5 days in Rapa Nui, jewel of the Pacific

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Summary of the five days spent on Rapa Nui, an island full of history lost in the middle of the Pacific!

We are happy to leave Santiago and its hustle and bustle (see our previous article) behind us to fly 3,500 kilometres from the Chilean coast... Direction: Rapa Nui!

Better known as Easter Island (because it was discovered on Easter Sunday... original and relevant, we love it), this volcanic island measures only 160 square kilometres! If it is mostly known for the Moai, these stone giants as imposing as they are mysterious, Rapa Nui is a condensation of natural beauty, a paradise where one learns to live again at the rhythm of the elements.

We will spend 5 days out of time discovering every corner of it for our greatest happiness...

Some cultural information

If we summarise the history of the island...

In the 8th or 9th century, Polynesian explorers landed on the beach of Anakena where their king Hotu Matu'a decided to set up a village: the cradle of the Rapa Nui people. Other villages were subsequently built at different points on the island, where the volcanic stone was used to build the infrastructure necessary for a life turned towards nature (rough shelters for the night, chicken coops, agricultural infrastructure, etc.), followed by the famous Moai, the first of which appeared in the 13th century.

In the 18th century, a Dutch navigator landed on the island and gave it the name Easter Island. It was successively annexed by Spain, France and then Chile. In the 20th century, the island was leased to the United Kingdom by Chile to set up sheep farms, profoundly transforming its vegetation and confining its inhabitants, who were no longer authorised to move freely around the island.

At the end of the same century, UNESCO classified the island as a world heritage site and the tourist activity of the natural park was structured. For several years, this activity has been operated by the Rapa Nui community, which ensures the preservation of its natural, archaeological and cultural heritage.

What is a Moai?

The Moai are stone statues with a human appearance, varying in size depending on the period in which they were carved (from 4 to 12 metres approximately; the largest carved measures 21 metres and never left the quarry where it was born...). They represent the disappeared sages of the village, holders of Mana: both the ability to radiate positively and the power to connect with the spirits of the ancestors.

These statues were placed on Ahu, ceremonial stone platforms. Facing the villages, they watched over their inhabitants and served as a channel of communication with the ancestors and the god Make Make.

Practical information

How do we get there?

Rapa Nui remains relatively untouched by tourism in order to protect its cultural and natural heritage. The means to get there are therefore limited!

A daily flight operated by LATAM connects Santiago and Hanga Roa, the only city on the island, in about 5 hours. A weekly flight also arrives from Tahiti and leaves immediately... And that's it!

Since 2019, it is essential to fill in an online declaration before flying: remember to do so at least 48 hours in advance to avoid problems!

The nature park: how does it work?

The whole island is a natural park... You can buy your ticket at the airport to access all the sites (54,000 CLP per person, payable in cash only ; free for PRMs, but don't hesitate to point out your situation explicitly in order to assert your rights: once the ticket has been bought, no refund is possible!) Tickets can also be purchased at the tourist information office in the city centre.

Once you have bought your ticket, don't lose it! It will be stamped at the entrance of each site: no ticket, no entry!

Please note that in the interest of preservation, two sites can only be visited once (you will not be allowed to re-enter if your ticket has already been stamped):

  • Rano Raraku, the Moai quarry and its volcano,
  • The site of Orongo and its remains, on the volcano Rano Kau.
How long to stay?

Many visitors come and go for two to three days... It seems a bit short to us! Of course, you can visit all the sites in three days... But despite (or because of) the size of the island, the lights and colours change from one hour to the next! To fully enjoy the landscapes, it is therefore good to be able to come back to your favourite sites on different days at different times... And therefore to spend more time there!

For us, 5 to 7 days are ideal to explore all the sites, spend some time on the island's beach and take the opportunity to go for a horse ride for example... If you tend to have ants in your legs, opt for 5 instead: it only takes about 30 minutes to cross the island from North to South, you'll do it quickly!

The maximum stay on the island is 30 days for tourists.

Where to sleep?

There is no shortage of accommodation on Rapa Nui, from camping to comfortable hotels. As most of the island is protected, they are mainly concentrated around Hanga Roa. We choose to sleep at Hostal TojikaHostal Tojika, a hostel ideally located on the waterfront (west side for a great view of the sunset) and a stone's throw from the city.

Where to eat?

Here we rediscover the pleasures of eating fish and seafood... Guaranteed fresh!

In 5 days, we test different restaurants (the prices are globally equivalent to what we can find in Chile... So in France), here are the ones we preferred:

  • Anakena HopuThis is a great place to enjoy traditional dishes and fresh fruit juices under the shade of the palm trees,
  • Tataku Vave, for its grilled fish and lunch on the terrace, with its feet in the water,
  • Te Moai SunsetFor its excellent sunset cocktails...
Where to buy souvenirs?

A category we don't usually include in our articles... But the experience is sufficiently atypical to be noted, since we buy some souvenirs from the island... In prison!

The island's penitentiary centre (located in Hanga Roa at the corner of Manukena and Mataveri) advocates reintegration through work and offers prisoners the opportunity to produce and sell local handicrafts (jewellery, wooden or stone statuettes...). Handmade objects, much cheaper than those you can find in the shops in the city centre (open to the public every day from 9.30am to 1pm and from 3pm to 5.30pm)!

Why visit the island out of season?

As we said, a large part of the island's charm lies in the light and the colours, which change according to the time of year. Going to Rapa Nui at the beginning of spring (October - November) means being exposed to numerous showers... But only for a short time! Once the rain has passed, the light under the clouds and the omnipresent rainbows (we've never seen so many in such a short time) finish convincing us that the time is ideal... One more reason to spend a few days there: if the weather holds some bad surprises for you, the bad weather never lingers on the island for long: you're therefore pretty sure you'll be able to take advantage of it if you stay more than two days...

The period is also less crowded with tourists, so you will have the opportunity to walk around the sites more serenely than in the middle of summer!

We recommend

1. Take a day to visit the island with a guide
Rapa Nui's culture is fascinating, and the sites provide little (or no, depending on the location) information on the history of the island, its people and its architectural heritage. Visiting the island with a local guide is a real added value!

In one day (9.30am-5pm; CLP 50,000 per person), we learn about the history of the island and explore its main sites:

  • The Centro de Interpretacion, a Rapa Nui village reconstructed from its ruins, provides an insight into their society and infrastructure,
  • Ahu Akahanga, with its reclining Moai and grotto,
  • Rano Raraku, the quarry where the Moai were carved,
  • Ahu Tongariki and its 15 standing Moai,
  • Ahu Te Pito Kura, where you can see the largest Moai ever erected on an Ahu (now fallen) and the "magnetic stone".
  • Anakena Beach, a white sandy beach surrounded by palm trees, where the first Rapa Nui village was established.


This first visit also allows you to identify the sites you like best and where you would like to visit again and when according to their exposure...

The Tours by Locals website offers different routes.

2. Getting off to a good start at Ahu Tongariki

We have rarely seen anything as beautiful as a sunrise on these fifteen stone colossi... Breathtaking! The place is well known, so we advise you to arrive early to be well positioned... And not to leave too early! Even if the sky is cloudy, the bad weather can quickly pass and reserve you beautiful surprises (for us, an exceptional and unhoped-for light when most of the people present had already given up... And a double rainbow in the low-angled light, just like that)!

3. Watch the sun set over Ahu Ko Te Riku
Here again, the spot is well known to tourists. Sitting on the grass to enjoy Ahu Tahai or sipping a cocktail at the Te Moai Sunset, don't miss out on this incredible moment despite the crowds! Sunsets from the water's edge on the west side of the island (without necessarily having a Moai in sight) or from the Rano Kau volcano are also worth a detour...

4. Stroll along the shores of Rano Kau
This volcano at the island's south-western tip has a crater covered with a multitude of small lakes. It is accessed from a first viewpoint before reaching the site of Orongo, a ceremonial center whose restored ruins can be visited while enjoying a panoramic view of the island and its surroundings.

5. Discover the traditional songs and dances of Rapa Nui
We often have doubts about the authenticity of folklore shows... But we were finally convinced by the Kari Kari cultural ballet, which offers a moving and energetic show of traditional song and dance. Preceded by a 30-minute film recounting Rapa Nui culture, the dance shows take place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings (CLP 30,000 per person) and can be followed by dinner if you wish.

It is recommended to book in advance (even out of season) to be sure of a place: don't hesitate to ask your hotel to call them.

In a wheelchair

A volcanic island and a preserved natural site, Rapa Nui is generally not very accessible by wheelchair in the strict sense of the word... This does not prevent certain parts of the sites from being passable! However, we recommend that you have a third wheel and possibly cross-country tyres, as well as a little help on certain slopes...

Here are our findings by site:

  • Centro de Interpretacion (reconstructed village): the car park is hard-packed and the site is relatively flat, so it is quite easy to access and visit despite the grassy ground,
  • Ahu Akahanga (reclining moai and cave): hard earth parking but hillside site descending to the sea. The stone paths and the slope require a little help and the cave below is very difficult to access from close up (we gave up, the ground was too wet and the slope too steep: we could however observe it from afar),
  • Rano Raraku: the paths are well laid out to walk between the Moai (clay), the site is therefore very practicable but runs along the hillside... So there is a bit of a difference in level. The walk leading to the volcano is very steep: the stairs do not allow wheelchair access,
  • Ahu Tongariki (15 Moai): the entrance to the site has a path for wheelchair users. It is quite steep, but allows access to the Moai. The rest of the site is covered with grass but you can enjoy almost 100% of the site without any problem (except the path behind the Moai, which is full of rocks),
  • Ahu Te Pito Kura (magnetic stone): the site is not accessible through the traditional entrance, too narrow between two stone walls. With the specific permission of the guards at the entrance, you can possibly drive a little further, but apart from the magnificent scenery you won't see much: the reclining Moai and the magnetic stone are at the bottom of a rocky hill,
  • Ahu Ko Te Riku and Ahu Tahai (sunset): the site is accessible from the north entrance (at the foot of the Te Moai Sunset restaurant). Relatively flat, it is easily walkable despite the grass,
  • Anakena (beach): wooden ramps allow access to the two entrances of the beach (high and low) to have a view on Ahu Nau Nau and Ahu Ature Huki. The large grassy area around the Ahus is nevertheless passable despite the steep slopes around the beach. Accessible toilets are available at the upper entrance to the beach,
  • Rano Kau and Orongo (volcano and ceremonial site): access is by car to the first viewpoint (equipped with a ramp), then to the Orongo site. The ceremonial site is almost entirely accessible (including toilets) using a cross-country wheelchair provided free of charge at the entrance. A Guarda Parque is also available to accompany you (the slopes are steep). The tour stops at the foot of the stairs that lead back to the visitor centre (about 80% of the site is accessible), then you have to turn around,
  • Penitentiary Centre (souvenirs): not accessible (entrance closed by narrow turnstiles).
In our next article

We end our stay feeling refreshed, physically and mentally. We flew over the island one last time, for which we had a love affair that is difficult to describe, and watched it gradually disappear through the porthole, our throats slightly constricted. One thing is certain: we don't leave this trip completely unchanged! The calm that emanates from this island and its inhabitants and the raw beauty of the still (or once again) preserved nature exude a harmony that touches us.

We return to Santiago under curfew for the night before setting off again for our next destination: Patagonia!

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