Easter Island

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Treeless Easter Island is best known for its 800+ stone-carved moai – inland-facing statues that are believed to represent ancestral chiefs; although all of these solemn figures were toppled during inter-tribal wars, many have been restored to their original positions atop ceremonial platforms called ahu. Ironically, the very bewitching stone figures that now make the island a hot travel destination also contributed to the ruin of its society in the 17th century (scientists believed the natives used all of the original 16 million palm trees to transport the massive busts, leading to deforestation, starvation, and civil strife). Petroglyphs, housing remains, and tools also reveal the history of this eccentric speck in the Pacific, contributing to its 30,000+ archaeological sites.

Things to do in Easter Island

Ahu Akivi

Unlike most of the moai, which face inland, these seven restored moai peer out west toward the ocean for reasons unknown. Their height – 14 feet – represents the average height of all of the statues on the island. After visiting the ahu, walk toward the sea and you’ll come upon the remains of a rock-protected garden. Continue toward the rocky cliff of the coastline to find a large cave once used for shelter during inter-tribal wars.

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Tags: things to do | outdoors | culture | history | archeology

Ahu Tepeu

Popular theory holds that when the islanders ran out of trees and food, civil war broke out. During the strife, warring tribes toppled one another’s moais as a show of domination. Ahu Tepeu houses two such fallen examples – the stone heads face-down and cracked in a way that is both eerie and sad. Its almost 10-foot high ahu platform is also considered to be one of the best constructed. Nearby lies the foundation of a boat-shaped house called hare paenga – the largest on the island, it is believed to have once housed a king.

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Tags: things to do | outdoors | culture | history | archeology

Ahu Tongariki

When most people think of Easter Island, they think of Ahu Tongariki. Fifteen majestic statues – the largest collection of restored moai – stand majestically on their collective ceremonial ahu platform on the southeast corner of the island. Pay your respects up close (the tallest, at 22 feet, is most commanding from below), but don’t miss them outlined against the backdrop of the ocean from atop the Rano Rakaru volcano.

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Tags: things to do | outdoors | culture | history

Church of the Holy Cross

The island’s only church is both a place of Catholic worship and a unique showcase of modern Rapa Nui art including murals and statues made of both stone and wood. Works like the Maria – a mother with infant wearing a bird crown – demonstrate the integration of local culture and Christian mores

Te Pito o Te Henua St.,
Tags: art | things to do | culture | architecture | history

Guided tours

Each moai platform contains its own unique story, but they can all appear deceptively similar if you don't have a guide. Sign up with the expertly run Haumaka Tours, an American-Rapa Nui venture that does an excellent job unlocking the secrets of the island's silent statues on private or group tours around the island.

Haumaka Tours, Correo de Isla de Pascua, 011-56-32-210-0274, www.haumakatours.com
Tags: smart splurge | things to do | outdoors | culture | history

Museo Antropológico Padre Sebastián Englert

In order to fully appreciate the history of this eccentric island (along with the intense curiosity it has piqued in researchers over the years), this museum is a must. Browse their collection of maps, tools (including some fashioned from human bone), and statue artifacts like a coral eye – proof that the statues once had “eyes” resting in their sockets. Next door, the Mulloy Library is full of historical, island-related tomes.

Tahai s/n, Hanga Roa, 011-56-32-2551020, www.museorapanui.cl
Tags: family | things to do | culture | history | museum

Orongo Village

Atop the Rano Kau volcano lies the Orongo village, famous for its boxy stone houses and birdman petroglyphs. Though the exact dates of the village's origins are hazy, it may have played a role in a post-conflict environment, after the moais had been desecrated. It was from here that competitors would set off to the nearby Motu Nui islet in search of the tern's egg - the first person to return with the egg intact would be crowned tangata manu (birdman). It's believed that the buildings themselves were occupied only once a year during the festivities.

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Tags: things to do | outdoors | culture | history | archeology

Playa Anakena and Ahu Nau Nau

Playa Anakena is one of the few places on the island that actually feels like Polynesia – soft white sand supports gently swaying coconut palms before a sheltered bay of sparkling turquoise water. Locals and visitors alike come to swim and picnic, but also to see the spot where the first islanders are believed to have landed back in 1200 A.D. (according to popular theory, they sailed from the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia). The oldest moais on the island have been resurrected atop Ahu Nau Nau, which is set just a few feet back from the beach (this is also where a now-infamous Finnish tourist was caught pocketing a moai earlobe).

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Tags: beach | family | things to do | outdoors | history | swimming

Rano Raraku

Hike up to the mouth of the extinct Rano Raraku volcano, where the moai were quarried. Over 400 statues stand in various states of completion in what is perhaps the wildest, strangest place on the island (some lay face-down in the grass, others are buried up to their waists, others stand erect, still rooted to rock beneath them). El Gigante, the tallest moai on the island at 71 feet, is also here. The views over the restored moai at Ahu Tongariki from the volcanic peak are breathtaking.

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Tags: things to do | outdoors | culture | history

Te Pito O Te Henua

A circular stone fence calls attention to the importance of this flawlessly round, magnetic rock that many locals still believe contains spiritual power (according to legend, the islanders’ first king, Hotu Matu’a, arrived with the stone). Its name – Te Pito O Te Henua – literally translates as “navel of the world,” perhaps indicating how the first settlers saw their land. Nearby are stone chicken coops, Ahu Raai’s exquisitely preserved birdman petroglyphs, and the 36-foot-long toppled remains of Te Pito Kura, the largest moai ever moved.

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Tags: things to do | outdoors | culture | history | archeology

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