There's a story on Easter Island. Actually, there are stories upon stories. This particular story has to do with the island's iconic statues, the moai.
According to local lore, the native inhabitants of the island, the Rapa Nui people, were running out of natural resources and had seen European ships passing by. Worried that the giant stone statues might intimidate the sailors and keep them from approaching the island to trade, the Rapa Nui set about toppling the statues that dotted the island's shore. It is truly ironic, then, that today the resurrected statues are the principal reason that thousands of visitors from around the world visit this tiny, remote island.
I made the trip to Easter Island as a guest of LATAM Airlines, which has daily flights from Santiago, Chile, and the Hotel Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa, located on the island. The Hangaroa truly is a village -- its 75 rooms, spacious spa and three restaurants are spread out over nearly 25 acres. In recognition of the Rapa Nui culture, the rounded walls and the grass-covered roofs of the hotel buildings were inspired by the reconstructed ruins found in a nearby ancestral village. The hotel offers two kinds of rooms, the kainga rooms which are closer to the ocean (great for opening the sliding door, feeling the ocean breeze and listening to the waves), and the more spacious maunga suites, which are set farther back on a small hill so they still afford ocean views.
The hotel offers several different packages that vary according to the number of drinks, meals and excursions included in each plan. The most basic plan includes just the room and a daily buffet breakfast (as well as a complimentary minibar and daily sunset cocktail), while the highest-level plan covers all meals and drinks and includes two daily excursions.
The hotel contracts with a tour company that operates out of the lobby and provides guided tours of the island. Despite being such a small island, only 63 square miles, there is a lot to see and do, and visitors won't want to miss any of the key sites. Hotel Hangaroa general manager Loretta Moreira recommends that guests plan to stay for five days: "You want to make sure you hit all the important sites, while also leaving time to relax at the hotel pool or have a spa treatment."
The vast majority of Easter Island's moai were carved out of the cliffs of Terevaka. Photo Credit: Bart Beeson
On my visit, over the course of three days we toured the most important archeological sites on the island, including Anakena, where a group of moai are set next to a beautiful white sand beach, and Tongariki, home to a group of 15 moai, each with unique characteristics, lined up on a ceremonial platform.
My favorite site was Terevaka, where we spent hours wandering around the dozens of moai that are scattered around the base of the rock cliffs like a child's discarded toys. It was here that the vast majority of the moai were carved out of the cliffs before being somehow transported (exactly how is still debated) to their resting spots throughout the island. With various unfinished moai visible in the rock face from which they were hewn, it's easy to imagine this spot bustling with activity, the sound of rock colliding with rock filling the air as workers chipped away, the faces of their moai slowing taking shape. Here, and throughout the trip, our local guide regaled us with fascinating stories passed down from his parents and grandparents about life on the island, and the Rapa Nui culture and traditions.
The last day of the trip we headed to the Orongo ancestral village, from where generations of Rapa Nui held a yearly contest in which a representative from each of the island's clans had to swim out to an island, find a specific bird's egg and return with the egg intact. The first competitor to successfully return with the egg was declared the winner, and his clan was recognized as the ruling clan for the following year, until the next contest. The village -- home to the rounded structures on which the Hotel Hangaroa's buildings are modeled -- is perched high in the cliffs, on the edge of a volcanic crater, and has amazing views both out to the ocean and down into the crater.
In addition to the historical sites on foot, the guide company offers more active excursions, including trekking to the island's highest point, boat rides and ATV rental. A scheduled ocean boat ride for my group was canceled due to high winds, so instead I rented a mountain bike and set out for a ride along the scenic southern coastal road. It was a great way to see some of the lesser-visited archaeological sites on the island, stopping to explore the remains of toppled moai that dot the coastline.
After each day's excursion I would head back to the hotel to relax with a dip in the pool and a sunset cocktail at the bar. Enjoying a locally caught tuna or ceviche while watching the sunset, I would reflect on the stories I had heard during the day, and wonder what the next day's story would be.
Rates at the Hotel Hangaroa start at $290 in the low season. For more information, visit the hotel's website.