Some trips just stick with you, leaving you in a state of shock. Rapa Nui, Easter Island’s indigenous name, is a historical wonder that does just that with its beauty, history, and myriad stories, not to mention the mystery that keeps historians and curious travelers wondering how the moai were transported back in the 10th-16th centuries, as they were being created by talented artists.
The Polynesian society dates back to c. A.D. 300 and the architecture and sculpting of the moai—stone figures meant to act as a look inside their society—is what really makes Easter Island special. In fact, to this day more shrines and statues are being discovered, with the latest being unearthed earlier this year.
Flights from Easter Island are limited and fill up quickly, so plan accordingly and buy your tickets well in advance. The flights leave from Santiago, Chile, so plan to give yourself at least a day or two in the capital city, enjoying everything it has to offer, before heading to the legendary island.
Where to Stay in Santiago
v. Sta. María 1742, 7500000 Santiago, Providencia, Región Metropolitana, Chile
The Sheraton Santiago Hotel and Convention Center is just a short trip to the airport in Providencia, putting you in a convenient location that also happens to be near some of the city’s best restaurants and entertainment. The rooms are incredibly comfortable, and the hotel offers amenities like a 24-hour fitness center, both indoor and outdoor pools, flatscreen TVs, and all the comforts of home.
v. Pdte. Kennedy 5741, 7560356 Las Condes, Región Metropolitana, Chile
The Santiago Marriott Hotel is another ideal place to stay, located five minutes from the tour company Turistik, as well as restaurants and shopping. However, the main attraction here might be the views of the Andes. There’s an outdoor pool to relax in on warmer days and a great in-house restaurant called the Latin Grill, which offers delicious dishes like a perfectly cooked rack of lamb with an herb and hazelnut crust, king crab, and seafood soup loaded with squid, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and herbs.
What to Do in Santiago
While in Santiago, Turistik offers full day tours and transportation to famous sites throughout Santiago. The Hop On Hop Off bus tour is available to do on your own or to book with a private guide if you prefer. (I worked with Jacqueline and she was phenomenal.) It really helps to have someone show you around. Ride the Santiago Cable Car to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal to take in beautiful views of the city and the mountains before riding the heritage elevator, which descends via the Santiago Funicular. See significant sites and street art along the way, with panoramic views on the bus, and visit the cathedral to climb up to the bell tower.
Another great option is Tour por Viña Cousiño Macul & Templo Bahai. This takes guests to one of the most outstanding architectural sites in Santiago: the Baha’i House of Worship. After visiting the temple, practicing quiet meditation inside and strolling through the gardens, the group then heads to Viña Cousiño Macul, one of the oldest wineries within the Maipo Valley. You’ll tour the family-owned establishment, tasting some of the delicious wines and exploring the vineyard along the way.
On to Easter Island
When planning your trip to Easter Island from Santiago, it’s crucial to have a tour guide. Having the help of an experienced operator that knows what they’re doing, as well as a tour guide that can take you to the best locations to view the moai while explaining the history, makes a world of difference. SA Expeditions is a well-known, U.S.-based tour operator. They create customized tours, based on particular interests, all over the world, including Easter Island.
SA Expeditions is passionate about creating personalized itineraries that cater to the guest’s specific needs, so working with Riva and Matt at SA Expeditions on what was important to me on the trip—from getting the rare Rapa Nui passport stamp to a sunrise experience at Tongariki—was extremely helpful. They customized an itinerary that allowed me to see everything I wanted to see and more.
Where to Stay
Hotel Altiplanico Rapa Nui, Easter Island—Valparaíso, Chile
Upon arrival, SA Expeditions set up a private transfer from the airport to the lodging on Easter Island at Hotel Altiplanico Rapa Nui, a local boutique hotel. The hotel offers a canopy bed inside a private bungalow, in addition to a huge outdoor rainfall shower, patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean, dining room with specialty dishes, small outdoor pool, gardens, and more. It’s so peaceful and relaxing—truly, the perfect place to unplug.
While staying at the hotel, guests can also enjoy the fantastic on-site dining option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The beautiful views of the ocean pair nicely with dishes like purple gnocchi with a creamy garlic shrimp sauce.
What to Do
Spend the afternoon visiting Ahu Akivi, where you can see the gigantic figure sculptures, the moai, facing towards the ocean. The seven statues, all uniform in size, point towards the Pacific Ocean on the coast.
Take a walk on the white coral sand beach, Anakena Beach, or dive into the ocean on a hot day to cool off. There are several statues to see at Anakena, including a singular moai and a row of seven moai at Ahu Nao-Nao. These were created by Rapa Nui ancestors between 1250 and 1500. Many of the statues can still be found at the quarry.
Along the eastern side of the island, among the historical ancient temples, the quarry is filled with fallen and partially buried moai, as well as figure statues. Visitors can expect to see nearly 20 moai at once at this location. It’s a truly special place and a great area to take it all in and really pay attention to the detail in these magnificent statues. It is also said that this is the site where the first ruler of the island, Rano Raraku, was buried.
It’s hard to describe the magnificent views that come with exploring the Rano Kau Crater. Overlooking the crater, you see water and greenery, with views of the Pacific in the background. The volcano lies dormant and was created through lava flow. This is a great place to discuss the history of the Tangata Manu (aka the Birdman Competition) and observe the ancient stone village, Orongo. The iconic contest featured men competing to find the first manutara bird egg of the season and bring it back safely to gain power and status.
Tongariki is the famous site to see 15 moai statues, lined up, with an incredible ocean backdrop. For the perfect last activity of your trip, head here in the morning while it’s still dark to watch the sun rise over the bay behind the sculptures.
Where to Eat
When seeking a light lunch, Rano Café has plenty of delicious dishes to enjoy. A tuna ceviche bowl with a few slices of fresh, local sweet potato is an awesome dish. For a quick stop and a treat to go, the empanadas at Panaderia Y Pasteleria Hitu are fantastic. The smell hits you the second you walk in the door of the freshly made, fried dough being rolled out right in front of you. The empanadas are stuffed with everything from chicken and cheese to fresh octopus, and they also have a variety of desserts in the display case.
Te Moai Sunset offers dinner with a terrific view of the sunset. As you’re taking in the vibrant red and orange shades, you can sip on cocktails and fill up on fresh fish dishes. For international cuisine, mixed with a Rapa Nui influence and traditional Polynesian dishes, Neptunes Island is a great spot. They create some truly special meals, combining fun flavors with a beautiful ambience and ocean view.