Getting around the island
Easter Island is not that large of a place relative to other land masses. It’s a hair over 15 miles long side to side, and 7 and a half miles wide vertically at its plumpest point. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I imagined in my head a fairly small plot of earth that was easily walkable. Once we were on the ground though, it felt quite a bit bigger than what I expected. In order to make the most of our time on the island, we decided to rent a car.
There are several rental car places on Easter Island, but the place most recommended by both our host and several written guides is Insular.
Insular Rent a Car is located right smack in the middle of Atamu Tekena (the main street of Hanga Roa – you can’t miss it). If you’re traveling in the shoulder season like we were or in the off-season, reservations are not necessary. Just walk up to the shop and ask for a car. If you’re visiting in high tourist season between the months of December and February, consider making a car reservation in advance.
A few things to know about renting a car here:
1) It’s expensive. An automatic transmission car will run you about 80 bucks a day. If you rent for several consecutive days in a row, they’ll give you a small discount. We rented for a total of 6 days and ended up paying $450. If you’re comfortable driving a manual, those are significantly cheaper since there are a lot more stick shift cars on the island. Supply and demand. They also have ATVs and bicycles for rent. Since I had no desire to seriously injure myself or my newly minted spouse, I opted to pay a little more for the auto transmission.
2) The cars are janky. So janky. You’ll get a car that looks more or less like this:
Take a bunch of pictures of the outside of the car before you leave the lot, just in case they try to charge you extra for damage when you turn the car in. Also, check the engine temperature, tires, headlights, locks, and windshield wipers. Our first car ended up having a engine that was prone to overheating so we had to exchange it on the second day for a different car.
Our second car had no seat belts and got a flat tire within a few hours, which they came out and changed for us (for a fee). The same car also had non-functioning headlights, which we didn’t figure out until it had already gotten dark, so we had to drive around at night with the high beams on, thoroughly pissing off all the other motorists on the road.
3) There is no car insurance on the island. None. And don’t expect your credit card “insurance” to cover any fees for damages either. Be extremely careful driving around. The speed limit in Hanga Roa is super slow, so adhere to it. Outside of the town, you would really need to be negligent to an unheard of degree to get into a wreck, so the overall risk is low compared to almost anywhere else.
4) The road in some areas is poorly maintained and riddled with potholes. If you mess the car up, you pay for it, so drive slowly until you become familiar with the road looping around the island. There are also wild horses, dogs, and cows that freely roam the island. Watch out for them.
5) Even though it’s expensive, you’re uninsured, and the car is falling apart, having your own wheels is totally worth it. It will make getting around so much easier. If you can afford to get one, then do it!
I mentioned earlier that the rental car places rent out bicycles in addition to motorized vehicles. Riding around on bikes was our initial plan, but once we got there and it sunk in how large and hilly the terrain was, we decided that a proper car was the best choice. If you get a bike, you’ll want to be in decent shape, as you’ll be going uphill on a respectable grade half the time on your way to see the various moai. Remember that along with the island scenery comes island weather. It can go from sunny to rainy very quickly, so be prepared to get wet if you’re on a bicycle or ATV.
Money and Supplies
Most places on Easter Island take credit cards. I got a bunch of Chilean Pesos on our day of arrival and struggled to spend it all since every restaurant and store we went to accepted cards. You really don’t need that much cash on the island.
If you do want to exchange some US dollars into Pesos, the most convenient place to do it is at the gas station. There’s only one gas station on the entire island, and it’s to the southwest of town on the way to the airport. The exchange rate is the exact same as the local banks. Just go inside the small building and tell the clerk you’d like some Chilean Pesos. I exchanged about $200 USD for the entire week and had to put forth a lot of effort to use up all the pesos before heading home.
There are a few ATMs available in town, but I never had to use one.
You will want to bring some cash from home to buy the national park ticket at the airport ($60 USD a head), and some B&Bs, including Cabañas Christophe, are cash only. But other than those few situations, a good travel credit card should suffice.
If you don’t want to eat at a restaurant for every meal, there are numerous small grocery stores in Hanga Roa. Since everything edible other than the seafood is flown in, food on the island is expensive, whether it’s prepared for you or bought at the store. The main grocery store is next door to Insular Rent a Car, and they have a variety of fresh fruits and veggies, canned goods, snacks, dairy products, soft drinks, water, beer, and liquor.
One item that was especially good was individual sized boxed soups by Wasil that you can eat straight out of the box.
On some of our daily outings, we would make sandwiches and take along a box of soup each to munch on for lunch while we were out and about exploring the island. The only places you can buy food are in Hanga Roa and Anakena beach. The selection at Anakena is limited, so if you plan on being out most of the day, consider loading up on food at the grocery store and having a picnic lunch to minimize driving back and forth between sights.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you. Eating at stuffy high-end restaurants is not my thing; when I’m traveling, fancy prepared food that could pass for artwork is not on the list of priorities. What I do like is fresh, well-prepared, simple meals that come in large enough portion sizes to be filling.
So you can better understand my food preferences and thus determine for yourself whether or not you should take my advice, I’ll tell you the complete opposite of my ideal restaurant experience: tapas restaurants.
Those places can suck it. Eight bucks for 2 tiny slices of plantain with some weird red sauce sprinkled on the plate in a zig zag pattern? What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Where’s the rest of the banana? I’d have to eat at least ten of those dishes to even start feeling full. Get out of here with that nonsense. Just thinking about tapas makes my head boil.
So now that you know more or less what I expect in a restaurant meal, here are a few places that I ate at that were totally worth it.
If you start in the middle of the main street in Hanga Roa (around Insular Rent a Car) and walk southwest up the hill for a minute or two, you’ll see this restaurant on your right side. We liked this place so much that we ate here three times during our week on the island. A photo of their menu is pictured below. They have a big variety of empanadas for sale, but the dish that got our attention was the menu of the day, which consisted of a delicious piece of fresh local fish, a mound of lightly seasoned rice, and a basket of fresh bread.
Though it’s not on the menu, if you ask for a salad, the owner will make one for you. Each time we ate there, the salad contents were a little different, but it was awesome every time.
The kind folks who work here don’t speak English, so you may need to get a little resourceful to describe what you want. We were able to get our food with minimal effort, so it’s all good. By our third visit, the lady didn’t even ask us what we wanted; she just started bringing the usual stuff out. 2 main dishes, plus a salad to split, plus 2 bottles of water ran us a little under 20 bucks a person. This is pretty standard for Easter Island; the food is pricey, so expect to pay around 20 to 30 bucks per person per meal.
Au Bout Du Monde
Tasty food and great service at a location overlooking the ocean. It’s advertised as a Belgian and Polynesian restaurant, whatever that odd combo means. I got a seafood pasta dish that was flavorful and filling. We were surprised at how empty this restaurant was considering the views and solid food; maybe we just went on an off day. You’ll pass this place walking north of town on the way to the cemetery.
* While researching this article, I did a google search of Neptune Island restaurant, and according to google maps, this establishment is no longer listed as being open for business. There are TripAdvisor reviews as recent as January 2017, and I cannot find any other sources suggesting that this place shut down, so I can’t say for sure if it’s still open.
Want great food in large portions? Want to eat said food in a little hut with a view of the big blue ocean? Then Neptune Island is where you want to go. The food is excellent, the atmosphere is beautiful, and the employees are friendly. If it’s not too slammed, chat with the owner for a bit if he’s around; he’s a charismatic, interesting guy with some entertaining stories.
Panaderia O Te Ahi
You can’t leave Easter Island without having at least one empanada. O Te Ahi makes the best ones on the island. The empanadas come in many varieties, and an average sized person will probably want to eat at least two of them for a meal. They’re around 5 US dollars a piece, making this one of the most economical food choices on the whole island. This restaurant is easily spotted on Atamu Tekena street a bit southwest of Insular Rent a Car.
So that’s it for food recommendations. In Part 3 of my Easter Island series, I’ll go over tips on what to pack for your trip. Have a great weekend all!