Bouncing bunnies, painted eggs and rainbow colored baskets. Is this what first comes to mind when you think of Easter Island? It’s hard not to associate these things with a place named after a popular spring holiday but it does little to describe the genuine article.
Easter Island is actually a small volcanic island lost out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hundreds of kilometers away from any other civilization and measuring just 117 square km’s, there’s a lot packed into such a small place. Home to the only giant moai statues in the world, filled with impressive natural geological rock formations and a strong French Polynesian culture, this island is just incredible. There’s actually a lot to see and do on Easter Island and here’s a list of the top 5 ways to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1. Watch the Sun Rise Behind Ahu Tongariki
The always impressive Ahu Tongariki consist of a collection of 15 moai’s situated along the coast about 20 minute drive from Hanga Roa (the only town on the island). It’s the biggest ahu on the island with the largest collection of restored moai, all in one location.
It’s an extraordinary sight to see these giants standing in their immortal pose, watching over the island. While the Tongariki moai are probably at the top of your list to visit, I highly recommend waking early to watch the sun as it rises behind these imposing figures. Watching the sun illuminate the sky with hues of red, orange and yellow behind the silhouette of 15 moai will leave you in awe. Experiencing the sun rise in the calm crisp morning air while listening to the ocean wave’s crash against the rocky volcanic shoreline is definitely worth the early morning wake-up call!
2. Horseback Ride Up Terevaka
One thing you’re sure to notice as soon as you arrive on the island is the large number of horses. Some are kept in enclosed pastures while others wander free (where are they going to go? It’s an island!). Either way, they’re all owned by someone and there are many tour operators willing to take you for a ride.
Exploring this volcanic island by horseback is a wonderful way to see the sites and take you where cars just can’t go. I suggest taking a ride up Easter Island’s highest peak, Terevaka, which can only be reached on horseback or on foot. Standing at just 507 meters in height, it’s worth the trek to the top just for the incredible 360 degree view of the island. Seeing ocean all around you gives a sense of just how small Easter Island is, and just how large and vast the Pacific Ocean is. Having a group of equines for company only adds to the experience!
3. Explore the Underworld
Since Easter Island is made up of a few extinct volcanoes, there are a lot of lava tubes and underground cave systems just waiting to be explored. Ana Kakenga cave (also known as “The Cave of Two Windows”) is a short 50 m long cave that you enter through a small hole in the ground surrounded by rocks. The cave splits into two (two windows) with the openings abruptly dropping off into the ocean. You’ll need a flashlight or head lamp to explore this one, as the opening is small, narrow and dark.
Another cave worth exploring is Ana Te Pahu. This lava tube, also known as the “banana cave”, is thought to have been used by the native settlers of Rapanui as shelter during warfare. They also used this cave complex to grow crops, as there are sections of the lava tube that have collapsed in forming perfect circular subterranean gardens.
4. Hike Around Rano Kau Crater
This giant crater is all that’s left of the dead Rano Kau volcano, set right beside the ocean on the southern tip of the island. Filled at the bottom with reeds and other swampy vegetation, this extinct volcano is more of a bog, though beautifully painted in hues of green, blue and brown. There’s a trail that runs around the top of the crater, if you’re up for a hike, which will give you impressive views from all sides. Mind the steep rocky slopes that drop straight down into the marshy bottom of the crater.
5. Spend the Day at the Beach with the Moai
Looking for some down time to just chill? Head to Anakena Beach, one of the only beaches on the entire island. It’s here that you can soak up some rays, walk along the soft white sand beach, go for a swim in the gorgeous, clear azul colored waters and explore not one, but two major archaeological sites all at once! Just behind the beach on a small hill you’ll find the lone Ahu Ature Huki and the seven moai that make up Ahu Nau Nau. Surrounded by palm trees, this large open beach has plenty of room to play and through a Frisbee around. Set back in a small bay, it’s protected from the elements by hills on either side and if you’re there during the summer months you might find some vendors selling hot meals and tourist trinkets.
There’s so much to see and do on this tiny little island, it’s surprising how fast the time will fly by. Knowing what to do and when to do it will help you make the most of your time here. Easter Island may be small but there’s lots of opportunity for big exploration.
Have you been to Easter Island?
What was your favorite thing to see/do?