The Big Heads are Calling Me to Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Moai & Me at the Museo Fonck

Less than a minute after I press the “Buy” button for tickets to Easter Island, Mike announces, “We can’t go. My passport expires five days before we leave.” Panic sets in for a second. Should I quickly call and see if I can cancel the tickets? Nope. We are going. We’ll just hustle and get his passport renewed pronto.

Next order of business is booking a hotel. As regular readers of this blog know, I like to live dangerously and book my hotel on the day of arrival. I’m playing it safe this time because it’s a small remote island and I don’t know what to expect.  Better safe, than camping.  I spend hours pouring over reviews on TripAdvisor.com, Hotels.com and any other .com I can find. All sites try their damnedest to lower my expectations.

Moai fun in front of the Museo Fonck

But Easter Island has been on my radar for a while. It started when I was a kid in school and saw something about the big heads or Moai (pronounced mo-EYE). Then a couple of years ago we went to Viña del Mar in Chile to the Museo Fronk and I saw my first real Moai.

The following year we’re in Oslo, Norway and what is greeting visitors at the Kon-Tiki Museum? Yup, another Moai.  This replica has a red topknot.  The real ones are inside.  Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl made a trip to Easter Island in 1955 to lead archaeological excavations and document the artifacts.

Moai Greeting at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo

Clearly these are all signs indicating that Easter Island is reaching out to me.

When my brothers and I finally sell my Mom’s condo almost six years after her death, I decide that it’s time to spend a few pesos and go to the most isolated inhabited island in the world to see these guys in their natural habitat.

This is exactly what my mom would want me to do, because she was the pathfinder.  I inherited her globe-trotting genes and know of no better way to honor her.

There’s a ton of information online about the Moai and history of Rapa Nui as the locals refer to their island. But I’m searching for touristy tourist information and that’s not easy to come by. There are a few scant pages in guidebooks for Chile and most of that is severely dated.

I love the Moai!

To cover all bases, I get the electronic version of Frommer’s Chile & Easter Island for my iPad and buy a used copy of Moon Handbooks’ Chile including Easter Island from Amazon.

There’s a book that was recommended on one of the many websites I searched but when I find A Companion to Easter Island (Guide to Rapa Nui) by James Grant Peterkin on Amazon, the only place it’s available, they want $79 for a book that retails for $29.95. Sorry. Not taking the bait on that one.  But a couple of days later I check back to find the book has been restocked and is selling for the cover price.  I snap up a copy after reading the glowing reviews.

I know from keeping tabs on Isla de Pascua (as the Chileans call it) there has been a change in the law that has allowed a few new, high-end resorts to open on the island.  Only Rapanui (the indigenous people) can own land but the change allows islanders to lease their property to outside interests.

Mike & the Moai

Enter the luxurious resort by Explora called Posada de Mike Rapu. I try to see how much it would cost to stay there and keep getting numbers that can’t be right.  It looks like it is either $1500 a night or for the entire stay.  As it turns out, the 3-night stay includes everything from tours to food and alcohol but it is way out our league at the moment – total cost would be a bank draining $4770 for the two of us.  As much as I feel that we should be staying there, it’s not going to happen so I continue to study up on hotels.

The one place that stands out in all of the reviews I’ve read is the Hotel Taura’a.  For $75,000 Chilean pesos, it comes out to roughly $150 a night, depending on the exchange rate.

What makes it attractive is that includes a breakfast that gets good reviews.  Everyone writes that food is really expensive here so a few included meals that are edible will save us a bit of cash.  Plus, we save even more in transportation costs because it’s located in town.  We will be able to walk to bars, restaurants, shopping and shows.

At the last moment I am almost sucked in by the luxurious, brand new, unfinished Hanga Roa Eco Resort that’s more expensive than the Taura’a but way less than the Explora – coming in at around $600 for 3 nights.  I am not sure that I am reading this right.  Something seems off.

Upon further research, I find only one review.  It’s by someone who stayed there in December 2011 and said at that time only 8 of the 75 rooms are open.  There was a dispute about ancestral lands and that has delayed the construction schedule.  The reviewer said the service was lovely but there were a lot of workers on the property.  The rest of the rooms are expected to be open by August 2012.  We plan to go there for a drink, if possible, just to check it out.

My little Moai

There are many blogs that say we should bring lots of cash, preferably Chilean pesos to get a better exchange rate, but US dollars are also accepted.  Because we are flying through Lima, Peru and not Santiago, Chile, we will need to get money from our bank instead of a Chilean ATM.  None of these blogs give any indication of how much money we will need to bring.  All they say is that everything is expensive.

We usually blow into town and hit the ATM for local currency but another tidbit I have found is that power can be iffy on the island and the ATMs may or may not work.  One review said that the ATMs didn’t work the whole time they were there. Credit cards are not widely accepted so now I am left to figure out how much cash to bring just to be safe.

As someone who rarely carries cash in my everyday life or when I travel, this has become an interesting conundrum. I can’t find anyone who says “for 3 days bring $500 or $1,000 in cash” so I am left to guess.  I don’t want to come home with pesos to exchange back to dollars so we will probably bring a few hundred dollars in each currency and hope the ATMs are working.  That way we will have back-up dollars with the possibility to pay for everything in pesos.

I shelled out a few good pesos for this guy!

The exchange rate is better if we pay cash (in pesos) for the hotel.  We have already paid for one night with a credit card and that was a challenge.  It’s required as a deposit to hold the reservation, and it’s non-refundable.  They ask for a letter to be e-mailed that gives them permission to charge it to my credit card.  I am not happy about that.

For security purposes, it’s never smart to send sensitive info by unsecure e-mail but what is a traveler to do?  This is precisely why we have a separate travel/online checking account with a separate debit/credit card where we keep almost no money. And it’s not attached to any overdraft protection so at least theoretically, criminals can’t drain our main accounts.

The beauty is that we can transfer money from our other accounts from anywhere in the world using our iPad or iPhone over a WiFi connection.  Yes, it’s still a WiFi connection but we won’t be typing in passwords on strange computers.  Fingers crossed that the WiFi connection works!

With the flights, hotel and money pretty straight in my head, I turn to what to bring.  Countless advice articles say to bring everything from water to wine.  The water is safe to drink but contains many minerals so bottled water will make sure our tummies aren’t aggravated.  But how to get it there?

After thinking I need to pay to check a case of water to fly with us from Charlotte to the hellish Miami airport and then retrieve it from US Air baggage only to recheck it on LAN, I dial back the hysteria.  Besides being overly cumbersome, it’s ridiculous.  We’re talking three and a half days on the ground.

This island has regular daily air service.  The furthest I am willing to go on this front is to MAYBE buy a few bottles of water at the airport in Lima.  After that, we will pay whatever the price…and of course, report back here.

One suggestion we are going to heed is to bring flashlights.  This is a tiny island in the middle of the ocean with one small town and no streetlights.  The moon will be setting around 7:30 in the evening and there will be only a sliver of moon the days we are there.  It’s going to be dark so, oh yeah, we are bringing flashlights.

(Okay, I’m a geek for knowing all of this, but in my defense, I work in TV production so I have iPhone apps that tell me this stuff.  I use them to determine crew call times so that we are ready to go as soon as we have enough daylight for outdoor shoots.  Why not put them to use for my personal life too?)

Another re-con item that grabbed my attention is a report that the island is covered with a battalion of bugs.  Armies of ants; brigades of beetles; and cavalries of cockroaches!  Yes we will have bug spray for mosquitoes (a few years ago they were carrying a mild form of dengue fever) but there’s no way we’ll be able to bring a can of Raid in our carry-on luggage.  As a former Floridian, I know we will survive.

There are also stories of roosters making it hard to sleep after a late night by doing what roosters are known for doing: crowing at dawn’s crack.  Hopefully, the great LAN Airlines still provides passengers with a kit that includes eyeshades and earplugs.

Whatever else lies ahead just adds to the experience.  Bring it on! We are ready and cleared for takeoff!  Mike’s shiny new passport with an embedded microchip arrives just two weeks after being sent to the U.S. State Department for renewal.

Unfortunately our flight doesn’t leave until next month.  I don’t know how I will be able to wait that long!

About Journeys By Jill

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around TV, film & radio production. As an avid traveler, I have a goal to visit at least 100 countries using the Century Traveler's Club Country List. At the moment, I have 54 to go. My favorite form of travel is to get off the beaten path and discover weird & wonderful attractions. Basically, I wing it. I'd love for you to come along for the ride.
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15 Responses to The Big Heads are Calling Me to Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

  1. I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed your blog on Easter Island. You sound so much like me and how I approach travel it is scary. I have learned a lot about what to expect on my upcoming trip and really appreciate the effort you put into blogging about your trip, including photos. Thanks so much!

    • I’m happy I can help. Easter Island is the trip of a lifetime! I really don’t know how we will top this trip!

      I am trying to find time to finish a list of tips to help with what to bring and what you don’t need. When are you going?

      • whitepa27 says:

        I am going August 14-19, from Florida through Lima and back. I decided to dedicate this excursion to simply going to Easter Island. I have planned out my days there but now wondering if i am cramming too much into each day. Now I am wishing I was going to be there longer, but I will make the best of it! I love the pictures of the food, and the roads and the comments on prices and so forth. I look forward to anything else you have to add.

        • If you are on the ground for all of those days, you should be fine. If you are only on the ground for almost 4 days like us, you will still be fine…but you will leave wanting to come back.

          You have inspired me to hurry and finish my tip blog. I know there is info you can use. If you subscribe to my blog, you will get an email when it’s posted. Of course I want to know all about your trip. Definitely go to Kotaro for Japanese food and to China’s place Restaurant Manuia. They were the best meals we had on the island. Others in our group had to go back to Anakena Beach for empanadas. They were that good! They got them from the shack closest to the beach. If you are standing in the parking lot by the bathrooms, it’s the furthest one away on the left, the first one on the right if you are walking from the beach. I ate at the one next to it. There was another one across from those 2 but it was closed the day we were there.

          And if you want to watch the sun rise over the moai, try Tongariki. I think it faces east!

          All I can say is that I am so jealous. I really love that little island!

  2. Veronyka says:

    Were there really lots of beetles and cockroaches? That’s my biggest fear! lol I’m renting a beautiful little house from a Rapa Nui woman overlooking the Tahai complex. The place looks clean and gorgeous from the photos she sent me but it is sort of off the beaten path on the outskirts of Hanga Roa.

    I hate hotels and tend to avoid them when I travel opting for vacation rentals instead. The price is also wonderful – $100 a night! For a brand new house with fully equipped kitchen, moai carvings throughout, modern bath, porch, fire pit and beautifully furnished. I’ll pass along her info to you if you ever return to the island and are interested in renting a home.

    • That’s a great location and a fabulous price! It’s near the fabulous Restaurant Manuia and another decent restaurant called Miro (Mike was happier with his lunch than I was with mine but it was okay.) It’s also near the cemetery and the Maori Tupuna show that we went to. The dirt road to the Two Windows Cave and Ballroom cave will probably be out your front door.

      Oh, and I didn’t see any bugs while we were there but we were there in March – the end of summer/beginning of fall. You will be there in the spring. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t worry about it.

      • Veronyka says:

        Yes! I’ve been studying Easter Island maps for the past couple years intensely, I already know it like the back of my hand! Seriously, I already feel like I’ve been there! 🙂 Like you, I’ve been wanting to go my whole life so its a dream come true for me! This will also be my first time traveling alone and leaving the United States…and look at the crazy thing I go and do! lol I can sure relate to your adventurous spirit!

        You have already done most of the things I always wanted to do. I’m so happy I came across your blog! You are a wonderful writer and your attention to every detail will help me from making a lot of mistakes! You don’t travel like a tourist and i love that about you. Thank you for putting so much effort into this blog.

  3. Aw shucks! Thanks for the kind words. You are truly an adventurer to do it alone! The island people are so welcoming I’m sure you will be fine. How long will you be there?

    • Veronyka says:

      I will be there for 8 whole days! I hope that is enough time. I want to explore every inch of that island without going totally broke. If I could afford it, I would have stayed at least 2 weeks.

      I also do not drive so I will be relying on taxis to get around the sights when I’m not booking tours. How much do taxis generally cost to get around the archaeological sights from Hanga Roa? I keep hearing conflicting information.

      I also realized I will be spending Halloween there. Do the Rapanui celebrate it? I wonder if there will be any festivities on the island.

      • We took tours and then rented a car. The only time we took a cab was across town from the Hotel Taura’a to Restaurant Manuia. I don’t remember what we paid but the was just a 5-10 minute ride. The quarry, Tongariki and Anakena Beach are a good 25 to 45 minute drive depending on road conditions, animals in the road, etc.

  4. Now I am really jealous! 8 days! Some of the things I would have done if I had more time would have been to take the path to the crater at the quarry, although a woman who was also traveling alone said they had closed it and she couldn’t get up there. I was curious if there were more moai inside the crater. Also, it looks like a horseback ride along the north coast is pristine and untouched by time. The area around Poike looks interesting too but you need a local guide to explore this and the north coast to be able to locate the caves, petroglyphs and ahus.

    A quick Google search shows Chileans celebrating Halloween but I’m not sure if it translates to Easter Island. It would be really cool if they celebrate the Day of the Dead on Nov. 1st. If so, the cemetery will be hopping!

    • Veronyka says:

      Oh I plan on going to the cemetery on Halloween! I will definitely attend the church service since I will be there for two Sundays. My first day on the island will be devoted to exploring all of Hanga Roa since I will be arriving at 1pm. Too late in the afternoon for a major excursion so walking all over town will be nice. I will be doing Poike on horseback and I’m also taking a boat tour to Motu Nui. I booked all of my tours with a local who just started her tour company last year. She is the sister of the woman who is renting me her cabana. I plan on checking out the discotheque too. Have you been there?

      I may even get a tattoo. 🙂

      • We missed the church service but went into the church when no one else was there. I want to travel like you! The tours of Poike and Moto Nui sound like things I would have done if we had more time there. We did not go to the discotheque. We were so exhausted at the end of each day that if we weren’t so starving, we probably would have happily collapsed from exhaustion. (Make sure you bring snacks with you every day.)

        I briefly considered a tattoo before we went but I never had a chance to give it a second thought – too busy touring every day. And I didn’t remember to go to the post office for a stamp in my passport until we were at the airport getting ready to leave. Time FLEW by!

        • Veronyka says:

          Good tips you provided regarding snacks for the long tours. The first thing I am doing once I settle in is go grocery shopping. I will be packing my lunch every morning before heading out. I’ll stock up on fruit, nuts, water and make lots of sandwiches. I will not be eating out much since that is where all the money goes. I plan on dining out at a restaurant no more than two or three times.

          The house I’m renting is so beautiful with a big porch overlooking Tahai and the ocean, I know I’ll be more than happy dining alone there, outside watching the sunset with a simple homemade meal. 🙂

          Since I am a solo traveler, I will try my best to hit the discos all weekend provided I’m not exhausted from tours. I already booked them and have a pretty intense itinerary!
          I booked Experience Rapa Nui for all of my big tours. They come highly recommended. Tours are very detailed and crowd is very small – no more than 5 people. There are also options for private tours.

          http://www.tour-rapanui.com/

          They do boat tours to all the Motus and a 7 hour horseback tour on the North coast in search of remote caves and untouched petroglyphs even most locals do not get to see. Both of which I’m doing. Prices are great too. $65 for all day tours and $45 for half day hikes.

          I also booked an excursion with Easter Island Spirit tours for a hike around the Rano Kau crater rim! This is the best view of the 3 Motus and the crater. I’m so exited! This company is also highly recommended because the tours are detailed and private. No crowds. I booked Tour D. Prices start at $80.

          http://www.easterislandspirit.com/tours.html

          Question…

          What would you recommend as a good gift to give to my host? I want to bring her something very nice that is not easily available on the island or mainland.

          • Thanks for the links to your tour companies. They look wonderful. It’s always good to know what other companies charge and if their customers are happy. I’m excited to hear about your experiences.

            I have given your question about a host gift a lot of thought and found it’s easier to nix things than to come up with ideas. Most of the people we met were very well traveled, often leaving the island for to attend school. The island ladies seem to be very comfortable with the available clothes that are mostly brought in from Tahiti or the Chilean mainland. Anything that involves guessing a size or something personal is always risky. Nothing electrical because our plugs don’t match.

            We did not have time to really browse the shops so I don’t know exactly what’s available. The best I could come up with is maybe something cooking related. Everyone eats and they have an abundance of seafood and some fresh fruits and vegetables. Their purple sweet potatoes (which aren’t as sweet as ours) are a staple in their diet. Possibly a good pan might be difficult to get. They are obviously not manufactured there. If you wanted to go crazy, you could use that as a base and add a set of wooden spoons, spatulas, tongs, etc. I’m sure a good knife would be useful but I’m not sure if that brings some kind of taboo/superstition/bad vibe with it. Spices might be nice but I would be hesitant only because customs might say no.

            Or maybe as a new business, some nice desk/office supplies or practical tools – metric, not inches. I’d also include a note on a postcard from your hometown. If you wanted to go really crazy, wrap it in a t-shirt or hoodie also from your hometown or in some useful fabric like a dish towel. The more that is environmentally friendly, the better, meaning that if you dispose of packaging that you get in the U.S. IN the U.S., it’s less that will go into their limited landfill, or worse, will have to be shipped back to the mainland for disposal. We were very conscious of our impact and tried to live by the rule of hiking and camping – “pack it in, pack it out.”

            If this doesn’t get your gift-giving juices going, I’d be happy to try to contact Edith, our host and she what she thinks.

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