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…
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…
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!
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.
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…
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!
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).
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.
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!
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!