One of the most remote places you can visit on Earth is also one of the most mysterious: Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui in the native language. Dubbed Easter Island when the first Europeans landed here on Easter Day 1722, the island is the most isolated inhabited place on earth – farther from the next piece of land than any other settled place on our planet.
Nearly six hours by air from mainland Chile, Rapa Nui holds some of the greatest mysteries known to humankind. It is most famous, of course, for the legendary statues that seem to stand guard around its coastline. Many people who could never begin to pick out the island on a map would recognize a photograph of one of these statues, called Moai, instantly.
More than 600 Moai sculptures are found around the small island, ranging in size from a meter to more than eight meters in height. But exactly how the statues got there, and their significance, remain largely unknown and controversial; as does the reason so many were toppled, and why the thriving, sophisticated civilization here went into a sudden decline and disappeared in the late 18th century. After decades of research and archaeology, scientific investigation and oral history handed down for generations, the answers given are often at odds — even among the Rapa Nui people themselves.
It is an enchanting place to visit, the legends and mystery simply adding to the allure. Visiting the many archeological spots that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site with a knowledgeable tour guide — a must in order to understand in any depth what you are seeing — can take weeks. But in a matter of days, one can see the major sites of importance. The protected Parque Nacional Rapa Nui makes up forty percent of the island’s surface.
The top place to stay on the island is Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa, less than a kilometer the airport and the only town on the island, Hanga Roa. The entire resort is carefully built and designed using natural materials and local handicrafts as much as possible. The common areas, restaurants, meeting rooms, spas, and buildings with the guest rooms are all placed around the property within easy walking distance, but with plenty of green space and privacy in between. Views are spectacular, right at the water's edge with the wild surf beating at black rocks mere yards away.
75 rooms and suites are carefully decorated in island style, with privacy and comfort combined with luxurious amenities. The Kainga rooms feature "columns" of polished Cypress trunks, pebbled floors, a native-crafted clay tub and separate rainfall shower. The built-in desk and sofa bed offer usability and comfort, and the private terraces with ocean views are the crowning touch. On my first morning here, I looked out my terrace doors to see a dozen of the island's wild horses yards away, just beyond the property fence. That combined with the stunning sunrise coming up over the cliffs and Hanga Roa town, amidst the morning fog, was a spectacular greeting.
Six Ma'unga suites also offer large, open living areas with built-in seating and an additional guest bathroom. All of the rooms have curved ceilings and walls, which is one of the things I found most pleasing. Everything about Hangaroa Ecovillage feels organic, without a hard edge to the place. It's like an immersion into the Rapa Nui lifestyle.
Internet connection is available in all rooms, and each has a stocked minibar - snacks are complimentary, and replenished.
The beautifully landscaped grounds include a lovely pool, the main lobby and gathering areas, exercise room and three meeting and event rooms. There is also a spa, Manavai, which provides unique treatments using locally-crafted ingredients. Separate private treatment rooms offer the ultimate in relaxation and rejuvenation.
A highlight of a stay here is definitely the dining experience. The hotel excels with its seafood dishes, which are beyond outstanding. The main restaurant, Poerava, serves breakfast and lunch in a gorgeous setting overlooking the ocean. For evening cocktails and dining, Kaloa invites guests for a complimentary sunset cocktail. There is a small separate bar, along with several levels of private dining tables. The decor is minimalist and chic, and reminiscent of dining in a top continental restaurant. Both the service and food are top-notch in both dining rooms, as is the selection of Chilean wines offered to accompany the inventive, fresh dishes.
Hanga Roa town is only a short walk away (taxis can also be easily had). The town is small,home to about five thousand residents, but interesting to stroll around. There are a number of nice little shops, restaurants and bars, particularly along the main street and the beach side. An artisan market and two museums are highly worthwhile. Don’t forget to stop by the post office for a must-have Easter Island memento: for a suggested tip, the postmaster will stamp your passport with the official Easter Island stamp.
One of the best things about staying at Hangaroa Eco Village is the fact that they can set up all your excursions for you. They work with the first (and best) tour operator on the island, Mahinatur Services, which has been in business since 1967. You can set up your excursions direct from the hotel and your tour guide will be there to meet you (and usually other resort guests) each morning or afternoon. Every excursion we went on was top-notch, with excellent and knowledgeable English-speaking guides. This helped to make our Easter Island visit one of the top travel experiences I have ever had - and certainly one of the most unique in the world.
LAN Airlines operates daily flights from Santiago to Easter Island (except Tuesday), with twice-weekly flights that continue on to Tahiti. They are also generally the best bet for flying into Chile from North America, Central America and South America.
Easter Island Information:
The official Chile Tourism websiteoffers a wealth of information about visiting the country and Easter Island.
Easter Island Tourism also has their own website about the island.
For the nature and wildlife lover, Patagonia is the place to come in South America; whether you are a hard-core adventurer or a traveler more interested in light hiking, fishing or horseback riding. Ice Age valleys and moraines, jagged mountain ridges, fjords and glaciers, native forests and an abundance of waterfalls make the human visitor aware, at every moment, of the nature around them. In the town of Puerto Natales, Remota Hotel was built on the concept of blending nature with human civilization.
The property was created with the idea of mixing the architectural design with the natural surroundings, designed by legendary architect German del Sol who won the National Prize for his work on Remota. The buildings are integrated in harmony with the Patagonian landscape, at times blurring the lines between where nature ends and Remota begins. Using construction techniques such as earth-and-grass covered rooftops, sustainable local materials and energy-saving implementations was key for Del Sol. And these are no mere “nod to green concerns” gestures. The entire hotel utilizes a system that recycles the indoor air two to three times a day, using no energy whatsoever.
It’s a place where visitors can feel at one with Patagonia, and be in the present moment. Del Sol believed that beauty was in the imperfections, and embraced those aspects of his natural materials to create a place that offers an experience to guests, not just a hotel stay. “The loneliness of the vast landscape is perhaps what seduces the wanderer’s soul,” says del Sol. “Everyone can make a discovery if one sees the same old things with new eyes. Maybe, because we only get to know that which puts up some resistance, the place where it is hard to get to is that which we believe, somehow, that we deserve. Thus, perhaps, the myth of Patagonia is the myth of a remote place, where we feel that the journey has been accomplished, and we are delicately returned to what is ours.” Patagonia Sights and Excursions Hotel Remota tour guides are among the best in Chile, specially trained in the hotel’s own guide school. Remota is the only operation that offers certified fly fishing experience, as well as navigations, hiking, horseback riding, bicycle tours and bird watching, with world well-known specialists.
Every evening the guides gather in the bar of the hotel, where they can plan with guests their excursions for the next day out of more than 30 possibilities in Torres del Paine National Park, as well as beyond mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers and forests, cattle farms and caves of ancestral native cultures. Tours can be done by vehicle (4x4), horseback, bicycle, or walking, sailing the fjords; it all depends on the guests preference and the area they would like to visit. Details about Hotel Remota The guest rooms are an invitation to rest body and soul, the relaxing aroma of the lenga wood together with the light radiating from the heat reflecting windows and the magnificent views to the fjord of Last Hope are the perfect setting for perfect comfort. Remota offers 72 wonderfully appointed, spacious rooms. The common areas are divided into multi levels, with several comfortable and stylish living rooms built around large fireplaces, leading eventually up to the restaurant and bar. The amazing food is part of the Remota experience, with skilled chefs creating a variety of inventive dishes from the fresh seafood of Patagonia and local ingredients.
A separate building houses a relaxing indoor heated pool, open-air Jacuzzi and men’s and women’s locker rooms with saunas. Every stay at Hotel Remota is a program that includes: • Accommodations • Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, with soft and alcoholic drinks or house wine. • 8 Daily Excursions offered according to the day’s program, with a bilingual guide. (English-Spanish) • Excursion hours are pre-established. Consult reception. • Use of the sauna, open-air Jacuzzi, and heated indoor pool. • Complementary transfers. Premium wines, massage services, outdoor equipment, personal goods, gift shop items, fly-fishing gear and tips are not included.
The chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador is famous for its inspiration of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. Here on the Galapagos Islands, animals have evolved and adapted to survive in ways found nowhere else on earth.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to go on a 7-day Galapagos wildlife cruise with Ecoventura, one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable tourism companies in the Ecuadorian archipelago. We set off from San Cristobal, on a path that crossed the equator six times and visited 7 islands during the week. Hiking, snorkeling and kayaking were all part of the activities to view the islands and their unique ecosystems and wildlife. One of the most unusual aspects of Galapagos wildlife is how unafraid they are, how completely unperturbed they are by people. Because they are protected and mostly have no natural predators, they really fear little and see no threat from humans in modern times. They do not flee — there is no searching and waiting to spot wildlife. It is right there in front of you, and you can walk right up to them. Our Ecoventura guides, both named Pepe, were clear about the rules not to touch or interact with the animals. But you literally can walk right up to them — iguanas, birds in their nests with babies, sea lions who will swim right up to the boat and want to play. This can also be their downfall, if not properly protected. "The Islands retain a staggering 95% of their endemic species, a feat unparalleled on any other archipelago in the world," says Santiago Dunn, owner of Ecoventura. "Keeping Galapagos biologically pristine has been and continues to be, a constant and hard-waged battle. Tourism to this remote volcanic archipelago is both part of the solution and also part of the problem." One thing I really liked about the Ecoventura line, besides the wonderful guides and staff, was their dedication to making the least footprint possible on this ecosystem. The boat we were on, The Eric, had solar panels and wind turbines to supplement the power. Ecoventura was was the first company to earn and maintain the ecological certification, SmartVoyager, and the first Galapagos cruise ship company to offset carbon emissions and to install alternative energy sources. This is so important in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s enchanted isles are one of our planets most precious and unique ecosystems, home to an extraordinary profusion of exotic flora and fauna. In 1959, a hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species, Ecuador declared 97% of the Islands landmass a national park and in 2001, the marine reserve was established. In 2007, three decades after being designated the first World Heritage Site, UNESCO declared Galapagos as a World Heritage Site at risk, citing introduction of alien species, illegal fishing, unsustainable tourism, illegal migration and population growth. Galapagos was later removed from the list in 2010, but many conservationists feel this was done prematurely as the Islands still remain very much at risk. Arrivals to the Galapagos have tripled in the past 15 years due to the growth in land-based tourism operations. During this time the type of tourism available to visitors has changed with land based accommodation and activities now representing 50% of the market, according to the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Pressure to build resort style hotels and bring larger cruise ships to Galapagos is a constant reality. "The growing number of settlers migrating from the mainland of Ecuador to the islands, largely in response to the recent boom in tourism, has also put pressure on a fragile environment that imperils the entire ecosystem," Dunn adds. Visiting the islands by water, as a tourist, has by far a lower impact than land tourism. The number of highly regulated, self-contained non-diving live-aboard tour boats has not changed since 1998 after the introduction of the Special Law for Galapagos. Ecoventura is committed to providing an authentic experience in small compatible groups, lessening the impact on the wildlife, offering value, and a safe, memorable, mind-expanding voyage. The company began offering tours in the Galapagos in 1991 and started “greening” the operation and equipment in 1999, and later worked toward reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the local community benefits by tourism through educational opportunities and supporting marine conservation. So, what should a potential visitor to the Galapagos know, in terms of how to select a reputable tour operator and how to visit the Galapagos in a way that won’t harm it? “They need to do their research through guide books, Trip Advisor, etc. or through a trade organization such as IGTOA (international Galapagos Tour Operators Association),” Dunn suggests. “Unless people have limited time and budget or prefer ports to nature, we suggest they book a tour boat versus a hotel or island hopping trip for various reasons.” Liveaboards are self-contained and have less impact on the local limited resources. Convenience, all the planning and logistics are done, the itinerary is set, all meals are provided, and there is continuity, and you only have to pack and unpack once. Navigating at night means fewer daylight hours are lost while spent in transit and passengers have more time on the islands. Tour boats, also called liveaboards, visit the islands and wildlife in the early morning and late afternoon, when wildlife is more active and the sun less intense. IGTOA also provides a few other tips for visitors to the Galapagos: Do not take any food or drink other than water to the uninhabited islands. Do not touch or feed the animals. A distance of six feet between you and an animal is required. Also, do not allow them to touch you. Ask your tour operator if they have a responsible tourism policy. Only travel with operators that can demonstrate that they are doing as much as they can to support conservation efforts and ensure that local people benefit as a result of tourism. Consider your environmental impact when traveling. Fully cooperate with environmental inspection and quarantine services personnel during your visit. Introduced plants, animals, and certain foods not native to the islands are a serious threat to the delicate ecosystems here. Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of native plants or animals from the islands, especially black coral, volcanic rocks, native woods, sea lion teeth, or tortoise shells Travel with a local tour operator. Ensuring that tourism is of maximum benefit to local people is key to the sustainable development of the islands. Following these guidelines and committing to be a responsible tourist will help to ensure that Galapagos tourism is sustainable in the future.
Buenos Aires is a vibrant and lively city, full of passionate people, classical architecutre, gastronimical delights, stylish shopping, group dogwalkers, and plenty of history. If you haven’t yet booked accommodation, head to the Palermo Soho or Palermo Hollywood district. With similar character to New York's Soho, or London's Cambden, all you need to experience this stylish city is within close walking distance.
Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood are exceptionally reliable for gastronomie dining and night drinks, and of course shopping. Wandering the streets you might walk an entire block without seeing a single restaurant, only to discover the perfect eatery for your evening, hidden out of the way. This is the Palermo area charm. Great walking streets are Thames, Costa Rica, El Salvador or anything leading to or stemming off Plaza Serrano. A good idea is to get a taxi to drop you there - then just wander around, as it will be the best introduction to the area. Locals hang in Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood, as opposed to tourists, meaning a charming BA atmosphere exists. Definitely visit by day as well - for cute shops are scattered throughout the area and mostly only open in daylight.
Palermo Soho is hands down one of the best places to shop in Buenos Aires. Plenty of local designers in boutique stores are situated along almost every street, definitely wear your comfy walking shoes! On the weekends all around Plaza Serrano is a design fair for up-and-coming designers who can’t afford to display wares in real shops - and so you find amazing hand-made designs for a great price.
Nearby on Sunday go to Feria de San Telmo, a touristy antiques market that fills the Plaza Dorrego with stalls of costume jewellery, vintage movie posters and all sorts. Browse mini-stalls and watch street performers as you shop. This is pretty close to La Boca, the touristy place with the colourful houses and tango dancers, so worth having a look at both places in one hit.
The artisan markets in San Telmo are absolutely wonderful but only on weekends. Stick around to watch the tango dancers.
An interesting day activity which involves absorbing and understanding the city's politival background, is a trip to the Evita Museum. The amazing wardrobe of Eva peron has been preserved at the Evita Museum, aka Museo Evita, along with detailed documentation of her rise to fame, and Argentina’s love/hate affair with Evita.
Recoleta is a wonderful suburb, very safe and very wealthy. Make sure to visit the famous Recoleta cemetery. Here you'll visit Evita Peron’s tomb and have a guide tell you the history of her life with her presidential husband Juan Peron. There are also fun markets in the park on the weekends in Recoleta.
A great evening is spent Salsa dancing into the early hours of the morning at La Catedral, a charming oversized salsa-only dance floor converted from an 1880’s cathedral hall with live band and art pieces covering wall to ceiling. Best kept secret, no website just an address. La Catedral, Sarmiento 4006, Almagro, Buenos Aires.
Jardin Escondido in Buenos Aire's trendy Palermo Soho district is a divine seven bedroom villa where a young Sofia Coppola and father Francis Ford Coppola’s spent time with family and which is now open as a hotel style villa, kept almost exactly as they had. Home hotel Located in Palermo Hollywood, Home hotel is a modern and peaceful escape from the city's hustle a bustle, with agreat outdoor pool garden bar downstairs open on weekends.
Everything happens at night in the boho-cool cosmopolitan city that is Buenos Aires. You'll find most people sleep in the day, then go for dinner at 11pm and party into the night with tango and drinking til wee-hours. Take note, if you turn up to a restaurant at 8.30-9pm it will probably still be empty. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your state of mind!
Try these eateries..
Bar 6 – Armenia 1676, Palermo Soho Café-cum-bar-cum-restaurant that fearlessly mixes styles. Very cool for lunch or dinner.
Mott – El Salvador 4685, Palermo Soho Breaks the cosy mould of Palermo’s eating establishments and introduces an industrial aesthetic to the area. Great for lunch or dinner – doesn’t start dinner menu until after 8:30pm, but you can grab a gormet burger or salad before that.
Las Cabras - Locals line the streets waiting for the mouth watering Argentinean BBQ’s served al fresco. Think thick juicy steak, melting BBQ camembert, Parilla of Chorizo with a fine glass of Malbec.
Freddo icecream - Or any gelati venue really. Try the Dulce de Leche flavour, or banana split. There's no going back!
The metro is a great way to get around quickly by day, and taxis are super cheap by night.