In the southeast Pacific more than 3,229 km (2,000 mi) from the nearest area of any significant population, coastal Chile, Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands. Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is a roughly triangular Island with an extinct volcano at each corner. The island and surrounding islets such as Motu Nui and Motu 2,000m (6,561 ft) from the sea bed below.
Easter Island is a unique and starkly beautiful landscape with volcanic craters, lava formations, brilliant blue water, beaches, low rolling hills and cattle farms. However, it is not the landscape which brings visitors here but the enigmatic statues which litter the island, many of which are imposing 9 m (30 ft) in height and very broad.
The large stone statues, or Maoi, for which Easter Island is famous were carved during a short burst of creative activity in megalithic times. Nearly 900 statues have been recorded. Although often referred to as ‘Easter Island Heads’, the statues are generally heads and torsos. Since their discovery by Europeans in the 18th century, there has been much debate about how, why and by whom the statues were erected.
First settled by a small group of Polynesians around 400 AD, Easter Island was, for most of its history, the most isolated inhabited territory on earth. Which such limited resources of food, water and wood for fuel and building, its inhabitants, the Rapanui, endured famines, epidemics and civil war, and more than once in their history population nearly died out altogether.
They also suffered slave raids and colonialism but still managed to create a cultural legacy that brought them fame out of all proportion to their numbers. As well to the awe-inspiring statues, the Rapanui have left evidence in the Rongorongo script – the only written language in Oceania, as well as a wealth of petroglyphs, rock carvings of which Eastern Island has one of the richest collections in Polynesia.
Nearly all the statues were carved out of easily worked volcanic Tufa taken from a single site called Rano Raraku. The Rapanui had no metal or machinery, only simple basalt hand tools. Only about a quarter of the statues were erected on their permanent platforms nearly half stayed at Rano Raraku and the rest elsewhere on the island, probably en route to their final locations.
When to visit:
October to November, or March to April
How to reach:
Fly from Chile
The annual cultural festival, the Tapati celebrates Rapanui culture.
The Moai – Poike, a statue with a gaping mouth, is one of the local’s favourites. Ahu Tahai is another notable statue for its eyes and its topknot. Don’t miss the seven Moai at Akhivi, which face into the setting sun.
The island’s many caves – one of them appears to be a ceremonial centre, while the other has two ‘windows’.
Orongo – a ruined stone village at the south-western tip of the island, Orongo has a dramatic location on the crater lip of Rano Kau at the point where a 250 m (820 ft) sea cliff converges with the inner wall of the crater of Rano Kau.
You should know:
Chile first declared the island to be a National Park in 1935, and in 1996 UNESCO designated the island a World Heritage Site.