Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands and is located at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle in the Pacific Ocean, being a Polynesian island annexed in 1888 to Chile with the status of special territory.
What is so famous about the Easter Island is not the location but the 887 monumental statues called moai, carved by the early Rapanui people from 1100 to 1680 CE and representing different figures kneeling on knees with their hands over their stomachs, some torsos being buried in the ground up to their necks. Some statues have eyes painted with a white color made of corals while the iris was made of red scoria or obsidian.
Today, this site is included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and almost all the island is protected within the Rapa Nui National Park.
The Polynesian name of the island, “Rapa Nui” or “Big Rapa” was coined after the slave raids of the early 1860s because of this island’s geographic resemblance to the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands of the Austral Islands group and the name of Easter Island originated from the Dutch name Paasch-Eyland, given by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, the island’s first recorded European visitor who in 1722, on Easter Sunday, encountered it while searching for Davis or David’s island.
Easter Island is a volcanic high island and the underlying geology is one of extinct volcanoes with Poike and Rano Kau volcanoes forming the southern and eastern headlands and the Terevaka forming the bulk of the island.
Easter Island and the tiny Isla Sala y Gómez, located 415 kilometres further east are recognized as distinct ecoregions by all the world’s ecologists because of the Rapa Nui subtropical broadleaf forests.
Ahu are stone platforms, evolving from the traditional Polynesian marae, varying greatly in layout and mostly found on the coast. The ahu is by definition a small structure sometimes covered with a thatched roof where sacred objects, including statues, were stored and the most important ahu with moai are Ahu Tongariki, Nau Nau at Anakena or Ahu Akivi.
The common elements describing the ahu are the front wall made of rectangular basalt slabs called paenga, the alignment of stones before the ramp, a retaining rear wall several feet high, usually facing the sea and the marae which was a paved plaza before the ahu. The biggest ahu is 220 meters long from one end of the platform to the other and holds 15 statues some of which are 9 meters high. All of the sites can be visited for free but remember that it is a sign of disrespect to walk on the Ahu.
Another important site where you can digest the great masonry of the early islanders is the rear wall of the ahu at Vinapu, similar to the Inca stone wall in South America and made without mortar by shaping hard basalt rocks of up to seven tons to match each other exactly.
Petroglyphs or the pictures carved into rock are quite common on Easter Island and to this date more than 4,000 petroglyphes found in 1,000 sites are catalogued.
Interesting are also the Tupa, stone structures located near the coast and inhabited by astronomer-priests but also the hare oka houses, a round stone structure or the hare paenga houses with an elliptical foundation, made with basalt slabs and covered with a thatched roof that resembled an overturned boat.
Every year, in the month of February, you can participate to the Tapani or the Festival held for celebrating the Rapanui culture, becoming very popular since its beginning in 1975 and sponsored by the Rapanui.
Easter Island has an extensive cave system so the snorkeling and the scuba diving remains one important tourist attraction, especially near the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti, located 1 km south of the island.
Easter Island is extremely small so you can visit it by simply walking but there are also car rental locations or you can rent daily bicycles or dirtbikes. For the motorbikes and the motor scooter you will need a valid driver’s license specifically for these vehicles.
Easter Island is an expensive place and if you decide to leave take the LAN airline to head to westward to Tahiti or in the east direction, to Santiago de Chile and if departing for a foreign country from the airport you have to pay in cash as mall exit fee.11