys up close a couple of years ago, and here are some of the photographs that he had shared with the community.

  • Vicuna's Travel Stories | Sunrise in the Desert

    written by vicuna on 2015-09-16 in #world #locations
    Vicuna's Travel Stories | Sunrise in the Desert

    Burkina Faso is a country that has three different climatic areas. It's mostly a land of the Sahel, very dry but with some vegetation and a short rainy season. The very south of the country is already in the tropical zone but the north still belongs to the Sahara desert. I had the opportunity to visit this area and witness a magical moment: a sunrise in the desert.

  • Shop News

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Shoot wider and bigger with this new instax camera that has film format twice the size of the instax mini films!

  • Twenty-haitch and his Weapon of Choice: Minolta SRT 201

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-08-08 in #gear #lifestyle
    Twenty-haitch and his Weapon of Choice: Minolta SRT 201

    Packing all his essentials in a van, Michael Roy Harris is currently on a road trip around South Africa with his beloved girlfriend before heading to Sri Lanka to exhaust his hard-earned travel fund. To continue exploring the world, he wholeheartedly does all sorts of jobs - from delivering pizza to cleaning barnacles off expensive yachts. In this interview, he shares why the Minolta SRT 201 is the perfect match for his adventurous soul and carefree lifestyle.

  • Photo Stories: 'This is Art' by waggrad00

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-06-29 in #world #lifestyle
    Photo Stories: 'This is Art' by waggrad00

    By going on a photo walk waggrad00 was not only able to de-stress, she also had the chance to meet several interesting people along the way. One of them was this homeless fellow who made her as well as many others' day better with a small but thoughtful gesture.

  • Finally, My Own Petzval Lens

    written by pearlgirl77 on 2014-11-20 in #reviews
    Finally, My Own Petzval Lens

    In April of this year I had the chance to test the Petzval Lens and to write a review on it for the German photography forum Kwerfeldein. The lens excited me from the very beginning, at the time it was introduced on Kickstarter. I was afraid that once I had tested the lens, I would want to have one of my own! Well, that’s what happened; a year later, I finally bought my very own Petzval lens.