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Our Guide to Rapa Nui

Indagare's Kial Church traveled to the far-flung island of Rapa Nui (or Easter Island) in January 2023. Here, she shares her guide to this storied destination.

Sitting 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile and home to roughly 6,000 people and 1,000 Moai statues, Easter Island owes its name to a Dutch captain who “discovered” it on Easter Sunday. But to the natives, the island is called Rapa Nui.

Only 63 square miles in size, Rapa Nui is just over half the size of Nantucket, and as a solo island that is not part of a greater archipelago, it is also considered one of the most (if not the most) remote, inhabited islands in the world. Rapa Nui has been even further isolated in recent years, as it was closed off to visitors at the start of the pandemic and only reopened in August of 2022.

Few places are more far-flung or off the beaten path than this, which makes the size, scale and mystery behind the large Moai statues scattered about the island so unbelievably extraordinary. Earlier this year, I was one of the privileged few able to visit this tiny speck in the middle of the Pacific for three full days of visiting the sites of the ancient Moai, taking in the Islanders’ culture and learning about the Rapa Nui’s shrouded past.

Experience Rapa Nui for yourself on our small-group Indagare Journey: Marvels of Easter Island taking place April 12 to 18. Click here to learn more and sign up or contact us at insiderjourneys@indagare.com.

In line with post-pandemic trends, we’ve seen an increase in travelers’ desire for bespoke, more remote and socially responsible travel destinations. Rapa Nui fits the bill, and its small size means you can really cover the whole island in a meaningful way with just four or five days. Tourism in Rapa Nui is only at about 30 percent of what it was before the pandemic, so top sites are virtually empty and travelers have the ability to enjoy a really immersive and connective experience with the local people. Rapa Nui’s Chilean influence combined with the island’s Polynesian roots and one-of-a-kind history gives it a local identity that is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.

Getting There

While Rapa Nui isn’t easy to reach by any means, it rewards those who make the trek tenfold with its authenticity. In the wake of its long closure and lower tourism rates, there are fewer flights each week from the mainland. Travelers used to be able to come on one of the 15 direct flights from Santiago in a given week, or the regularly scheduled flights from Tahiti.

Now, LATAM is running five flights per week between Santiago and Rapa Nui. This means that, to plan a trip here, travelers must carefully consider the logistics of getting there and back, and how Rapa Nui might fit into a greater Latin America itinerary. We expect more flights to be added to the schedule in the next year or so, but the volume will likely not return to what it was pre-pandemic for years.

Given the early wake-up to get to the Santiago airport and the length of the flight (about five hours), I highly recommend splurging for the Business Class lay-flat seats to make the journey more comfortable—it’s worth it, and the seats often sell for a reasonable price.

Where to Stay

I stayed at Nayara Hangaroa, the newest addition to the South and Central American Nayara family of hotels. Nayara is within walking distance to Rapa Nui town, which comprises of a few strips of casual bars, restaurants and a soccer field frequented by the locals.

Another option Indagare recommends is Explora Rapa Nui. This property has a more secluded location, about 15 minutes from town and is perched up on a hill with sweeping views of the eastern Pacific. Rooms here are simple and natural, yet lovely, with Chilean and Polynesian touches to give the hotel a nice sense of place.

Both properties offer rates that include all meals and activities—this is essential because your time will really be spent out and about exploring the island on half-day excursions and returning to property for lunches and dinners (and perhaps a spa treatment or two).

The Day-to-Day

Rapa Nui appeals to those who want to be active, and having a great guide is essential not only to navigating the island and its sites but to understanding its stories. The island is home to nearly a thousand Moai, and our guides taught us about the tools used and rocks they were sourced from, along with the folklore surrounding them (legend says they are the islanders’ ancestors watching over and protecting them and their homes). Still, no one really knows the “why” behind these impressive sculptures. It is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of human civilization, and getting the perspective of a local is key.

Our days on Rapa Nui were spent hiking, biking and enjoying the outdoors, but you can enjoy the island at any pace or activity level. That said, the three “can’t-miss” activities for any itinerary are as follows:

  1. A visit to Rano Raraku, the quarry that the Moai were carved out of centuries ago and a crucial component to understanding Rapa Nui’s history. (It is also home to a number of unfinished Moai.)

  2. Rano Kau, the island’s largest crater-lake which is home to ancient ruins dating back to the island’s original inhabitants.

  3. Seeing the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki, the site of 15 restored Moai backed by views of the Pacific Ocean. Yes, it’s worth the early morning wake-up call.

If you’re curious about snorkeling in the area, or scuba diving to see the sunken Moai, you’re not alone. However, while both activities are possible, I think the island is best taken in primarily by land. The surrounding waters are home to some unique coral, but there is no abundance of fish or other marine life as one might expect. As for the sunken Moai, they were purposefully placed there in the 90s for a movie (which was never finished), and a PADI certification is required to visit them. There are amazing opportunities for both snorkeling and scuba diving elsewhere in the world, but there are few other opportunities to lean into such a mysterious past and natural beauty the way you can on the island of Rapa Nui.

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