Sightseeing in Santiago, Chile

Rapa Nui (Easter Island), "The Navel of the World"

 
A row of stone statues known as Moai, Easter Island
Moai in Easter Island, image: kiakoetour.cl

UPDATE:  In early October 2022, a forest fire covering more than 100 hectares broke out in the crater of the Rano Raraku volcano.  This archaeological site was the quarry where the monolithic statues known as Moai were built. 

As a result of the fire, several of the iconic statues suffered irreparable damage, and although the number of Moai affected is smaller compared to their total number, the authorities have declared that the incident is an unprecedented tragedy for the material and natural heritage of the Polynesian island.

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  Easter Island, Rapa Nui in native language, or Isla de Pascua in Spanish, is a World Heritage Site and Special Territory of Chile, part of the Valparaiso Region. Its area is 163.6 Km2., and constitutes the easternmost island of Polynesia, Oceania. Located 2,191 miles away from the nearest point in South America, its population reaches a little over 5,000, mainly concentrated in Hanga Roa, the capital. The toponym "Easter Island" was born in 1722 on account of the Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen, who arrived there on the eve of Easter and decided to call it that way to commemorate the date.

Administratively, the island depends on Valparaiso, Fifth Region of the country. Its geographical location, so far away from other inhabited islands, makes it one of the most isolated places on earth, not for nothing its ancient inhabitants called it Te pito o te henua (The Navel of the World). The volcanic origin of the island, made it an ideal quarry so that the primitive inhabitants built the almost 900 stone statues world-wide known as Moai, and the altars called Ahu.

As one of the most important tourist destinations in the country, there are cruise tours, charter and regular flights to Easter Island, but the most usual way travelers come here is through regular flights with the Chilean company LATAM Airlines from Santiago arriving at Mataveri Airport in Hanga Roa. Although so far the island does not have a commercial port protected from the climatic conditions, by far tourism in Easter Island is the most important activity, reason why the rest of the infrastructure to provide tourist services is of quality, from tourim agencies and restaurants even to Five- Star Hotels. The official languages are Spanish and Rapanui, the currency is the Chilean Peso.

  

Formation of the island: Easter Island was formed as a result of several volcanic eruptions. Rano Kau is the largest crater, one of the most beautiful and impressive natural scenery of the Polynesian island. It is a dormant volcano located in the southwest of Rapa Nui about five kilometers from the capital Hanga Roa. Another of the important volcanoes is Rano Raraku, formed more than 300 thousand years ago. The rock formed by the surrounding lava mountain served as raw material to build the Moai, key pieces in the development of the Rapa Nui culture. Maunga Terevaka Volcano, the highest point of the island at 511 meters. The best place to appreciate the surrounding landscape in all its magnitude, it is advisable to choose a sunny day. Poike Volcano, the oldest of Rapa Nui, since according to estimates it would have emerged from the seabed after two eruptions, the first one occurred about three million years ago and the second one about nine hundred thousand years ago. Puna Pau is a small extinct volcano on Easter Island, approximately 7 kilometers from the town of Hanga Roa. It is interesting to know that the Pukao, a kind of hat made of reddish stone located on the head of the Moai are made with red slag extracted from the Puna Pau volcano.

  
The following is a list with the best tourist places in Easter Island:

Parque Nacional Rapa Nui (Rapa Nui National Park)

Easter Island (Rapa Nui in native language)
 R
un by CONAF (National Forest Corporation), the National Park has its origins in 1935 but its current status dates back to June 1966. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, currently this park has an area of 7,150 Hectares, which means 43.5% of the island. 

The activities mainly include guided cultural tours, horseback riding, trekking, scuba diving, sea kayaking and surfing, recreational fishing, wildlife observation, photography. The park has food and crafts sale, picnic areas, trails, lookout, horse rental. Like any other National Park there are some basic rules to respect and worth take into account, otherwise the fines can be quite expensive: Camping is not allowed, do not touch, sratch or scribble on any archaeological remain, do not circulate out of the established paths, no standing on Moai platforms (Ahu).  Tickets can be purchased at Mataveri Airport upon flights arrival or at CONAF in Orongo and Rano Raraku Stations.

Rano Kau Volcano

Rano Kau volcano, Easter Island, Chile
Rano Kau Volcano - Image: isladepascua.travel
   
When it comes to breathtaking views, this is number one on the island and one of the best in the world. It is located in the extreme south west of Easter Island, along with the Maunga Terevaka and Poike (Paukatike) are the 3 main volcanoes (of over 70) whose eruptions millions of years ago gave rise to the island and its triangular shape. 

The inner depression has a diameter of 1.5 km. long with a small lake inside that is one of the three freshwater sources of Rapa Nui. Near the top of the volcano, on its western end, is located the village of Orongo, reconstructed remains of a 53 houses village made of flagstone that had great importance for the cult of the Make-Make god, creator of Humanity and the Tangata Manu (Bird Man) competition. 

Orongo was inhabited by priests and only during the ceremonial season. The ritual consisted of the best representative of each tribe competed to obtain the first egg of the migratory bird called Manutara that nested on the Motu Nui islet. Each participant had to swim to the islet, find an egg, swim back and climb the cliffs with the egg intact and once at Orongo, give it to the King. The winner of the race and his family enjoyed a great power, which lasted a whole year. The last competition of the Tangata Manu was held in 1866.

Rano Raraku Volcanic Crater and the Moai 

One of the must-see places in Easter Island. This is not only a volcano crater with a lagoon inside, but it has an immense geological and historical value since it was the quarry where the Moai were carved, being the place on the island where the largest number of statues is concentrated, with hundreds of moai at different stages of manufacturing. It is believed that the statues that had been built for about 1,000 years, may have been destroyed by the own islanders having lost faith in their power, or product of tribal wars for the exploitation of resources, another theory says that a tsunami may have devastated the island since some of the moai have been found on the seabed. Of the old Rapa Nui culture little or nothing is known with certainty, because in the second half of the nineteenth century Peruvian traffickers practically decimated the race.



Playa Anakena (Anakena Beach)

Though not of great extent, it is the main beach in Easter Island, certainly one of the most beautiful places to relax, located 18 Km. from Hanga Roa, following the road that crosses the island. Unlike the coast of central Chile, the waters are much warmer, marine life can be seen through the crystal clear waters, the sand is white, with palm trees and moai near, besides it is a beach visited by few people, which makes it very quiet. There are places to eat and buy crafts. From the beach of Anakena can be observed the row of seven moai known as Nau Nau, whose altar (Ahu), is still in good state of preservation.

Watersports and Underwater Tourism in Easter Island

Fake submerged Moai

   Because of its clear, unpolluted waters, with temperatures averaging 22 °C in Summer and deep-water visibility up to 50 meters, Easter Island is an ideal place for the practice of diving, snorkeling, surfing and other sea-related recreational activities. 
 
Beginners in water sports can take a course which can also provide with appropriate equipment and the constant accompaniment of a specialized instructor. To dive in shallow waters, no license is required. The island has many diving sites for all divers. The spots range from 10 meters deep, for beginners, up to 40 meters for those with deep diving specialty. 
 
Due to its volcanic origin, the island has an unique underwater topography, composed of lava caves and arches, cliffs, etc., along with corals and rich marine life. Among the most renowned diving spots in Easter Island are the fake "Submerged Moai", which was placed there in modern times; the 3 small islets called "Motus" in Rapa Nui language, located south of the island; "The Cathedral", caves originated by the volcanic formation of the island; "Vai to Heva", in Hanga Roa Bay, an ideal place for submarine "baptisms", here is a reef with a variety of fish and sea turtles that accompany novice divers on their dives; "The Cliff", diving spot located about 25 minutes North by boat, where there is a cliff that begins on a platform ranging from 12 meters to 33 meters at its deepest part.

The Navel of the World Stone   

Te pito o te henua in Rapa Nui language, located 26 km. North of Hanga Roa, the capital of the island. It is a large round stone representing the navel of the world, the same name with which the natives call their island. The main stone is surrounded by another four smaller indicating the four cardinal directions. It is believed that the origin of Te Pito O Te Henua stone is from a meteorite and that was brought by King Hotu Matua from the former island of Hiva. The tradition is to put the hands on it to be charged with positive energy and is even said to increase fertility. Because of its high iron content, it heats up more than an ordinary stone and causes compasses to behave strangely.

Maunga Terevaka Volcano

It is an extinct volcano located in the northern vertex of Easter Island, with its 511 mts. high is the highest point, to get to the top the stretch must be made on foot or horseback. Although in terms of landscape this is not the most attractive place, once there the surrounding view is stunning as it offers a panoramic of almost the entire island; you should bring at least a bottle of water because the climb is tiring. It is a recommendable to check the weather forecast because in case of rain or overcast day, it is better not to make the effort.

 

Ahu Tongariki

It is the largest Ahu (Moai Altar), located on the southeast coast, close to the Rano Raraku Volcano, consisting of 15 statues of imposing size, perfectly aligned and with different styles and features because they allegedly represented the forefathers. It constitutes one of the most representative views of the island. Despite the large tonnage of the pieces, this Ahu was devastated by the 1960 earthquake of Valdivia, 9.5 Richter scale and the tsunami that hit the coast of the South Pacific. However, at the beginning of the decade of the 90's, there was a restoration work that was carried out with great precision and with the support of the Government of Japan. 

It is advisable to perform the visit with a guide to learn in detail the history of the place and understand the ancient rituals, mythological stories and great tribal battles that took place here. Very near, at the end of the esplanade, is located Papa Tataku Poki, where you can see petroglyphs with typical figures such as the Tangata Manu (Bird Man), Ika (Fish) and Honu (Turtle).


Museo Antropologico Padre Sebastian Englert

Museum of Easter Island.
Image: registromuseoschile.cl

  Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum of Easter Island, founded in 1973 and located in Hanga Roa, the island's capital. The aim of the gallery is to collect, preserve and research the patrimonial heritage of Easter Island and its original ethnic group, the Rapa Nui people, owner of an enigmatic culture. It is named after the priest Sebastian Englert, a German Capuchin who came to the island in 1935 and dedicated 34 years of his life to the study and dissemination of the language, traditions and archaeological heritage of this mysterious people. There are panels with detailed information showing the history of Easter Island from its geological formation. The museum also houses the William Mulloy Library, so named in honor of a prestigious American archeologist, specialized in issues of Easter Island and Polynesia.

Update: Chile's Ministry of Culture began in February 2022, after 152 years, the return of the emblematic 715-kilogram moai Tau, the oldest of these monolithic statues, from the Chilean capital to Easter Island. In 1870 it had been transported to Santiago to be exhibited as a permanent piece in the National Museum of Natural History. The move was not without difficulties since the sculpture had to be removed from an area of the Museum badly damaged by the strong earthquake of 2010, in addition to the delay caused by the COVID pandemic. Its definitive home will be the Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum in Hanga Roa.  

Marine Protected Areas around Easter Island 

The Chilean Government has created two new Marine Protected Areas, one of them very extensive in Easter Island, amidst the South Pacific, announced President Michelle Bachelet, opening the 2015 "Our Ocean" Conference in the Valparaiso Region. The goal of the second version of this meeting is to reach solutions to deal with illegal fishing, marine plastic pollution, ocean acidification and its relationship with climate change. The waters around this part of the Ocean are considered a real oasis of nutrients in an area of the Pacific where the water is very poor in food. 

The new protected area around Easter Island, along with the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park (Salas y Gomez Islands) will complete a total of 720,000 square kilometers. The creation of the new marine parks also includes the islands of San Ambrosio and San Felix, closer to the South American Continent, totaling one million square kilometers, one of the largest areas in the world, a 25% larger than the total area of the country in its South American portion.
 

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