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Old Jan 10, 11, 2:08 pm   #1
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Easter Island -- my experience

I'm back from a 5-day family vacation on Easter Island. I had a hard time finding good practical information about visiting the island before I left, so I thought I would summarize my experience so that others might be better informed.

First, the two most obvious preliminary questions: should I go at all and, if so, how long should I stay?

As to whether it's worth a visit, the biggest determinant is probably price. Easter Island is very far from anywhere, has only one air carrier (LAN), and isn't exactly a tropical paradise. Captain Cook, one of the first outsiders to visit, said this about Easter Island in the 18th century, and it's still largely true today: "Nature has been exceedingly sparing in her favors to this spot. Nothing but necessity will induce anyone to touch at this isle, unless it can be done without going much out of the way."

The only thing Cook failed to realize was that later generations would become fascinated by the large stone statues (moai) left on Easter Island by an earlier civilization. Aside from some fairly modest petroglyphs, the opportunity to see these famous moai (the big stone heads) is really the only reason to take the trouble to get to Easter Island.

So how good is seeing the moai? Everyone, of course, will have a different opinion. As a somewhat jaded world traveler, my opinion is that they are very interesting. Not the most interesting ancient "wonder of the world" that I've ever seen (places like Machu Picchu, Rome, Ephesus and Borobudur are all objectively "more interesting"), but certainly intriguing.

And there are a lot of moai: in a short visit, you can easily see hundreds. Many of them have been restored to an upright position (the locals had knocked them all down before modern times), so it's easy to appreciate their grandeur. Of course, some might argue that once you've seen one, you've seen them all. I kind of disagree with this statement, but there is a kernel of truth in it.

Other than the moai, Cook's assessment of Easter Island is mostly still true. It's a barren island, isolated from everywhere, and not even rich in sea life. The weather is OK, warm in summer (80 F) and cooler in winter (70 F), but not exactly pleasant. In summer, when I visited, the sun tends to be very fierce -- especially since there is little to no shade on the island (few trees). Meanwhile, the wind can sometimes be quite strong. So plan on hot and sometimes dusty conditions. Mercifully, this didn't seem to be too conducive to bugs, but I have heard that this can sometimes be a problem on the island.

I decided to take my family to Easter Island after my wife and I together snagged a total of 200,000 free British Airways miles in the recent credit card promotion. After combining our accounts (thanks BA!), this was good for 5 free coach tickets from the USA to Easter Island on LAN. I suspect others might be able to visit on "round-the-world" oneworld tickets. These are the kind of deals that make visiting Easter Island worthwhile. I do not think the experience is worth a $1000 ticket, unless you're simply stopping on the way to someplace else (like Tahiti). It's just too far out of the way, and too little to see to justify a huge expense.

BTW, in planning your trip, consider taking advantage of LAN's new twice-a-week nonstops from Lima to Easter Island. Not only will you save a little time (especially arriving from North America), but you will save the "reciprocal" entrance fee that Chile charges some nationalities (it's US$140 for Americans). You only pay this fee if you enter Chile from SCL from an int'l flight, so you might want to avoid this. I therefore might suggest a USA-LIM-Easter Island-SCL-USA itinerary. Since Easter Island (IPC)-SCL is a domestic trip, no reciprocity fee is collected, even if you stopover in SCL. From SCL, you can also fly to other destinations in Chile pretty cheaply -- if you buy your tickets on LAN's Chilean website in Spanish or from the local Sky Airline. For example, a trip to Chile's very pleasant (in late spring or summer) Lake District is only about $100 roundtrip from SCL if bought this way. This is a good way to make the long trip to Easter Island more "worthwhile" (of course, AA generally doesn't allow overseas stopovers on its awards). If you stop in LIM, consider going on to Cuzco and Machu Picchu (alas, LAN's high intra-Peruvian fares for foreigners makes this slightly complicated).

Another interesting frequent flyer wrinkle is that it's not that many LANPass miles to fly from Easter Island to Tahiti, or vice versa. So if you wind up on one island or the other, consider visiting both (2 flights a week, I think). LANPass has partners (like Starwood) that make accumulation of kilometers possible for many.

So how many days should you spend on Easter Island? I spent 5 nights, and that seemed about right to me. The island is pretty small (you can drive from one end to the other in less than 20 minutes), so you can see all the moai and other archaeological sites (like Orongo with its rock art) in 2 full days. Three days would be more leisurely. More than 3 full days could get boring, unless you come in summer, when you can spend time at the Anakena or nearby Ovahe beaches. The sand in both places is nice, the waves are gentle (especially at Anakena; they say Ovahe isn't always safe to swim), the scenery is good and the water is cool (but quite swimable in summer).
Obviously, if you're rushed, two full days on the island would be "enough." You'd see the sights, but you'd miss some of more subtle "Easter Island experience."

Not that all of this "experience" is good, however. The first thing that will strike you about Easter Island is how expensive everything is, and how little the island actually has to offer. It is probably the only place in the world where I've seen food scarcity. No, you won't starve, but there often isn't a lot of food diversity on the island. You can't even go into a local market and easily buy a fish to cook and eat. Fishing isn't so good on the island, and most of the fish is bought by restaurants, which sell it at fairly expensive prices to tourists. The islanders do produce some modest amounts of produce, and have some chicken and beef, but the vast majority of food has to be shipped from the mainland. Given the isolation, this means very high prices for just about everything.

Because of this scarcity and high prices, I high recommend bringing some food with you. Even beverages: the local water is reportedly safe to drink but, because of its high mineral content, tastes pretty bad. Most water is sold in 1 1/2 liter bottles that cost about US$3 each. You'll go through a lot of water in summer. Soda (mostly Coke) is slightly more expensive than this. Few other drinks (other than booze, which is more twice the price it is in Santiago) are available, other than some occasional fruit drinks. The Kanina store near the airport terminal has the cheapest grocery prices, and sometimes carries 5-liter bottles of water for about US$6.

Kanina also has cheapest grocery prices on the island, but the selection is still quite limited and still very expensive. I honestly don't think it would pay to do any real grocery shopping there: you be better off just eating (relatively) cheap food (like empenadas) from the local food stalls by the football/soccer field. For this reason, I suggest bringing whatever groceries you need. If you're stopping over in Chile, Chile has no liquid restrictions on domestic flights so you can cart whatever you like. An ice chest filled with deli meats, cheeses, milk, etc. would be very useful to have for most visitors. If you're renting a cabin (a great idea for families or couples travelling together) and have cooking facilities, I'd recommend also bringing refrigerated meat/fish with you.

Other than the cheap outdoor stalls by the soccer field (there are similar stands by Anakena beach -- convenient, but not as good), I can't really recommend any restaurants on the island. In a cheaper restaurant, you can spend about US$15 and get a piece of fish along with a sliced tomato and beets. Anything materially better will cost twice that amount and probably not be all that tasty. I can recommend the homemade ice cream at Mikafe by the water. Their 3-scoop bowl for US$5 (feeds a family) may be the single best value purchase on the island.

Accommodations on the island are generally a very bad deal. I would not put much stock in the guidebooks (how often do you think these are updated?) or tripadvisor (almost all lodging on Easter Island is "unconventional," and I've never had much luck with user reviews of such properties). Unless you're arriving at the most peak of times (festival, New Year's) I would highly recommend NOT having lodging reservations and make a deal for accommodations after you arrive. The airport is less than a 10 minute walk into town, and 99% of accomodations are in town. Even at peak times, there are more accommodations than guests. You'll almost certainly be able to negotiate a lower price, and will find something more to your liking, if you just show up. Expect basic lodging; clean sheets, simple plumbing (you should be able to find hot water) -- probably worse than what you'd settle for anywhere else (at more than you'd pay elsewhere for a much nicer room).

Car rentals are also somewhat expensive, but highly recommended for any day that you're not taking a tour (unless you just want to sit around and relax in town). Since I don't drive manual transmission vehicles (crazy, I know), I needed an automatic, which are significantly more expensive. By asking around, I was able to get the price down to US$75 day for an automatic 4x4. You probably do want a 4x4 over a car -- the unpaved roads aren't great. A manual one can probably be had for $50/day fairly easily (maybe less, if you borrow your innkeeper's).

Tours are expensive, but I came across some good local tour guides. Don't book anything without speaking first with the guide. If you're one or two people, perhaps this won't be too much more expensive than renting a car for the day. After one tour, though, you're likely to want to head out on your own.

All historical attractions on Easter Island are free except Orango and the Moai quarry (the two best attractions). In 2010, Chile raised the price of visiting these two attractions for foreigners from US$10 to $60 (nice, right?). If you get a nice ranger, you may be able to "negotiate" this crazy price down, especially if you have a family with you.

While we were on Easter Island, a few locals were actively protesting against the Chilean gov't. The Rapa Nui are unhappy with Chile over a number of issues, most of them seemingly related to land rights. We saw the Chilean police in riot gear confronting a small crowd of protesters. It looked tense, but not very violent -- although we heard that one protester was clubbed, bloodied and arrested. I don't think this is likely to impact your trip, but I would certainly "google" the topic before arriving to know the latest information. It would be in nobody's interest to disrupt tourism, as the islanders really have no other source of income (or survival) without Chilean subsidies and tourist dollars.
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Old Jan 10, 11, 5:19 pm   #2
 
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Thanks for the detailed report and the Captain Cook quote! Seems that the expectations of tourists haven't changed much in 240 years.

Chile is very strict about bringing fresh produce into the country to protect the local industries from disease. Your advice about bringing a supply of food into Easter Island would imply that these restrictions don't exist for arrivals to Easter Island (presumably because their is no local agriculture to speak of).Do you know if importing food on the Lima-IPC flight is permitted?
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Old Jan 10, 11, 6:14 pm   #3
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Chile is very strict about bringing fresh produce into the country to protect the local industries from disease. Your advice about bringing a supply of food into Easter Island would imply that these restrictions don't exist for arrivals to Easter Island (presumably because their is no local agriculture to speak of).Do you know if importing food on the Lima-IPC flight is permitted?
Yeah, food importation could be a problem on the new LIM-IPC flight. I've heard from others that they've been hassled bringing in food into Chile. I've also heard a report that they were concerned about new pests being introduced onto Easter Island from the LIM flight (of course, Easter Island doesn't grow much food, and they already had int'l flights from Tahiti). So food certainly MIGHT be confiscated on the new LIM flight.

If you come from SCL, you can pretty much bring anything you want onboard. It's treated as purely a domestic flight. I saw plenty of coolers -- both checked and as cabin baggage. No doubt everybody who lives on Easter Island brings food back with them (and HDTVs and anything else they can!). It's a very expensive place to buy anything, if you can even find what you want. Unfortunately, you'll need to leave the airport to buy provisions, so this won't work if you're not doing a layover at SCL.

Of course, if you're a USA citizen and don't already have a Chilean reciprocity sticker, you're better off on the LIM flight because you're not likely to save yourself $140 by bringing food in. Until we hear reports, I would be a bit discrete about it. I wouldn't try to bring in perishables from LIM. Just pack snacks in your luggage. And, if you don't mind the weight and the checked baggage, bring a suitcase of whatever you want to drink with you. Or just be prepared to spend about $10/day per person on basic hydration.

BTW, they are a little concerned by what you might bring back to Chile from Easter Island (I guess the mainland DOES have a thriving agricultural sector!). They'll confiscate your EI bananas. But you're not likely to be bringing any other food back to the mainland!
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Old Jan 10, 11, 6:30 pm   #4
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Very nice report iahphx thanks for posting.

I think your idea of taking your own food is a wee bit naughty though, just to save a few $.
It's best to support the local economy wherever one goes especially on a island where they depend on tourist income even more so than on the mainland.
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Old Jan 10, 11, 8:23 pm   #5
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I think your idea of taking your own food is a wee bit naughty though, just to save a few $.
It's best to support the local economy wherever one goes especially on a island where they depend on tourist income even more so than on the mainland.
Well, almost all the stuff you'll buy is coming from Santiago. You can bring it yourself, or have them ship it for you at a 100 to 200% mark-up.

I was a little disappointed that more local produce wasn't available. Bananas were about it. Later in summer, you're also supposed to be able to buy these tiny pineapples and mangoes. Oh, I could also buy a whole watermelon, but I didn't really have the ability to store it.

The biggest surprise is that fish is a bit scarce. I mean, you've got 5000 people living on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, with nobody else around for 1000 miles. They should be GIVING away the fish, right? But the reality is that fishing is generally poor around Easter Island. So it's expensive, too.
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Old Jan 11, 11, 2:01 pm   #6
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Very interesting report, thanks for sharing it...
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Old Jan 11, 11, 2:13 pm   #7
 
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Thanks for posting a very detailled report
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Old Jan 11, 11, 3:39 pm   #8
 
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Thanks for the report. I will be there in a few days, so this was very useful.
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Old Jan 11, 11, 4:04 pm   #9
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Thanks for the report. I will be there in a few days, so this was very useful.

Please share your own perspective when you return.

BTW, one thing I forgot to mention. If you're bringing supplies, don't bother bringing bread. There are plenty of small bakeries on the island. Bread is twice the price it is on the Chilean mainland, but still reasonable by Western standards. A lot of the bakeries also sell a type of banana bread, that tastes a bit like American cornbread. Worth trying.

I'm also guessing somebody can uncover a decent restaurant on the island. If you're just travelling individually or as a couple, you may find the restaurant prices to be more affordable.
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Old Jan 12, 11, 10:53 am   #10
 
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Great information - thanks for posting!
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Old Jan 14, 11, 12:26 am   #11
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Awesome info! Thanks so much, am travelling there solo myself in April (actually getting there on Easter, unintentionally I might add!) and the absolute lack of solid info was definitely a bit daunting. I have heard more than once that pre-booking isn't really necessary, but how does that work once I'm on the ground? Is there an info centre I need to find, or will simply walking the streets find me lots of lodging options?
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Old Jan 14, 11, 7:04 am   #12
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Awesome info! Thanks so much, am travelling there solo myself in April (actually getting there on Easter, unintentionally I might add!) and the absolute lack of solid info was definitely a bit daunting. I have heard more than once that pre-booking isn't really necessary, but how does that work once I'm on the ground? Is there an info centre I need to find, or will simply walking the streets find me lots of lodging options?
Well, that's obviously the rub. A lot of people meet the flights (there are fewer than 2 a day) and no doubt some are offering accomodations. Whether these are the best deals, I don't know. You could simply walk into town (10 minutes on foot), go on the main drag, and shopkeepers will offer you accomodations. The main tourist office is probably a 20 minute walk from the airport (I think they have a counter at the airport, but I'm not 100% sure).

The best solution would be to rent a car upon your arrival and drive around looking for accomodations, but then you have to negotiate the price of the car (or perhaps pay a little extra to pre-reserve it before you arrive).

Another solution would be to book one-night in a central location in Hanga Roa (they'll pick you up at the airport for free) and then spend your first hours looking for your more permanent accomodations. Whether this is worth the time on a short stay is, of course, debatable. Walking the town upon your arrival, though, is a good way to get your bearings.

BTW, the population is pretty religious and, as you might expect, they seem to make a big deal about Easter! So it should be interesting to arrive then.
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Old Jan 14, 11, 7:42 am   #13
 
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Great report! Easter Island is one of the places on my must see list and your report gives me a good idea of what to expect when visiting.
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Old Jan 14, 11, 12:47 pm   #14
 
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i was there the last week of December and your report is spot on. the only thing i would like to add is that, is that there is no concept of insurance in the island, which may factor into one's decision to rent a car.
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Old Jan 15, 11, 7:21 am   #15
 
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All historical attractions on Easter Island are free except Orango and the Moai quarry (the two best attractions). In 2010, Chile raised the price of visiting these two attractions for foreigners from US$10 to $60 (nice, right?). If you get a nice ranger, you may be able to "negotiate" this crazy price down, especially if you have a family with you.
Very helpful review, as I'm headed there in a few weeks. The only thing I'm a little surprised by is the suggestion to negotiate the park fee down. Given all I've read of the island and its people and these historic and fragile treasures, the park can probably use all the money it can get to keep pace with the tens of thousands of people who traipse through the ruins every year, degrading it with each foot print. Spending thousands of dollars (or miles!) just to fly there, it doesn't seem like a lot to give back to make sure the site is in good condition for future visitors. Just my $0.02.
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