Easter Island, also known as “Rapa Nui” and “Isla de Pascua” is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. It is over 2,000 miles from the nearest population center. A triangle of volcanic rock in the South Pacific – it is best known for the giant stone monoliths, known as Moai, that dot the coastline. Early settlers called the island “Te Pito O Te Henua” (Navel of The World). Officially a territory of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway to Tahiti. Known as one of the world’s sacred sites, it is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone busts, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture. It is a World Heritage Site with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.
Easter Island is extremely small, so it is possible to get around fairly easily. There are rental cars, generally jeeps, available from a few rental agencies in Hanga Roa, as well as a few dirtbikes. With a car, it’s possible to see most of the sites on the island in a few hours. Most hosts will also rent out their jeep to you (at a very competitive rate) if you simply ask. There has been much controversy and confusion concerning the origins of the Easter Islanders. Thor Heyerdahl proposed that the people who built the statues were of Peruvian descent, due to a similarity between Rapa Nui and Incan stonework. Some have suggested that Easter Island is the remnant of a lost continent, or the result of an extra-terrestrial influence. Archaeological evidence, however, indicates discovery of the island by Polynesians at about 400 AD – led, according to legend, by Hotu Matua. Upon their arrival, an impressive and enigmatic culture began to develop. In addition to the statues, the islanders possessed the Rongorongo script; the only written language in Oceania. The island is also home to many petroglyphs (rock carvings), as well as traditional wood carvings, tapa (barkcloth) crafts, tattooing, string figures, dance and music.