Of all the places in the world I’ve been to, Easter Island is arguably the most memorable. I went with Mrs. Lite Adventurer in October of 2016 and spent a full week there for our honeymoon. Yeah I know; it’s a bit of an odd destination for a honeymoon, but we both wanted to see the Moai (the big stone heads), and due to the remoteness of the island and the length of time it takes to actually get there, we wanted to visit the place 1) while we were still relatively young, and 2) before it got too commercialized.
If Easter Island (also known locally as Rapa Nui) is on your bucket list, I highly recommend that you go. And go sometime soon. It’s awesome. Part of what makes it awesome, other than the vast amount of interesting archaeology and sheer isolation of the island, is that it’s one of the least Americanized places I’ve ever visited.
No McDonalds. No Starbucks. No Walmart. No KFC or Taco Bell. Hell, a lot of the restaurant owners don’t speak English. It’s so rare nowadays to see any country (that’s safe to visit) that hasn’t been bombarded by American culture.
It won’t always be this way.
With the internet making travel to exotic destinations much more easily accessible to the masses, the world is getting smaller and smaller. So if you have the opportunity, see this amazing place before it changes for the the worse.
The purpose of this guide
I read a bunch of blogs, got several guide books, and did a lot of general reading on Easter Island before making the trip over there. There are a few practical topics missing from these writings that I wish I had known before going, so this series of articles – starting with this one – is an attempt to fill in some of the gaps in the well-known resources that are already floating out there.
How to get to Easter Island
Make sure your passport isn’t expired or expiring soon. Visitors from the United States do not need a visa.
More than likely, you’ll be connecting through Santiago, Chile. From there, it’s about a five hour flight on Latin American Airlines to Easter Island. Though you’re flying several hours straight into the ocean, the time zone in Easter Island is exactly the same as it is on mainland Chile. This is great because the sun rises relatively later in the morning and sets late at night. Perfect for sleeping in but still having lots of daylight to spend sightseeing.
*A word about flights. This is one of those cases where buying plane tickets early will usually net you the best deal. I purchased our flights about 11 months ahead of time and continued tracking prices up until about a month before the flight. Prices during that entire time never dropped below our purchase price. I would recommend buying early as soon as your travel dates are set in stone. And periodically check your reservations on the airline’s website. Latin American Airlines is notorious for changing your flight and not telling you, and this happened to us. Had I not been compulsively checking my flight status once a month, I would have never known that they moved us to a different return flight, turning a reasonable layover into a full day affair. I called them and changed it to something more palatable without any significant hiccups, but only because I caught it early. Keep an eye on your stuff, because chances are they won’t notify you if anything changes.
When choosing your flights, make sure you leave plenty of layover time in Santiago to make it through customs & immigration. Since Easter Island is part of Chile, you have to go through that entire unpleasant, time consuming process as soon as you land on the mainland. It took us about an hour to get through the line, and we made our connecting flight with less than 10 minutes to spare. Had we checked a bag, we would have missed our flight; fortunately, all we had were carry-ons (see: why pack ultra light?).
I would plan on having, at a minimum, three hours of layover time in Santiago for a stress-free journey. If this can’t be done, I recommend flying into Santiago a day earlier and staying the night before continuing on to Easter Island. The problem with Easter Island flights is that there’s usually only one flight in a given day, and some days there are zero. For our own trip, we only had an hour and a half layover, and had we missed our flight, the next one didn’t leave until 2 days later. So not awesome. Since this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most people, it’s better to play it safe than to have a botched layover completely upend your plans. We got incredibly lucky, and if we go again in the future, I will not be going through that stress a second time.
The airport code for Mataveri International Airport in Easter Island is IPC. IPC = Isla de Pascua. When you’re in Chile looking for your connecting flight, look for Isla de Pascua on the monitors to make sure you end up in the correct place.
When you finally land in Easter Island, take your selfies with the Welcome sign and head inside. On your way in, you’ll see a small stand to your left that sells National Park Entrance Tickets. They’re $60 USD as of this writing and they look like this:
You’ll need this ticket to get into Rano Raraku and Orongo: two amazing archaeological sites that you absolutely want to see during your stay. So go ahead and buy it while you’re walking by this conveniently located stand. The ticket is only good for 5 days, so make sure you visit both sites within that time frame. No ticket is needed for all the other sites on the island.
Where to stay
You have two broad categories of places to stay in Easter Island: super expensive and reasonable. We elected to stay at a reasonable place.
Since this trip was planned over a year in advance, I had a crap ton of time to research our lodging options.
There’s one place that has near universally excellent reviews on all the major travel review sites, and I can also personally attest to it as well: Cabañas Christophe.
There are loads of reviews on TripAdvisor and Booking.com. If you have any doubt about staying at Cabañas Christophe after reading the next few paragraphs, go read some of those reviews and you’ll hear pretty much the same as what I’m about to tell you.
Cabañas Christophe is not really a hotel; think of it more like a bed and breakfast (hereafter referred to as B&B). There are three main room types: cabins, regular rooms, and a superior room. We stayed in the superior room for the full week we were on the island. It’s not that much more expensive than the other rooms and totally worth the extra bit of cash. If it’s available, I’d highly, highly recommend reserving the superior room. It sits on the second floor of the main building, and you have an incredible unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean.
There are two main reasons to stay at Cabañas Christophe: the location and the host.
The lodging is a little over a mile from the main street of Hanga Roa (the one and only town in Easter Island). The trek to town is walkable, but you’ll probably still want a car or at least a bicycle during your stay. It’s far enough away from the town that there is absolutely no noise at night, but it’s close enough to be convenient. It’s also situated a stone’s throw away from the trailhead up to Rano Kau and Orongo, which you’ll definitely want to hike to at some point during your stay. There’s easy, straightforward access to the main road that loops around the entire island.
The host – logically his name is Christophe – is the best B&B host I’ve ever had the privilege of guesting. He’s friendly, down to earth, super helpful, and full of useful information. When your plane lands, he’ll be waiting at the airport to greet your arrival. After loading up your luggage, he takes you on a brief driving tour around Hanga Roa to show you the major landmarks before heading to the B&B. A nice hospitable touch. If you have any questions about tours, shows, places to eat, or anything at all that pertains to the island, Christophe has the answer, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Our bed was firm and comfortable. There’s no air conditioning, but we never felt it was needed. The bathroom was basic with a solid shower and plenty of hot water. The superior room is large enough to sleep four people, but since there were only the two of us, it felt plenty spacious. It would feel a bit cramped with four inhabitants.
Breakfast is brought to your room daily around 9 AM. It consists of several pieces of freshly baked bread, a variety of cold cuts, and cheese. The mini-fridge in the room is stocked daily with milk, juice, and jam for the bread. Instant coffee and tea are also provided along with an electric kettle. We ate breakfast daily out on the balcony overlooking the ocean. Awesome stuff.
Christophe also has several copies of a book that is the definitive guidebook of Easter Island. The book is A Companion To Easter Island by James Peterkin. I brought my own copy from home, but if you need one, he’ll be happy to loan it to you.
If you’re able to drive a stick shift, he can also rent you a manual transmission car at a much lower rate than what you can get in town. If that’s something that interests you, be sure to email him ahead of time. I can’t drive a stick, so I can’t comment on the quality of the loaner car.
Neither of us speaks Spanish, but it didn’t matter; Christophe’s English is quite good, so no translation worries for us Anglophones. If you speak Spanish or French, even better, as he is fluent in both.
Lite Adventurer’s Rating: ***** (five out of five stars). I can’t give a higher recommendation. Our stay at Cabañas Christophe was awesome. If I go back to the island in the future, I would not hesitate to stay here again.
So that’s where we actually stayed. Earlier, I mentioned that there are two general categories of lodging on the island: reasonable and super expensive. There are several small hotels and B&Bs in and around Hanga Roa that are well reviewed on Trip Advisor. If Cabañas Christophe is all booked up, these other places seem perfectly fine as well, though I cannot personally vouch for them.
Want to know about the small number of super expensive hotels? There are two of them as of this writing. The really ridiculously priced one that will run you over a thousand dollars per night is located on a small hill out in the middle of nowhere not close to anything. We drove by it a few times while we were exploring the island and at first didn’t believe that this was the hotel that was priced so high. It’s far from Hanga Roa, it’s far from the moai, and there’s not really anything around that area that makes it a particularly desirable location. It is advertised as an all inclusive spa, so if your idea of a vacation is to get pampered while hanging out on the hotel grounds letting your leg muscles atrophy from inactivity, then go ahead and give this place a try. Even if I was massively wealthy and bleeding gold out of my ears, I’d still stay somewhere else simply due to its odd and inconvenient location.
The other slightly less ridiculously priced one is better located, just on the outskirts of Hanga Roa. But after seeing it and reading about it, it was also a no go. Google it for the full story, but the short version is that there’s an ongoing property dispute between the locals and the Chilean government who allegedly cheated a local Rapa Nui inhabitant out of the land and then improperly sold it to the current hotel owner. Every day that we drove by this hotel, there were protestors sitting out front with huge signs. Even ignoring the controversy, I’m really not a fan of establishments that use hippie nonsense as an excuse to pad their profits by excluding routine hospitality services.
I haven’t mentioned either of the above two hotels by name because I don’t wish to give them any publicity, good or bad. And there are better places to stay on Easter Island at a fraction of the price.
In part 2 of my Easter Island series, I’ll discuss general tips on getting around the island. Cheers!