Easter Island, Rapa Nui (Big Island) in native language, gathers all the ingredients for an unforgettable trip: volcanoes, cliffs, archaeological enigmas and an ancestral culture that maintains strong ties with the peoples of Polynesia.
The impression of diving into another dimension, in another world, occurs in the same moment of landing, when the pilot must demonstrate his expertise by entering the narrow corridor located between two volcanic hills, a real bottle neck on the edge of the ocean.
Hanga Roa, the administrative capital, houses the majority of Easter Island population, as well as hotel facilities and travel agencies.
It is therefore a perfect base to explore the archaeological sites and the best beaches, combining itineraries by vehicle, with horseback riding or walking.
When choosing the main routes that cross the island, the one that crosses the west coast until the Rano Kau volcano offers the first contact with the giants of the island, the Moais.
A short distance from Hanga Roa, seven large statues stand aligned equinoctially. It is the sanctuary of Ahu Akivi, where tradition says that the seven explorers from the mythical Hiva continent rise up.
Unlike the other Ahus (sanctuary), it was raised inside and the Moais contemplate towards the sea, as if looking for their place of origin.
On the way back to the coast, the Tahai complex emerges, an excellent stage for artistic shows facing the sea. This magical place preserves diverse Moais touched with pukao (volcanic stone hat) and rocks engraved with petroglyphs.
In the same area there is a cave with gloomy and disturbing beautiful paintings: Ana Kai Tangata, which translated means “Cavern of the man who eats human flesh”.
Ceremonies and ancestral rituals
From Tahai complex is possible to ascend to Rano Kau volcano to visit the Orongo citadel, worship place to the great god Make-Make, located on the edge of the crater. Right there, the investiture of the Bird Man, the Tangata Manu, took place every year.
The participants of that ceremony swam to the islets Motu Nui, Motu Iti and Motu Kao with the dangerous mission of collecting a swallow’s egg.
From the Orongo ruins, the view can be lost deep into the mythical islets or inland, crossing the kilometer and a half diameter lagoon that occupies the crater of Ranu Kau, an authentic vegetable garden in the middle of a lunar landscape.
Returning to Hanga Roa, not far from the airport, you turn towards a small forest to get to Vinapú. This archaeological site caused heated scientific discussions, because it has a ceremonial altar almost 80 meters long with walls very similar to the Inca fortress blocks of Sacsayhuamán (Peru), although older.
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The Black Lava Coast
The second major route through the island leads to the Rano Raraku volcano and its quarry of Moais, the gigantic and mysterious statues of between 20 and 40 tons.
For this, it is necessary to take the road that runs along the south coast. A landscape that shows all the palette colors, with a predominance of ocher and gray and dotted with black lava blocks of different sizes will appear in front of our eyes.
This coastline is full of stony monuments, Ahus, Moais and caves where young girls were recruited to whitewash their skin. The “Neru Virgins”, very well represented in the movie Rapa Nui, which Kevin Reynolds shot in 1994.
Before reaching the base of the volcano, Tongariki appears in Hotu Iti Bay. It is a funerary altar with 15 Moais erected on a cobbled platform.
Rebuilt in recent years by a Japanese company, Tongariki is one of the greatest charms of the Easter Island not only for its archaeological relevance, but also for the spectacle it offers when the sun rises.
The quarry of the Rano Raraku emerges solitary at the foot of the great hill of Poike, in the southeast cape. The mountain is actually an abrupt volcanic cone with a lagoon inside that treasures the raw material with which the almost one thousand Moais of the island get carved.
Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002), a Norwegian explorer, masterfully describes the place in his book Aku-Aku as “a world of petrified dolls”.
Among the 400 Moais scattered between the edge and the quarry, more than a hundred remain without eyes and in different stages of carving. Some, attached to the bedrock, others buried up to half a body. All are different, although they have the same angular face, thin and protruding lips, elongated ears, prominent jaws and thin arms finished in the hands of five extended fingers and the curved thumb framing the male sex.
Easter Island Beaches
A bath next to Moais
The route to reach the pink coral and Te Pito Kura (the Stone Navel) beaches, it is really beautiful. It goes through the interior of the island, from the south-west end to the center of the north coast, and attain the beautiful beaches of Anakena and Ovahe.
If the 17 kilometers of track are long, it is advisable to stop halfway in the former Vaitea sheep ranch, in the shade of a eucalyptus forest. Nearby there is Mount Maunga Pu’i, where you can practice a typical sport of the island: the haka pei, which consists of sliding down the open slope, up on a banana tree trunk.
The historic landing
The Anakena Valley is barely half an hour away from the beach. Due to its archaeological, landscape and historical value it is known as The Valley of the Kings of Rapanui.
According to tradition, his first ruler, Hotu Matu’a, landed here with his wife Vakai and his sister Ava Rei Pu’a, from Central Polynesia.
Anakena Valley, the chosen place to reside of the relatives of ariki or sovereigns of Easter Island. The sacred temple and graves are under the Ahu Nau-Nau. Excavated in two campaigns by Thor Heyerdahl (1987 and 1988). Nau Nau possesses petroglyphs of great beauty; one of them represents a simian being with a long tail or sexual appendage, and the other, a seabird.
Isolated on top of a mountain emerges the gigantic Moi Ature Huki, burial apparently, of Queen Vakai. In the southeast area, still the oval foundations of the house where the King Hotu Matu’a lived. Located in front of a beach of coral sand and shaded by coconut trees transplanted from Tahiti.
From Anakena, following the coastal track, you come to a cove of pink sand, a mixture of pulverized coral and the blood-colored scum of the volcano; that, with the sun at half height it becomes dyed red.
A little further on, we will find one of the most disturbing enigmas of Easter Island: Te Pito Kura (Chosen Navel), a smooth stone sphere placed on the ground. It is so huge that two men can not move it.
The sphere remains located within a circular wall and accompanied by others smaller than, with the contact of the sun rays, it would be said that they beat.
They seem to be brought or fallen from the “Hereafter”. To these rocks, Easter Island owes its other name: “Te Pito o Te Henúa – The Navel of the World”.
Easter Island Map
Additional information that may be useful
Language: Spanish and Rapanui.
Currency: Chilean peso, dollars and euros.
How to get there: There are two options, the first one direct flight to Santiago de Chile or second, to Lima (Peru). Both cities have regular flights to Easter Island.
How to move: On the island there is no public transport. The trips are made by agencies, taxis or rental car.
Activities: In addition to car trips to the main enclaves, there are agencies that organize boat tours, horse riding, walking and diving. The P. Sebastian Englert Museum is a complement to the archaeological sites.
Accommodation: The few hotels on the island have a couple of rooms and a family atmosphere. They also rent cabins and houses as well as the island has two campsites.
Finally, there are several theories out there that surround the mysteries of Easter Island and of course, there is also a powerful oral legend that has passed generationally.
However, we can not know for sure the true history of the island and its inhabitants. The important, is to be able to enjoy and witness by ourselves of such an enigmatic place, the most remote of the planet and so, live our own experience within the Exotic Destination of Easter Island.
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