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.