Easter Island: a paradise getaway.
Easter Island is renowned for being one of the least inhabited islands in the world. Not only that, it’s also one of the most remote islands. It lies almost 4000km from the coast of mainland Chile and over 6000km from New Zealand. Its nearest inhabited neighbour is over 2000km away. If you’re looking to get away from it all then this is certainly the destination for you!
Comprised of three (now extinct) volcanoes, Easter Island is accessible via a weekly flight from Tahiti or a daily flight from Santiago. Flying from London I landed on the island from Santiago. I only had four days in which to see the island. You’re probably thinking: ‘All that way for four days? Didn’t it take three to get there!’ And you would be right! It was a long way but I’ve been saying I would go for ages and I never have so it seemed like I should just do it! And it was totally worth it, after about twelve hours on the island it felt like I had been there for a week. With not a plane in the sky and very few cars on the road, it really is a getaway from the real world.
If you’re planning your trip to Easter Island, be aware that flights are expensive and hotels aren’t cheap but they are cheerful and general spending is quite high once you arrive. But, let’s face it – you’re in a very luxurious place which only a handful of people get to visit in their lifetime. I was happy to pay for the privilege.
Anyway, back to how to get to Easter Island. If you have followed any of my other trips, you’ll know that there’s always some sort of drama, so let’s start at the beginning.
Arriving at Santiago airport, I checked in and went through security with plenty of time to spare. I looked at the board for my flight: 08.00 Iquique, 08.10 Punta Arenas, 08.25 Antofagasta, 08.45 Iquique, 09.00 El Salvador, 09.10 Temuco. I had a ticket in my hand for 09.00 to Isla de Pascua and it wasn’t listed. Of course, they’ve cancelled it, they no longer fly there, there must be a storm, a volcano, I’ll be in the airport until it’s time to fly to London… Time to calm down! If you do head to Easter Island and find yourself in an ‘all-ticket, no-flight’ situation, go and look at the departures board for international flights. Problem solved! For some reason, Easter Island is treated as an international departure. Phew! I was going to continue my journey successfully.
If you can, try and request a window seat as from my disadvantaged aisle location, I could see the descent over the island was pretty spectacular. Even if you’re a frequent pee-er the photo opportunities are too good to miss over the Pacific!
As we began the descent on to Easter Island a curious excitement bubbled over the passengers. People were literally bouncing up and down in their seats to get a good look at the magical island below. The excitement only got stronger as we landed – everyone wanted off and out as quickly as possible.
The only other place I’ve disembarked a plane directly on to the runway was when I landed on St. Kitts in the Caribbean. I don’t think it will ever lose its wow-factor. A great experience. Mind the selfie-sticks as they’re being waved around for the perfect pic with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Walking across the runway, the terminal building looks more like a hut – wooden and filled with tour guides carrying flower garlands to drape around the necks of their tourists.
The building screams ‘Welcome to the Island’ and if you didn’t already know – it’s clear they play by different rules here. Into a sweaty arrivals hall and it’s chaos. Exactly as it should be on a remote island! I watch my bags pass me once before I’m able to squeeze through a gap in the crowd to grab them. It’s not long before I’m draped with a garland and bundled into a car to be taken to a hotel.
Unlike other airport transfers – it’s only a matter of minutes before I arrive at my paradise getaway. Greeted with chilled fresh guava juice (which normally I despise) I meander through the plants and trees following the walkway to my room. It’s taken me three days to get here. I left Cairo on Friday, spent Saturday in London, had Sunday in Santiago and now it’s Monday and life couldn’t be more perfect.
I decided that I was going to hire a car, I had done a smidge of research before arriving and it seemed there were two options. 1. Take several tours to different parts of the island. 2. Hire a car. I had been on the island for less than an hour when I climbed into the driver’s seat of a very lovely Suzuki Jimny (from here on in referred to as Little Jim). Over the next two days we were going to become great friends.
My first stop was lunch – by the ocean of course. Fresh food: crunchy salad and chicken; with a homemade lemonade of course. The only sounds were the crashing waves. No chatter, no phones, no planes, no sirens, no horns. I think I could have stayed forever.
I had my map, I had the car – there was only one road so I was fairly confident that I would get to see some sights during my first afternoon. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I made it to Rano Aroi first. It was basically a hill with amazing views of Hanga Roa (The island's one and only town). I enjoyed the fresh air, walked around and then set off in search of my first statues. I drove straight through the middle of the island and ended up at Te Pito Kura. Here there were seven restored statues and I have to admit - I did squeal at my first sight of them! It didn't seem that I was really there. I slowly drove along the coast back to the hotel taking in the spectacular views and meandering through the wild cattle and horses as I went. I stopped at every place of interest, admired every head, walked around all the different spots, puzzled over fallen heads and pondered over this intriguing part of history. After a very active afternoon, I wanted to go and source the best spot for my first Easter Island sunset.
Back at the hotel, I met Alex, a solo-traveller from Paris. I told him that I had a car and that he was welcome to come and watch the sunset – off we went. Sunset wasn’t happening until 20.30 each night. We headed over to Tahai - as recommended - and it seemed that the whole island population was there. What a beautiful sunset! By the time we had eaten dinner after watching the sunset, it was late and I wanted to return to Ahu Tongariki to see the stars behind the statues. It was a full moon that night but the photographs did not disappoint. We were the only people there so had total free-reign of the place.
The next day I got up early to go and see the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. This is the place which is recommended to visit in the early morning – if you’re able. Fortunately, sunrise wasn’t until 9am so actually, it wasn’t that much of an early start! If you’re not sure about whether you should hire a car or not, the midnight outing and the sunrise expedition alone will make it more than worth your while. Lots of people I spoke to later on the trip wished they had hired a car as they missed out on seeing the sunrise. I hired with a company called Insular. It worked out at about 50GBP per day but for the freedom you gain, I can’t recommend it highly enough. For many, Easter Island is a once in a lifetime opportunity so if you’ve gone all that way, you want to see as much of it as you can.
Later that day I visited Rano Raraku. This was the quarry where the statues were carved. With many heads still in their original positions waiting to be transported to various parts of the island, it was a great place to see lots of heads and to speculate on the history. I also went and sat on a cliff with Little Jim – soaking up the sun, enjoying the peace and quiet and reflecting on life. It’s mad to think that without these heads, people probably wouldn’t have an interest in this little island. I must have stayed for about an hour watching the waves and that’s when I noticed I hadn’t seen any planes overhead. It’s very rare to not see that these days! With all this pondering it seems I also became extremely sunburnt. Oh dear!
Back at the hotel before the sunset I’m sitting with cold cans of beer against my arms! I suddenly realise that I hadn’t made it to Rano Kau - the crater on top of a volcano. Little Jim and I set off on another adventure. I was the only person there and couldn’t believe that I had the place to myself. It was absolutely spectacular. Almost a 360 degree view of being surrounded by the ocean!
Arms burning, I headed back to the hotel to see if Alex was up for another trip to Tahai for another sunset viewing. The colours were so much prettier than the previous night. Wow! Alex and I paired up for dinner again and visited a highly acclaimed fish restaurant. We aren’t impressed and when we didn’t tip the fully suggested amount, the manager questioned us! Perhaps someone needs to work on his customer service?
The next day arrived and I reluctantly went off on a tour which was booked months ago when I first arranged my trip. Despite being piled on to a packed tour bus full of people from all over the globe, we were split into groups and there were only five in my group so it wasn’t so bad. We actually covered most of the ground I had visited in the previous two days but it was fascinating to hear the history behind the statues. I could write pages on what I had discovered, but I won’t! I’ll leave it to you to enjoy hearing about it on your very own trip!
As we arrived at Anakena, the beach, the sky suddenly turned grey and a storm kicked in. I didn’t know but it was going to absolutely pour down for the next thirty-six hours. It didn’t matter. If you’ve ever been caught in a tropical rainstorm, it’s different. It’s warm rain. You don’t mind it. Unfortunately, I had arranged to be dropped at the post office at the end of my tour. At the post office, you can pick up an Easter Island passport stamp for $1 or a donation of your choice. Despite my hotel being a ten minute walk from the post office and the pouring rain, I didn’t mind. It was so worth it. Some time later, looking like a drowned rat, a very kind local stopped to give me a ride back to my hotel. I think I could quite happily live on an island. Such a friendly lifestyle.
My final morning on Easter Island arrived and I strolled back to the town to pick up a few souvenirs – though pricey, I was able to pick up a few of my own pieces of Easter Island. At the airport, you can stand right next to the fence and watch the plane coming into land. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close and wow, the noise it made! It was pretty amazing.
All in all, four days on Easter Island flew by as fast as lightning. At the same time, it felt like I had been resident on the island for weeks. Friendly, accommodating people all around, a chilled, laid-back atmosphere and so easy to settle in among the locals - I recommend this trip to everyone and wouldn’t change a single thing about my adventure.
April 2015: An exciting time to visit Easter Island!
During my visit, it was really exciting to witness a crucial part of the island’s future. Locals had ‘taken over’ parts of the road leading to the main tourist sites. This meant that you had to fill in your name, hotel and passport number each time you wanted to pass. This passive demonstration tactic was in protest of the Chilean government making decisions about the island. Now outnumbered by expatriates and foreign workers, the traditional Rapa Nui people struggle to find work and are frustrated with the decisions made on the mainland regarding the island. I spoke to several protestors along my many journeys on the main road around the island. They were all friendly and didn’t want to cause any harm or upset to tourists and visitors. They simply wanted to catch the Chilean government’s attention. It was great to have been able to experience this! If you’re headed there and the protests are still ongoing, don’t be put off by what you’ve heard, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. I was travelling alone most of the time and never had cause to be concerned for my safety or well-being. I was also never denied access and even managed to cover 130 miles with Little Jim.