Easter Island in Chile

Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he contemplates the mystical Easter Island, Chile.

Easter Island, Chile

Easter Island’s famously enigmatic statues still challenge rational explanation. This tiny Polynesian island is thousands of miles both from the coast of South America and its nearest inhabited Pacific neighbour, Pitcairn. But what makes Easter Island legendary are nearly 900 moai – monolithic human figures – carved from volcanic rock and dotted around the island.

A visit to Easter Island is one of the world’s great treasure hunts. Moai, many of which are displayed on ahu (stone platforms) are found all around the island’s coast and interior.

Some questions remain about the moai: why they were carved in such volume, how they were erected and why so many were toppled.

The moai are thought to represent the faces of ancestors, to have been moved on wooden rollers or by rocking from side to side and many were pulled to the ground during civil strife on the island, possibly caused by deforestation.

Exploring Easter Island

Visitors can explore on foot, horseback or in a 4WD. Once you’ve seen the moai and the quarries at Rano Raraku from which they are carved, there are clear waters to scuba dive in and mighty waves to surf on from beautiful Playa Anakena.

Easter Island (or Rapa Nui, to give it its Polynesian name) can be visited year-round. It is only accessible by a Lan flight from Santiago (four a week) and Papeete (Tahiti), twice weekly.

Budgeting for your trip

On the island you’ll pay western prices for accommodation, food and tours. But don’t be put off. Most visitors to Easter Island manage the cost of getting here by including it on a round-the-world air ticket – but make sure you overnight rather than just make a refuelling stop or you won’t get out of the airport.

Further information

Superb images and further information can be found at Visit Chile. For links to some of the more outlandish theories put forward about Rapa Nui’s history see Island Heritage.

© 2009 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd