A Polynesian Pearl in the South Pacific
Best known for the ancient stone monoliths that stud its coastline, Easter Island is a small volcanic island of the South Pacific deemed to be the remotest permanently inhabited landmass on earth. In spite of its size, Rapa Nui, as it is known locally, is full of both historic and natural treasures that have earned it a place among the world's most extraordinary wonders. Its 20,000 archaeological sites, rich native culture, breathtaking views of volcanic craters, crystal-clear seas and white sand beaches enrapture history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Although scientists have unraveled many of Rapa Nui's enigmas, an aura of mystery still surrounds its stone moai statues and much of its early history. According to legend, it was King Hotu Matu'a who first arrived on the island along with his extended family, and researchers have determined that they likely set off from the Marquesas, Mangarevas, Cook Islands or Pitcairn Island in the 8th century. These original Polynesian settlers created a flourishing society among the island's lush palm forests, developing a written language known as Rongorongo and megalithic art in the form of moai and petroglyphs. However, a population explosion led to severe deforestation, precipitating a bloody civil war and famine. On Easter Sunday, 1722, Admiral Jacob Roggeveen and his Dutch expedition became the first Europeans to set foot on the island, and the subsequent arrival of Peruvian slave traders and Catholic missionaries further decimated Rapa Nui society and culture.
Today, visitors come here from all over the world to glimpse the mystifying remains left behind by Rapa Nui's original inhabitants, including over 850 moai statues, the Rano Raraku quarry and the ceremonial Orongo village on the edge of the Rano Kau crater with its hundreds of petroglyphs. The island also offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding, swimming at Anakena Beach and snorkeling or scuba diving at Motu Nui. Rapa Nui's only town, Hanga Roa, is a good place to soak up the mellow island vibe, visit the local museum, library and church, and witness the island's Polynesian cultural heritage festival, Tapati, held late January to early February.
All Easter Island hotels are located in Hanga Roa, the majority of them being simple hotels and guesthouses in the downtown area. A typical Easter Island hotel room features a reasonably comfortable bed, cheap bedding, tile floors and occasionally a TV and desk. Some islanders also offer lodgings in their private homes.