The mystery of Easter Island

The mystery of Easter Island has intrigued travelers and scientists for many years. Where did the islands inhabitants come from? How did they made and transport those giant statues and what caused them to overthrow all they had erected with so much effort? We go to one of earth’s most remote places to look for an answer.

easter island
Easter Island from the air

Easter Island history

Easter Island (or Rapa Nui) is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. Officially a territory of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, more then 2.100 miles (3400km) away from the mainland. Although it is not agreed when people first arrived on Easter Island (most sources speak of 1200 AD), consensus seems to be that the first peoples arrived from Polynesia. Scientists found out that Easter Island was colonized deliberately by large boats with many settlers, which is a remarkable feat, given the enormous distance of Easter Island from any other land in the Pacific.

The first islanders found a paradise. The island was covered with trees to provide the natives with cloth, rope, and canoes. Lots of birds living in this tropical forest provided food for them. A mild climate favored an easy life, and the waters around Rapa Nui were plenty of fish and sea fruits.

The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the fabrication of giant moai, or heads, that are the island's most distinctive feature. These Easter Island statues are depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing over each small village. It has been suggested that the isolation from all other peoples fueled this outlet of creativity lacking any other significant way for the inhabitants to direct their skills and resources.

easter island statues
Easter Island statues (Photo by enjoyourholiday.com)

However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island's environment. Deforestation of the island's trees gradually increased, and as this main resource was depleted, the islanders would find it hard to continue making spears, canoes, and all the necessities to stay alive. Confidence in the old religion was lost, and is reflected partly in the ruins of moai which were deliberately toppled by human hands. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, leaving only a few hundred native Rapa Nui left by the last century.

The first-recorded European contact with the island was on April 5 (Easter Sunday), 1722, when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen visited the island. He gave it the name Paaseiland (Easter Island in Dutch). Today, Easter Island is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its residents rely much on the tourism and economic links to Chile.

Things to see

The biggest tourist attractions on Easter Island are, of course, the Moai. All of the sites can be visited for free and are mostly found along the coastline of the island. Each village typically had an ahu (a stone tablet on which the statues were placed) and several Moai.

Moai on ahu
Moai on ahu (Photo by enjoyourholiday.com)

Two other sites you have to see are the volcanic craters of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku. The quarry at "Rano Raraku" is where the moai were created, out of the hillside of the volcanic rock. This 300 foot volcano provided the stones for the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as scattered partially-finished figures. A climb to the left side of the crater, over the top, and into the bowl, is well worth it. Hiking to the opposite lip of the crater, where the most moai are found, is one of the most dramatic sites on the island.

Rano Kau
Slopes of Rano Raraku (Photo by Rivi)

Similarly, Rano Kau is the remains of a volcanic cinder cone, which like Rano Raraku, is filled with fresh rainwater and has a mottled unearthly appearance that is breathtaking. The entry fee is 60 US dollars total for the two sites. Make sure you keep your ticket.

Rano Kau
Rano Kau (Photo by enjoyourholiday.com)

An often overlooked but fascinating aspect of Easter Island is its extensive cave system. While there are a couple of "official" caves that are quite interesting, there is also real adventure to be had in exploring all of the numerous unofficial caves on the island, most of which are found near Ana Kakenga. While the openings to most of these caves are small (some barely large enough to crawl through) and hidden, many of them open up into large, deep and extensive cave systems. Be careful! These caves can be dangerous and can run extremely deep. A person left without a torch/flashlight will be immersed in utter blackness with little hope of finding their way out soon... if ever. The caves are also extremely damp and slippery.

Getting there

Due to its remote location, the island is hard to reach, with a minimum of more than 5.5 hours in the air from the nearest continent, and very limited options to get there. The only regular flights are via LAN Airlines. They fly weekly to Tahiti and daily to Santiago de Chile. With no competition for fares on this route, fares range between US$300-US$1200 round trip from Santiago.

Easter island map
Easter Island map(Show bigger map)

tags: 
destination, south america, chile