Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua, is an idyllic island located in the Pacific Ocean, and one of the most remote islands in the world. The mystery of the moai, the tall stone sculptures of their ancestors, have captivated the attention of explorers and travelers for decades.
How to get there
The only way of getting to Easter Island is to travel from Santiago de Chile with LATAM (4.5-5hr flight). Depending on the season, they have one or two flights per day. The airport only has one runway, therefore there can only be one flight departing or arriving at one time and within a specific time frame since the island is so remote.
There is no availability on this route with miles, so expect an expensive ticket!
***TIPS*** to get a good deal on flights to Easter Island:
- Book at least 6 months ahead if you are going during a holiday season.
- Search on both the Chile and US (or your local) LATAM site. The fare is usually cheaper on the Chile site. However, so many people have reported this that I think they are fixing the geolocation. I was just looking for prices to give you a comparison and the Chile site only showed prices for the Flex category, while the US site showed all the different options. In the end, the US site was $100 cheaper.
- Search for flights from your origin city directly to Easter Island. Every once in a while there is a sale and you can get the Easter Island segment for free or a fraction of the price.
- Make sure to look at all the different fares. We booked a business class ticket for $170 less than the economy basic fare.
How to move around the island
There are five transportation options on the island:
- Car rental – the most popular option:
- Flexibility -Stop where you want and take as many pictures as you want.
- Easy driving – The roads on the island are mostly paved and flat, 2-lane roads.
- Easy navigation – Although there are not many signs, navigation with GPS and a map should not be hard.
- Parking is free at the sites and included with most accommodation.
- No tolls or tunnels.
- Few gas stations, but distances are short.
However, we did not choose to rent a car. Why?
From our research, we found out that most of the rentals are done privately and not through a rental company. No contracts are provided. And no insurance is offered. Although I could have called my credit cards and find out if their insurance would cover the rental, I decided that the risks of not having a contract would not be worth it. Accidents can happen (especially on an island with wild horses), so I decided to be practical. As with anything else, you need to do your research and decide what is best for you.
- Tours – there are many companies offering private and shared tours with almost identical itineraries. We decided this was the best option for our group, as we thought it was imperative to have a guide explain to us the history and significance of each site. Compared with renting a car, the tours were $45 USD more expensive per day per person for a group of 3. Have in mind that to make a fair comparison you need to include gas money and guide fee.
After emailing several companies, we decided to go with Mahakitour. Emails were promptly answered by Daniela, who also was our guide on our first day. The tour prices were very reasonable. Although we requested a shared tour, we ended up having a private tour all three days. Our guide, Julio, was always on time for our pickups and provided the historical background for each location. Mahakitour can also arrange active tours, such as caving, hiking and horseriding. We were happy to have them guide us on a cave tour, as they provided helmets and flashlights, much needed in these low-ceiling caves. Deposit was made via PayPal and the remainder was paid in cash (USD or CLP accepted) after the tours. No compensation was received for any tours or activities. All opinions expressed reflect our unbiased experience with the company.
- Taxi – there is limited taxi service, which mostly covers the Hanga Roa town center. Full day tours and sunrise tours can be arranged. Rides within the town are fixed at $2000 CLP and $3000 CLP at night. Be aware that during holidays waiting times can be up to an hour. You can call for service or go to the taxi dispatch, located on Atamu Ketena between Petero Atamu and Te Pito o Te Henua.
***TIP*** Most taxi drivers do not know street names or all the possible hostels. Learn some landmarks on your way home so you can help them navigate.
- Bike – We did not see many people on bicycles, but this is an available option. When we visited in late December, the high temperatures and humidity were almost unbearable (and we live in the Caribbean), so make sure to bring water and sun protection if you decide to ride.
- Hop on Hop off shuttle (HoHo) – The Ara Moai bus provides a HoHo service around the island. This might be a good option for a solo traveler. Just be aware that with any HoHo tour you may have to wait a long time at each stop to wait for the next bus. There is not much out there about this service, however, I found this great blog post with detailed information, so check it out if you think this is an option for you.
Where to stay
I found it incredibly hard to find good lodging at a budget price. Most accommodations in the island consist of a series of rooms adjacent to a house where the owners live. Not much service is provided and it might be difficult to locate someone to assist you in the middle of the day. Rooms are small and rustic, and not even the luxury hotels have air conditioning, though they may have fans. So keep your expectations in check. If you want a full-service hotel, be prepared to spend good money.
Things to look for:
- Payment method – cash or credit?
- Air conditioning – no hotel or hostel will have air conditioning, but find out if fans are provided
- Parking – do you need to reserve? Some hostels may not have a lot of space available.
- Airport pickup and drop off- offered by most (if not all) accommodations, send your details prior to arrival.
- Breakfast – food is expensive on the island and you will not find many places to have breakfast.
- Location – distance to Hanga Roa does not matter if you are renting a car, as driving distances will be short. If you are not renting a car, then the best option is to stay close to town so you can walk to restaurants or take a taxi.
Hostal Petero Amaru was our choice. We booked online, but final payment was made on site, and they accept credit cards. Parking is limited. Rooms were basic and on the small side. No fans were provided and the rooms were hot during the day. They have shared kitchen space and two full-size refrigerators. A basic breakfast is provided (eggs, bread, jams, juice and coffee). They also have some nice terrace space, with roosters roaming around. Hostel is uphill from town, about a 10-15 min walk. There is a convenience store next door where you can get water and snacks.
How long to stay
The minimum amount of time you need to see all major sites is 4 days. This takes into account that flights will arrive and depart midday. Your visits around the island can be roughly divided into two full days and two half-days. If you have more time, you can add activities like hiking and snorkeling and spend at least 2 days more relaxing in this island paradise.
For our list of things to do, and how you can arrange the site visits per day, see our travel guide:
Important things to know
- Admission to National Park – The National Park encompasses all the historical and protected natural sites on the island. An entrance fee of $54,000 CLP/$80 USD for foreigners is collected at the airport. You will see the ticket booth (boletería) once you cross the tarmac and as you enter the terminal.
You will need to show your ticket at every site, so make sure you keep it safe and bring it on all your outings.
- Cash availability – We read many accounts of ATMs not having cash, so we made sure to bring enough money from Santiago (from airport ATMs). We went past one of the ATMs twice and never saw a line. Make sure you can cover your hotel and car expenses if credit cards are not accepted.
- Credit cards – Restaurants and supermarkets accepted credit cards, but not the small convenience stores or souvenir shops. Taxis and street vendors are cash only.
- Wifi – There is free wifi in the plaza, close to the church (Atamu Tekena and Te Pito o Te Henua streets).
- Mobile signal – We had good signal with Sprint’s free international roaming.
- Healthcare – Rapa Nui has a small hospital with few physicians. Patients with emergencies that cannot be treated in the hospital will be sent to Santiago on the next available flight. Make sure to bring all your medications. Consider travel insurance if you have any medical problems.
- Sunrise and sunset tours – It is recommended you visit Ahu Tongariki for sunrise and Ahu Tahai for sunset. This is where having your own car is convenient, as the tours were too expensive for a short visit. Do note that you can walk to Ahu Tahai from town.
- Departure – your hostel will know how early you need to be at the airport. Note that there is no check-in online and you will have to spend some time waiting at the check-in counter. There is a small cafe at the airport and a good souvenir shop. No lounges, even for business class passengers.
- Food – we did not find restaurants to be horribly expensive. See our food guide (coming soon) for more information on the restaurants we visited.
Where to Eat in Easter Island
- Holidays – Note that many restaurants, shops and the museum close on major holidays. Read our post on visiting Easter Island for New Year’s (coming soon).
Celebrating New Year’s in Easter Island: What You Need to Know
Have you been to Easter Island? What do you think about the different theories of the origin of their ancestors?