A trip to Easter Island is the trip of a lifetime. A trip to Easter Island is long and expensive.
But if you are one of the 50,000 or so people who make this trek every year, you will be well rewarded for your efforts. Don’t shortchange yourself on time, and don’t put off doing it. I should have bumped it to the top of my to-do list a long time ago. I really loved this incredibly special place.
Planning this journey would have been easier if I had more information. So my aim is to arm would-be travelers with as much practical information as possible.
Four days on the ground allowed us to hit most of the major sights but we could easily have used another day or two. Because there is so much to see around the island, we didn’t have a chance to spend any time exploring Hanga Roa, the one and only town on Easter Island.
Yes, we did tours as well as ventured out on our own, trying to soak in life lived on Isla de Pascua. But, we didn’t get to the little museum. We missed going to the Rapa Nui version of a Sunday service in the Catholic Church. We missed hiking to the inside of the volcano at the quarry.
That said, the longer you stay the more you pay. So, if the only way to make the trip work is for four days on the ground, even not enough time is better than never getting there. I say go for it.
A flashlight or two per person. We brought three and used all of them. A good flashlight app for a smart phone would also work as long as the phone is charged. Shining light on both the floor and the ceiling of dark caves kept us from simultaneously slipping on the wet floor and banging our heads on low hanging stalactites.
High SPF sunblock. The sun is brutal even with 25 mph winds.
A hat with a wide brim and a strap for under the chin. Otherwise, kiss your hat goodbye because the wind is strong and constant.
Good walking shoes – closed toed shoes are best but the Brits we were touring with were wearing flip-flops so I guess it’s possible to get away with anything. I brought a pair of hiking boots that looked more like sneakers. They had the perfect grip for climbing up the steep ancient stairs and down into below ground caves. Sandals are fine around town.
Snacks are extremely helpful – I bought a bag of a Trader Joe’s cashews in individually wrapped servings. I took a chance bringing them not knowing if customs would allow them into the country. But, I declared them and the customs officer waved me through. If in doubt, declare it. It’s better to be honest and have it confiscated than to get caught trying to sneak something.
The cashews turned out to be lifesavers because once we left town, the only place to get food is at Anakena Beach on the far end of the island. The day we went there was the only day we had lunch and we didn’t get there until after 3:00 pm. The nuts kept us going.
We bought eight bottles of water inside security at the Lima airport, paid for with American dollars but we could have used a credit card instead. There’s no need to worry about having local currency at the airport in Lima. $100 flew out of our wallets in just a few hours without ever touching a Peruvian Nuevo Sol.
Even with those eight bottles of water, we still bought several more at one of the little grocery stores near our hotel. Large bottles were around $7 and smaller were $3.50 – $4 US. Edith, the owner of our hotel, insisted that the water is safe to drink and we could refill our bottles. I read it is rich in minerals and didn’t want to chance getting sick since we had so little time but if you have a strong stomach, this might be a place to save a little cash.
Bring enough underwear, socks and clothes. You will be filthy from hiking, climbing in caves and driving on dusty dirt roads and will definitely want clean clothes.
Besides rain, a travel umbrella can be used to block the sun.
Extra glasses can be handy. Mike broke his frames and I had to MacGuyver them together because he couldn’t see to do it himself. Okay, truth be told, I broke them. But I contend that it was Mike’s fault because he laid them on the bed and I didn’t see them. I rolled on them and smashed them. In an effort to fix them, I snapped off one of the thingies that goes over the ear. There. I’ve admitted my part in the broken glasses episode now let’s move on.
Deet turned out not to be necessary for our trip. I’m not sure if it’s because we were there at the end of summer/beginning of fall or that the mosquito population had been eradicated. I had easy-to-carry wipes ready if we needed them but I wouldn’t worry about it if I were to go back.
A damp washcloth would have been nice a couple of times. Same goes for baby wipes for cleaning up after climbing in and out of the caves.
While I’m on the wipe bandwagon, I always carry a travel pack of disinfectant wipes in my carry-on bag to wipe off all surfaces that I might come in contact with on the plane. The tray table, armrests, light switches, air vent, window, everything gets a swipe. This little cleaning ritual helps to ensure that I arrive at my destination healthy. It sucks to be sick on vacation and I do anything I can to prevent it on any trip.
On Easter Island, plan on no TV, radio, phone or clocks in the rooms at Hotel Taura’a or Hanga Roa Eco. I’m going to guess that this is the norm on the island. A clock might be helpful especially if you have an early flight out. Our phone stayed on airplane mode the whole time we were there but even when it connected to WiFi it never seemed to sync with island time
For better picture-taking or video recording bring a tripod. I brought two. One was a cheapie – $15 from Target. It doubled as a walking stick. But I should have used the other one. The heavier tripod stood up better to the constant wind. Unfortunately I didn’t break out the bigger one until the second to last day.
Photo opportunities are everywhere. Bring more memory cards for your camera than you think you will need. I took at least 1500 pictures plus a couple of hours of HD video. I brought two high-speed 32GB cards for video and one 8GB for still pictures and had plenty of memory to spare. Our iPhones were great to have along when we just wanted a quick shot of something or when it was difficult to pull out the camera while squished into a van full of travelers.
Chilean electricity is 220 volts. The plugs have two round prongs. For charging electronics including camera batteries, cell phones, tablets, etc., my best buy was a Belkin Travel Mini Surge Protector. It’s rated for 110 or 220 volts. It has 3 outlets and a couple of USB outlets. Because it is 3-pronged, I needed a plug adapter that would accommodate the ground prong and fit a standard Easter Island wall outlet.
I also brought a USB charger that allowed us to theoretically charge two iPhones and two iPads at the same time. It acted weird when I had all four things plugged in but two or three at a time worked okay.
I have a black floral pareo that a friend got for me in Hawaii. Basically it’s a long, wide piece of fabric. It works as a pillow or blanket on the plane; a cover up; a shawl; or a turban. Find things like this that can do double-duty. There are many beautiful pareos available on the island that are imported from Tahiti. Of course I had to buy a new, light-colored one for about $30 US. It has many uses at home too. Mine slips into my purse when I go to the movies in case a theater or restaurant is freezing cold.
Don’t pay too much attention to weather forecasts. While we were there, the forecast said there was a 100% chance of rain every day. It rained once while we were out exploring but just for a few minutes and one other time during the night.
You are most likely flying LAN airlines. Check and recheck your flights all along the route as well as at home during a two-week period prior to leaving. They have a habit of canceling flights and changing times without notifying ticketed passengers, even though they require contact info when you book. We heard several angry horror stories.
Because I don’t like to wear shorts on flights, I brought a pair of pants specifically for the flight home. My clothes were disgustingly filthy after every day of exploring so I didn’t wear anything twice unless I was forced to. I had plenty of shorts but it would have been nice to have one more pair of pants to cover my sunburned legs.
Someone asked me how much money to budget. It’s so hard to answer that question for someone else because there are so many variables such as time on the ground, level of comfort, food preferences, etc. They wanted to know if they needed $2,000 per person. That might be in the ballpark, depending on what you pay for flights.
Summer is the most expensive season (December – March) and the week they have the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival – usually in February – is supposed to be the most crowded and most expensive of the year. I have not been there for Tapati so I don’t have first hand experience on how expensive it gets.
Excluding airfare, during shoulder season, I would figure $150 a night per room for an average hotel room.
From my research, this seems to be an average. Are there less expensive hotels? Yes. Camping might be an option. There was a campground across from the entrance to the Hanga Roa Eco Village. I didn’t have time to research those options while we were there. Maybe there are better hotel deals to be had if you wing it and find something last-minute.
On the other end of the spectrum, I would stay at the Hanga Roa Eco Village & Spa in heartbeat if I could afford it. It’s new, gorgeous and in town giving easy access to restaurants, shows and shopping. The Hanga Roa Eco Village & Spa will set you back around $600 a night.
The über expensive Explora was around $1500 a night when I checked. That price tag includes all tours and food but I heard from several people that neither is exceptional. A couple of fellow travelers went one evening (we were supposed to join the tour but our timing didn’t mesh) and they were impressed with the resort, the food and the entertainment the night they went. They were there touring as travel agents. They did not stay there and did not pay $1500 for that night.
From everything we heard, I can’t say that I would stay at the Explora unless they offered it for a deeply discounted rate. It’s about 5 miles (8 km) out of town. It seems like guests are a captive audience and sealed off from the local experience. If that’s your thing, the package includes all sightseeing and food.
Reserving and paying for a hotel room was interesting. I was told I needed to send a cash deposit equal to one night’s stay. My first thought was, “How the heck am I going to do that?” My second thought was, “I’m not sending cash to a foreign country.” As it turned out, they also took credit cards so I sent a letter of authorization for them to charge one day to my card. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. No charge came through on the card. For two and half months! My guess is that if we didn’t show up, our card would have been charged.
We spent $165 each on 3 tours plus $50 apiece for tickets to the quarry and Orongo. Taking tours made it easier to backtrack to sites when we had our own car instead of having to navigate dirt roads blindly. We saved $10 by buying our park tickets at the airport before we went through customs. My best advice is to have one person buy the tickets while the rest of your party waits in line for customs and immigration or else you will end up at the back of the line like we did.
Plan on spending about $100 a day for food for two. And that’s only because we skipped lunch most days and breakfast was included at our hotel. Meals, lunch or dinner were never less than $50 for two in town. Entrees with a soda at the empanada stands at Anakena Beach were under $10 each.
For less expensive food, it’s possible to buy fruit and other edibles at the markets in Hanga Roa. We had a refrigerator in our room but I’m not sure if we could have cooked anything in the hotel’s kitchen. Plus, after a long day of touring, we just wanted to go someplace and be waited on. To go all that way and not take advantage of the local flavor seems wrong.
But that’s just me. And if the only way to go is to camp and cook, do it. It’s a spectacular, magical island.
We paid $80 to rent a car for a day, plus we put in $20 for the half tank of gas that we burned in 24 hours. It was arranged through our hotel. I’m pretty sure it was just some local’s personal car. We never signed a contract, showed a driver’s license, proof of insurance or anything. It was all done on trust. We left the car unlocked at the airport with the key under the mat. They trusted us to fill it with gas before we left. I imagine rental agencies probably require paperwork but going through your hotel might be less official.
Keep in mind, that once you leave town, if you have car trouble, you could be stuck until someone comes by, so give the car a once-over before you leave Hanga Roa to make sure it’s going to make it back. And drive slowly on the dirt roads. I can’t imagine the hassle it would be if you got a flat tire, let alone break an axle.
If you fly through Santiago instead of Lima you’ll pay approximately $140 per person Chilean “reciprocity fee” for Americans. There’s no need to fly that far south when you can go through Lima and avoid the fee. But sometimes the best laid plans don’t pan out. I know of a woman who was booked on a flight from Miami to Lima then on to Easter Island but at the airport LAN re-routed her through Santiago requiring her to unexpectedly pay the reciprocity fee.
Knowing that things out of your control can happen, budget accordingly.
Finally, you must have money for a few souvenirs because you will never have the chance to buy this junk again! In that mindset, we spent about $300 on junk that we love!
You’ll need to allow a lot of time for driving the dirt roads. Especially if they haven’t been graded lately. They can be really slow to snake through as you can see in my videos. The roads are not well-marked so that was another advantage to going on a tour – getting the lay of the land before we struck out on our own.
Biking is an option but you really need to be fit to maneuver the roads. We saw a few hard bodies huffing and puffing their way up the rutted dirt road to Orongo.
Be prepared for stray dogs, horses and cows wandering the island. We were told that none of the animals are really strays. It’s an island so the owners just let them roam freely because they can’t really go too far on an island that’s roughly fourteen miles long by six miles wide.
The horses and cows are more of a concern for drivers. There were several times when we saw them walk in front of moving cars and buses. Best to keep the speeds down so you don’t get into any accidents.
We didn’t pet any of the dogs but never felt threatened by them. All that we encountered seemed well fed and non-aggressive. Just curious pups who love to bark most of the night.
When the dogs finally settle down, the roosters pick up the tune. Light sleepers should bring earplugs or save the ones from your LAN goodie bag. The crowing starts well before sunrise. Our hotel did not have air conditioning so we slept with the windows open. I don’t remember being anywhere that was air-conditioned meaning that the canine and cock-a-doodle-do cacophony could keep you awake.
One night we went to the Maori Tupuna show ($20 US each). It’s around the corner from the cemetery. I usually roll my eyes at these kinds of touristy things but surprisingly, the music was really good. The downside is that we didn’t understand the story or anything that was going on. But incredibly athletic, hot bodies with good music made it interesting.
Someone else went to a show closer to our hotel (I don’t remember the name) and they really enjoyed it. I originally planned to go to Te Ra’ai, the one that is supposed to be an interactive experience with an authentic dinner. For us, it didn’t work out. It gets great reviews. Unlike Maori Tupuna, it seems like Te Ra’ai does a better job of explaining what is going on but it’s five times the price, costing $100 US per person including dinner.
As for the church service, I asked out host, Edith if I needed a skirt and was told that shorts are just fine. It felt a bit disrespectful but the island is very casual. We never made it to a service so I can’t give any other advice.
One thing that you should know is that you are probably not going to come across many crowds. We were there at the tail end of their busy season and I think the largest “crowd” we saw anywhere was maybe 30 or 40 people. Even those crowds at Orongo and Rano Raraku were so spread out that it just wasn’t a factor. The tour buses we saw are not what you imagine – they are more like small shuttle buses that car rental agencies use at airports. I can’t imagine large buses being able to maneuver the giant ruts on the dirt roads.
Which brings me to my next note for your consideration. You come for the moai but don’t miss the caves. They are fascinating. We loved crawling down there. But if you are traveling on your own, I would try to time those so that there are other tourists around in case you get into trouble. Cave floors can be slippery and it wouldn’t be good to be there by yourself and break an ankle or smack your head on a low hanging stalactite. Our guides recommended that we not go into the caves after it rained because it would be really wet down there. The rock is very porous making it very slick.
We didn’t go in the water at all. No swimming, no diving, no boating. I don’t remember seeing anyone in the water while we were there. Even if we wanted to, we simply didn’t have time to even touch the water so I can’t guide you there at all.
Of all the sights we saw, I absolutely loved Rano Raraku, the quarry. Each moai had its own personality and its own story. Some are standing upright. Some are still attached to the mountain. There are the broken moai and the facedown moai. My favorite is the tilted guy with the quizzical look. But knowing that these heads have bodies below ground made them all the more enticing.
On the other side of the island I think the extinct volcano Rano Kau is magnificent. The greens, browns and greys juxtaposed against the blue Pacific Ocean with the wind blowing is an experience not to be missed. On the far edge are the spectacular petroglyphs. Just five people are allowed on the viewing stand at a time. Truly awesome in the original sense of the word.
But I was most fascinated with the nearly one thousand moai strewn around the island that have not been resurrected on their ahus. I just can’t get over the moai that are still face down. I can’t help but wonder what happened when the rival clans came to push over another clan’s moai. Surely this was not something that someone could sneak in and do quietly.
I arrived with a packed itinerary in my head, but the island works on its own time. At first I was a bit put off that I couldn’t follow my plan. As time went on, I found that I enjoyed letting go of my control-freakishness and was happy with whatever happened.
There were so many favorite things on Easter Island. It’s hard to choose just one. This is a truly amazing place not to be missed.