Have you heard of Easter Island only in relation to the great Moai and wondering about other things to do on Easter Island? Located in the Polynesian triangle and thousands of miles away from nearest land mass, this tiny island is the most remote inhabited place on earth. Given the extreme isolation and limited resources, it is hard to conceive a civilization flourishing and making strides to carve and raise the giant Moai or famous Easter Island stone heads. The Moai have fascinated archaeologists, explorers and travelers since centuries; everyone who visits Easter Island wants to see the mysterious statues. To our delight C & I discovered that Easter Island offers plenty of great things to do besides the Moai. This is our list of the 10 best things to do on Easter Island based on the activities and places we enjoyed the most and it doesn’t even begin to address other popular things to do like diving off Easter Island and hiking Mount Terevaka. (Hint: For a complete list of things to do, you will have to wait for our monstrous Easter Island Guide. It’s coming soon, I promise!)
1. Experience a beautiful sunset behind the Moai at Tahai Ceremonial complex
The Tahai Ceremonial Complex is one of the oldest archeological sites in Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island. This site has 3 Ahus or ceremonial platforms with 5, 1 and 1 Moai. Watching the sunset at Tahai is a must and easily one of the best things to do on Easter Island. Tourists and locals alike start assembling at the complex well before sunset to watch the beautiful spectacle. The best time to photograph the Moai with the setting sun is 15-30 mins after the sunset when the sky is illuminated with twilight colors.
2. Admire the ancient Rapa Nui civilization at Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki is an archeological site located on the south east coast of Easter Island. It is the most spectacular site on the island with a 220 m long ceremonial platform and 15 majestic Moai towering over the blue backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. It is at Ahu Tongariki that visitors can fully perceive the artistic and engineering advances made by the ancient Rapa Nui civilization that settled on Easter Island. Each of the 15 Moai is different from the other in shape, size and features, and is said to resemble Rapa Nui ancestors. Watching the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki is one of the most popular things to do on Easter Island.
3. Marvel at the mysterious Moai at Rano Raraku Volcano crater and quarry
For many visitors Rano Raraku is Easter Island and Easter Island is Rano Raraku. Rano Raraku is where one can find the many formidable stone heads or the Moai with thin lips and sloping foreheads, lying half-carved in stone or half-buried under ground, mysteriously gazing down upon visitors. As the numerous Moai eerily surround visitors, one can barely begin to understand the many conflicting theories and mysteries that spawned around the Moai, Rapa Nui people and Easter Island. It was here that a majority of the Moai were created and then moved to different Ahus or ceremonial platforms around the island. 397 Moai in various stages of completion can be found in the quarry and it is easy to see why visiting Rano Raraku is the most popular among things to do on Easter Island.
4. Hike the vast crater rim of Rano Kau Volcano
Rano Kau is one of the three major volcanic eruptions that led to the formation of Easter Island about 2.5 million years ago. The extinct volcano and its spectacular crater, which is the largest one on the island, provided the only source of fresh water to ancient Rapa Nui civilization on Easter Island and allowed the ancient Rapa Nui civilization with its statue making skills to flourish. The hike along the rim is spectacular and provides beautiful views of the crater lake, its vegetation, Kari Kari or the fracture in the crater rim and the Pacific ocean.
5. Understand the cult of Bird Man at the ceremonial village of Orongo
Near Rano Kau is the ceremonial village of Orongo with its amazing stones houses and petroglyphs. Wedged between the crater of Rano Kau and the Pacific Ocean, Orongo offers some of the most spectacular views on Easter Island and ranks as one of the top things to do on Easter Island. Orongo is the best place on Easter Island to understand the ritual of Tangata Manu or Birdman competition and how it shaped the Rapa Nui society towards the end of the 17th century after the decline of the Moais or statue building practice. Entry to Orongo is ticketed and limited to one visit per person per ticket. The Visitor Center at Orongo does a great job of describing the Birdman ritual and Orongo houses in great detail.
6. Swim under the watchful gazes of the Moai at Anakena beach
Anakena beach is the main beach on Easter Island with pristine white sand, swaying coconut palm trees and turquoise blue water of the Pacific Ocean symbolic of the islands in the Polynesian triangle. Anakena, however, is much more than an idyllic beach paradise. According to legends, the first Rapa Nui King landed and established the first Easter Island settlement at Anakena. Anakena has two Ahus, Ahu Nau Nau with 7 Moai and Ahu Ature Huki with 1 Moai. Visitors enjoy sunbathing and swimming in the crystal waters at Anakena beach making this one of the top things to do in Easter Island.
7. Make out the double canoe and other petroglyphs at Papa Vaka
Papa Vaka is an archeological site located on the North Coast near Anakena beach. The Rapa Nui people carved a large number of petroglyphs on the basalt slabs that protrude from the ground. The carvings include images of canoes, tuna, shark, turtles, crabs and octopus along with fish hooks and other fishing motifs. This site is said to best demonstrate the complex and significant relation the Rapa Nui had with the sea. It is best to visit this site early morning or late afternoon as the petroglyphs are not easily visible in bright overhead sunlight.
8. Explore Puna Pau or the quarry of the pukaos
Puna Pau is the quarry where Rapa Nui people sourced and sculpted the red pukaos that adorn the head of some Moais. The Pukaos are also known as top knots or Moai headdresses and were carved from red volcanic scoria that was abundant inside the quarry. There a more than a dozen pukao in the quarry of various sizes and weights; some of these have impressive petroglyphs carved on them. From the top of the quarry, visitors can see breathtaking views of the town of Hanga Roa making Puna Pau one of the best things to see on Easter Island.
9. Marvel at the toppled Moai while road tripping the East Coast
You won’t find this among other top 10 lists, kind of making this drive a secret best thing to do. The East Coast of Easter Island is liberally dotted with many crumbled and deteriorated Ahus and toppled Moai. While it is possible to bike to these sites, they are far-flung from Hanga Roa and from each other and are best seen by renting a 4WD car. The best of these sites include Ahu Akahanga and Vinapu. Ahu Akahanga has not been restored and allows visitors to experience Easter Island in a manner similar to the earliest European explorers. Vinapu showcases a finesse and excellence in masonry, reminiscent of the Inca civilization, in the construction of the ceremonial platforms. Both sites have several fallen Moai that were toppled by the Rapa Nui during the period of civil unrest that followed the statue building era. These archeological sites along the East Coast were my favorite way of capturing the untamed essence of Easter Island and contemplating the ruins of a lost civilization.
10. Stamp your passport with the coveted Easter Island stamp
Last but not the least; commemorate your trip to the mysterious and intimidating Easter Island with a special tourist passport stamp bearing the Moai statues. The Post office is located in Hanga Roa; any local will be able to assist you with directions. The stamp is for free but a tip is always appreciated. While you are at the post office, buy the special Easter Island stamp and mail a letter or postcard back home.
Easter Island offers many other spectacular archaeological sites like Ahu Akivi, Ahu Te Pito Kura and ahus along the Ohave beach. Visitors can indulge in activities like spelunking into the lava tube caves, horse-back riding the remote North Coast, snorkeling and scuba diving to see beautiful marine life in the Pacific and surfing at Pea beach in Hanga Roa. The annual Tapati festival held in February is an excellent way to understand the Rapa Nui culture and traditions. Our comprehensive guide to planning a trip to Easter Island will be up soon!
I visited Easter Island in September 2017.
Planning a trip to Easter Island and Chile? We have several resources to get you started! Also read below to find out about Valparaiso, a coastal city with world-class graffiti.