Giant monoliths, ecological collapse spiraling to cannibalism and the most remote airport in the world – all reasons to visit Easter Island.
Due to its remoteness, many believe the island is out of reach. While this may have been true prior to the 1960s, Easter Island is surprisingly easy to visit today. Rapa Nui (a.k.a. Easter Island) is home to the most remote airport in the world, Mataveri International (Airport Code: IPC). Thanks to NASA elongating the runway for use as a space shuttle abort location in 1987, the airport now accommodates wide body jets, including the 787 Dreamliner that currently services the island. It’s a six hour flight!
The History of Easter Island
The history of Easter Island and Moai littering the landscape make it not only a fascinating destination, but also an intriguing case study of societal collapse. Located 3,759km/2,336 mi east of Santiago, Chile, Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean is the only inhabited destination more remote. Recent carbon dating suggests the first inhabitants arrived around 1200CE and flourished, amassing to an estimated 10,000-12,000 by the late 1500s. The tiny island couldn’t support its population and a tipping point was reached. The island’s ecology collapsed, and ultimately so did its society. The collapse was so complete that civil war erupted, cannibalism ensued and the population diminished to 111 by 1877.
Between 1250 and 1500CE, 887 enormous Maoi monoliths were created to honor the inhabitant’s ancestors and celebrate the islands prosperity.
Standing up to 10 meters (33 ft) tall and weighing up to 86 tons, the giant statues carved from Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater, were transported throughout the island. The largest (unfinished) Moai is 21 meters (69 ft) tall and weighs 270 tons.
Due to warring tribal retaliation, or possibly in an act of religious defiance, all Moai were purposely toppled between 1770 and 1838. Many have since been restored, and standing in their omnipotent presence is indescribable.
The best places to visit the Moai are Rano Raraku Quarry, Ahu Tongariki and Ahu Nau Nau at Anakena Beach. While the Moai are the highlight of the island, Rano Kau Volcano, Anakena Beach and Hanga Roa, the only village on the island, are not to be missed.
All you need is a passport to enter Chile; no visa required. LATAM holds a monopoly on flights to Easter Island, and roundtrip fares from Santiago flocculate between $400-$1200US. There’s one flight a day from Santiago (6 hours) and one per week from Tahiti (5 ½ hours). It can be cheaper to book a separate ticket to/from Santiago, so use Google flights to find the best price to Easter Island from Santiago (or Tahiti) and plan from there. Two days is good; three if you want to ‘explore.’ Due to its extreme geographic isolation, cruises to Rapa Nui are infrequent and expensive.
Upon arrival, you can walk to the center of town, 1km from the airport, or hop in a taxi for ~$4.50US. There are no major hotels, but you’ll find a range of accommodations, as well car rental for ~$50/day. The 3,300 residents are welcoming and helpful, as the main industry is tourism.
Easter Island is very safe and highly navigable. The longest road on the island, along to the southern coast, is 31km/19mi.