The opportunity to visit Easter Island is truly one of those moments when you pinch yourself. We have all seen photos of the big Moai heads (even if it’s just in a novelty Kleenex box!) all poking and jutting up out of the ground at odd angles. Easter Island is part of Chile but to get there it is still about a six hour flight, which is like flying half way across Canada. It is wild and remote, and even though it is Chilean, you do feel like you are on a tiny island with a law and culture unto themselves.
Commonly known as Easter Island (because the first recorded European visitor, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, landed on the islands at Easter) it’s native name is Rapa Nui.
The first thing you notice when waiting for the early morning flight in Santiago is that everyone heading to Rapa Nui has a big red cooler held together with duct tape or twine that they are checking as luggage. Food on Rapa Nui is expensive and there is usually a debate amongst expats living in Chile — to take food or not to take food? Do you save money on food and pack it with you as do the locals? Or do you realise how fortunate you are to even be contemplating a trip to Rapa Nui so you buy it all on the island and support the local economy? We split the difference and we did bring food with us as traveling with three small children and staying in a self-catering cabin we wanted to know we had suppers that would be hassle-free. I also find when staying in a self-catering option that if I bring food with me or meal plan in advance then a holiday which involves cooking three times a day is more relaxing!
Traveling to Rapa Nui from Santiago means you have the best of both domestic and international flight worlds. You fly domestic, so you can bring liquids, food, meat etc on the plane. But you also have the international aspect in that you get a heavy weight and baggage allowance on the plane. Hence the coolers.
I was slightly embarrassed about the idea of checking in a big red cooler (though everyone does do it!) so I put our crushable cooler inside a duffle bag. Which also meant we had one less piece of luggage to check on the way back. We bought bread, milk, drinks on the island. And we ate out a few times. One box of milk was $2400 pesos as opposed to $800 pesos in Santiago.
Food packing list
Pre-cooked at home on the BBQ and froze to act as my “cooler ice”
- Bag of ground beef
- Chicken breast
- Pesto and fusili
- a small bag of spaghetti sauce and Spaghetti noodles
- Peanut butter
- Bag of jam
- Hot choc tea and coffee. Brought our camping coffee filter/maker
- Jamón serrano
- Rice cakes
- Hard fruit
- Dried fruit
- Nuts and raisins
- All the fruit and veg in our fridge
- Crisps in the can
Mini ketchup and mayo packs.
I also brought a tetra box of peas but that did not go over well with the children. I love it here because food comes in small and medium packs in bags which made food packing easy.
The flight was uneventful on Latam. I found I was actually really cold on the plane and we were all hungry. You leave very early and land at 2 p.m. so for us as Canadians we needed more to eat so I would bring snacks for the plane. We went in May and Santiago is starting to get cold at this point so we were in sweaters and trousers and when we landed we were met by tropical breezes and humidity and it was so nice and warming.
As soon as we exited the plane we split up. My husband took half the children to get our bags and I waited with one child in line outside before entering to buy our park passes. You can do it in town or you can do it as you exit the plane and before you enter the airport. There is a kiosk on your left and you will see people lining up to buy the passes.
So how much time do you need on Rapa Nui? It is debatable. Adults without children could probably get away with a long weekend. Families with young children who nap might need more time. As we live here and we have the luxury of time, we went for six days. The most expensive part is the flight, so any days you tack on is just the cabin and vacation leave to consider. With young children this was perfect for us. You don’t arrive until 2 p.m. the first day and you fly out after 2 p.m. on the last day. There is also island weather to consider. We had rain one day and a few clouds. But if you hit a few rainy days you might want to factor in more time. Also, except for two sites, you can return as many times as you want to the sites on your park pass so if you have a cloudy or rainy day you could go back another day (as we did) if you have the time.
Where we stayed. The Rangi Moana cabins were just out of town, very clean and the living room and beds were comfortable. WiFi was only available at reception so download shows before you go for kids. Horses came to visit every breakfast. You need to rent a car anyway, so we were fine away from sea. It also has a pool but it was too cold to go in. The hosts were lovely and invited us to their family BBQ. Playground on-site.
We considered staying at Anavai, it has a nice location by the moais on the beach and in town. It is also half a block from a playground.
You can easily walk around town and if you stay in town you can walk to the moais on the beach, the lido swimming pool, the museum and restaurants. To get around the island you can rent quad bikes or bicylces. We rented a car and you don’t need to pre-book. Just ask your hotel/cabin and they will sort you out. You will either “rent” their car from them or from the one rental in town. It is a very small island and everyone knows everyone. Cost ranges from $50,000 to $70,000 pesos ($1001$140 CAD) a day. We brought our mifold booster seats for the children and the Islanders thought we were so silly. We stopped using them on day two and kids were in heaven and thought they were rebels to be out of carseats.
As we live in Chile we didn’t necessarily need to bring our passports as we could have just traveled with our identity cards (RUTs) but if you take your passport you can go to the post office and they will stamp a page with a moai head stamp.
You can book day tours with local tour guides. We had a tour, but with small children (although the guide was very understanding) we felt it was expensive and we weren’t able to duly give him our full attention. It was nice to sit in a car and have that taken care of but the island is super tiny so you will not get lost! For the other days we had the book, The Companion to Easter Island. You can buy it everywhere on the island. We loved this book as it has short, quick synopsis and also he tells you the best time to go to the sites so you can plan your days (if short on time) in a logical manner. Save your pesos and use the book and rent a car.
When you go around to the sites they will stamp your park pass. There are only two sites you can not re-enter. One is Orono (out of the cliff where the Birdman ceremony takes place and there is a museum as well). With children we found visiting this only once was sufficient. The other site you can also only enter once is Rano Raraku which is the quarry. This was my favourite site and the most iconic with all the heads jutting out at different angles. This was included in our tour and unfortunately the day wasn’t perfect blue skies and between the guide and the children running around I felt rushed and didn’t get all the photos I wanted. And as we couldn’t re-enter, that was it. So plan your stop to this one well. There is a cafe at this site with good tuna empanadas and drinks. They also have souvenirs and toilets. You can do the crater hike from here as well (but the crater you can re-enter).
If you go to Tongariki for sunrise I would suggest you do it on your first day as you will still be on Santiago time. We did it on day four and had to drag the children out of bed. Sunrise was from about 6:45 a.m onwards and we left at 9:15 a.m. After sunrise you can then head for nearby Ahu nau nau at Anakena Beach which has nice light at this time. The other sites open at 9:30 a.m. but we were able to walk on Anakena Beach without anyone there. Anakena has a cafe and toilets. Then you could head to Rano Raraku (the quarry) which has nice light at noon. You can also hike up to the crater (there are a few crater hikes so bring a baby carrier if your children are toddlers). There is also a cafe and toilet at the quarry/crater. There aren’t many cafes or toilets so plan accordingly!
Being in the south Pacific means the weather is really changeable. It was June and I forgot to pack shorts, swimsuits and sunscreen and you do need all of that even in June and coming from autumn/winter Santiago. The ocean wasn’t super warm but way warmer the coast of Chile and my husband and children went in in their underpants and zip-off trousers. They were in for an hour without a wetsuit. You can also swim in the lido swimming pool in town and sea turtles come in on the waves!
Eating out. We had two suppers out and one lunch and everything was delicious and considering we were in the middle of nowhere the prices were not that crazy expensive. We went to Haka Honu in town across from the lido. I had the tuna plancha (delicious) and Mark was going to order a lobster and then he asked the price ($100,000 pesos/$200 CAD). So thankfully he did not have that! He did have three fish platter and it was enormous and he couldn’t finish it all.
We also ate at Miro across from the cemetery while we waited for the sunset. The children had pizza and we had ceviche.
We had a good tuna empanadas at the cafe at the quarry (Rano Raraku) and also at Ahi Ahi by the surf bar and footy pitch and across from Pea beach. The local pale ale was also a must try.
Friends really enjoyed the restaurant “Au bout du monde” and their tuna with Tahitian vanilla sauce. It was closed when we were ready to eat.
We didn’t go to the traditional dance in the evening as it started too late with the children in tow. We really enjoyed picnic lunches, exploring tidal pools, just pulling over and stopping at the side of the road to see random moais and sunsets. We found it a very relaxing holiday.
Everyone will tell you that a great place to buy souvenirs is the prison and it’s true! The children loved going there and chose stone carved moai heads. The locals have a saying when someone goes to prison they say “Oh he is at University.” As the local school only goes up to grade school.
For mobile phone coverage Entel was really good in town. But sketchy where we stayed one kilometre away.
In the Companion to Easter Island he outlines tips and when best to go during the day. We organized our days based on best time for photos as he suggests in the book. The island is so small that we visited the places we were allowed to a few times.
We found Easter Island to be really relaxing and the whole family enjoyed it. Our children were 8, 6 and 4 at the time.