Easter Island, a territory of Chile as of 1888, sits isolated in the Pacific Ocean some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) west of South America and 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) from the nearest neighboring island. The island is also considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and much of the island’s land belongs to the Rapa Nui National Park.
The island boasts 900 silent stone figures or moai and remain a monument to the seafaring skills and unique culture of ancient Polynesian peoples. The stone blocks of head-and-torso figures, average 13 feet (4 meters) tall and weigh a whopping 14 tons! To this day, no one knows exactly why the Rapa Nui people undertook such a formidable task to erect and transport these structures. Most historians suspect that the moai were created to honor ancestors, chiefs, or other important personages. However, there is no written and little oral history on the island, so it is impossible to be certain.
The Demise of the Rapa Nui People
It is generally thought that the Rapa Nui’s demise resulted from an environmental catastrophe of their own making. Because of Easter Island’s small size of only 63 square miles (164 sq km) it quickly became overpopulated and its resources (including its trees) were rapidly depleted. When Europeans arrived in 1722, they found the island mostly barren and its inhabitants few. It was reported that the moai were knocked down and the island seemed to have been a recent war-site. History also points to other factors: constant warfare between tribes, a lack of supplies and resources, disease, invasive species like rats (which ate seeds and decimated the tree population) and the opening of the island to foreign slave trade – all eventually led to Easter Island’s collapse by the 1860s.
Why so Glum Stone Chums?
Easter Island has recently been in the news because many scientists and writers have used it as a metaphor for our planet. Easter Island’s native population is believed to have overused its natural resources and collapsed. Some scientists and writers claim that global climate change and resource exploitation may lead to Earth collapsing as did the population on Easter Island. These claims however, are highly disputed.
Today, many tourists visit the Rano Raraku quarry, the area which yielded the stones used for almost all of the island’s moai. The quarry remains in fascinating condition as it is home to some 400 statues all in different stages of completion. However, on other parts of the island, the moai are falling apart as volcanic stone is subject to weathering. Hence, major conservation efforts are needed to help preserve Rapa Nui’s historical legacy.
Planning Your Trip
Getting There: There are flights that service Rapa Nui from Santiago, Chile and Tahiti. It’s a little under 5 hours from Santiago and average tickets go for $600 RT.
Best Time to Visit: High season is from January to March. The lowest average July temperature on Easter Island is around 64°F (18°C) while its highest temperatures are in February and average about 82°F (28°C) – so the weather is actually really pleasant year-round.
Once You’re There: Cars, motorcycles, and mountain bikes are available for hire/rent and are great ways for visitors to explore the island’s scattered archaeological sites. While most people visit Rapa Nui to explore its cultural history, the island is also popular for other activities like horse-back riding, diving, surfing, and sun-bathing at Anakena beach.
Here are 5 other QUICK FACTS about this unique destination:
1. Incomplete: The largest stone statue on Easter Island is actually incomplete, left unfinished by the ancient islanders. If it had been complete, however, this shorter and squatter statue would have weighed around 270 tons!
2. Mixed up: As of 2009, Easter Island had a population of 4,781. The official languages of the island are Spanish and Rapa Nui, while the main ethnic groups are Rapanui, European and Amerindian. There are actually more horses than people on the island.
3. A Finn fine: In 2008 a Finnish tourist was caught chipping a piece of ear of one of the moai statues. Considering that the moai and their surroundings are protected as a World Heritage site, the tourist was fined $17,000 and ejected.
4. Removed: Before the moai were officially granted protection, many of them were removed from the island by collectors. Many of these now reside in museums worldwide, including the British Museum and the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.
5. Tapati Celebration: Ever since 1975 the residents of Easter Island have held the festival of Tapati to celebrate Rapa Nui culture. Held in February of each year, the festival includes many traditional activities including dancing, body painting and woodcarving.
We hope this post may have inspired an Easter Island bucket list addition. Happy Planning!