Easter Island is a volcanic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and marks the southeastern corner of the Polynesian triangle. The island is barely 15.3 miles by 7.6 miles in size and is home to 887 Moai or Mo’ai (monolithic human statues carved by the Rapa Nui people). The island landscape is barren and devoid of trees making the presence of Moai a unique cultural phenomenon. People often skip on a visit to Easter Island during a trip to Chile as getting there can be expensive, so it’s advised to do some homework and careful trip planning.
Here are 10 things I wish I’d known before visiting Easter Island.
1. You will land in the middle of nowhere.
Easter Island belongs to Chile and is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. It is 1289 miles away from Pitcairn Island and 2182 miles away from the coast of Chile. Easter Island’s utter remoteness was one of the major factors that led to the development of a unique civilization on the island.
2. Flying to the island is incredibly time-consuming.
Only LAN Airlines flies one flight daily to Easter Island from Santiago, Chile. You need to add a 6 hour flight to whatever time it takes you to reach the Chilean capital, Santiago. Most people need to set aside an entire day to reach Santiago and then another to reach Easter Island.
3. Only the tourists call it Easter Island.
Your flight destination and ticket won’t mention Easter Island; rather it will say Isla de Pascua, the Spanish name of the island. Easter Island is known by many other names: native Eastern Islanders call it Rapa Nui or the Great Rapa and Te Pito te Henua or the Navel of the World. Call the island Rapa Nui and you will make friends faster.
4. Easter Island heads are called Moai and gulp, they have bodies too!
The famous stone statues on Easter Island are called Moai and they are present all over the island. Most tourists see the famous photo of the Moai buried neck-deep at Rano Raraku quarry before arriving on the island and are surprised to know that the statues also have torsos or bodies.
5. Touching a Moai is not only forbidden but will land you in major trouble.
Visitors are forbidden from touching the Moai and breaking the law carries a hefty fine. Most recently a Finnish tourist was fined $17,000 US for touching a Moai and breaking its earlobe as a souvenir. The Moai are protected by law because they are deteriorating at a fast pace and tourist activities accelerate the process. Be responsible and respectful.
6. The sad truth is that you will never see Moai erected by the ancient Rapa Nui civilization.
The Moai that you see standing were all toppled down during the civil war that festered for years on Easter Island. They have been re-erected in modern history by explorers and archaeologists including Thor Heyerdahl, Sergio Rapu, and others. The original upright Moai and the method of erection are lost to us forever.
7. Some of the Moai had eyes while some others were blind.
The earliest statues had empty eye sockets and were blind. The later ones were more finished and had coral eyes in the sockets. The eyes were added after the statues reached the final resting spot. You can see replica eyes on a Moai at Ahu Tahai.
8. The underwater Moai is fake.
Scuba diving on Easter Island is very popular and there are many spectacular diving sites off the island’s rocky coast. Most tourists want to see the Moai resting on the bottom of the ocean. However, this Moai is not carved by the ancient Rapa Nui men but is a prop from the movie, Rapa Nui.
9. The Rapa Nui people still live and practice art on Easter Island.
Descendants of the ancient Rapa Nui civilization who carved and erected the Moai continue to live on Easter Island. As a visitor, you can interact with them and learn about their culture in many ways. The best way to know about the Rapa Nui is visiting the island for Tapati festival in February. Alternatively, you can take in a traditional dance show year round. Many native islanders create wood and stone sculptures. Getting a Polynesian tattoo is another way to understand their culture.
10. What we know about Easter Island will always be shadowed by the unsolved mysteries.
Part of Easter Island’s charm lies in the mysteries surrounding the island and the Moai. Many things about Easter Island are subject to conjecture including where the original Rapa Nui came from, why did they carved the statues, how were the statues moved, and why were the statues eventually destroyed. If you are lucky, you will find the answers to some of these questions by visiting Easter Island.