Small Island, Big Adventure: The 5 Best Activities on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

You probably didn’t fly all the way to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to have a lazy beach day.

For a small island of just 63 square miles, Easter Island (known locally as Rapa Nui) packs a punch.

Introverted travelers will love the solitude (what’s the opposite of claustrophobia?).

#NatureNerds and #ScienceGeeks will enjoy hiking volcanoes, lava tubes, and gazing at the Milky Way in some of the darkest skies on earth.

Culturists and history buffs will be fascinated by the classic moai statues, carved out of a specific volcano on stands called ahus, as well as ponder, "What the hell happened on Rapa Nui?" 

Adrenophiles will get their blood pumping by snorkeling, boating, and biking around the island.

Here are the top 5 activities to get the best well-rounded experience in Rapa Nui:

1. Hike around the Rano Kau volcanic crater and check out the ceremonial village where the Tangata Manu (birdman) competition was held. It holds a pretty intense history and the hike, while steadily uphill through grassy trail, isn’t ridiculously difficult. It’s worth getting to the top of the crater wall to see an enormous earth zit, complemented by unique lake-living non-native grapes, oranges, and a wall of bright-fuchsia bougainvillea. You’ll then head to Tangata Manu, site of the famed birdman competition where strong villagers had the opportunity to capture the first egg laid on a nearby islet. You’ll appreciate checking out the small history museum with all the fascinating details and explore reconstructed huts and petroglyphs - but be prepared for a mighty stiff breeze at that height. That wind has been traveling for thousands of miles unimpeded! Bring a windbreaker jacket if it’s cool.

Duration: 3.5 hours
Distance: 5.4 miles / 9 kilometers
Vertical Assent: 896 feet / 280 meters (one foot taller than this building in New York City, for perspective).

The steady, uphill climb to the rim of the Rano Kau volcanic crater lake is worth the view at the top - notice the bright-fuchsia bougainvillea just left of center! 

2. Bike to Ahu Tongariki, the island’s largest ahu platform, a burial site for the most important Rapa Nui leaders, which was a “national” monument - not specific to any one of the 13 tribes. Along the way, check out some historical sites, and then head to Anakena for a dip in the only sandy beach on the island and home to the “Royal” ahu, where the island’s leaders lived and enjoyed relative peace - until the societal collapse, that is. Imagine what it would have been like to be going through The End Times.

Duration: 3 hours
Distance: 13.2 miles / 22 km, a little further than from Minneapolis to St. Paul. You might want to catch a van back if you don’t want to bike that length twice.
Vertical Ascent: 48 feet / 15m

Pro tip: Do this trip in the afternoon; Ahu Tongariki faces west, so you’ll get better lighting for your photos.

Ahu Tongariki - 16th Moai

3. Snorkeling in the clear Pacific waters; sail out to one of the best areas to see the flip side of the world, with corals, mollusks, crustaceans, and tropical fish. These guys are so beautiful and certainly worth saving.

Duration: 2 hours

Photo credit: Explora Rapa Nui

Photo credit: Explora Rapa Nui

4. Walk along the Ara O Te Moai, the very trail that the Rapa Nui people used to transport Moai statues. As explained by the native people even today, with a wry smile, they’ll tell you the Moai "walked down" the volcano. As it turns out, they sort of did. Archaeologists recently recreated the motion that would actually get a statue that big down a mountain, and the key was to “walk” it down on its corners, like you would move a refrigerator. Along the way, you’ll see some statues that were abandoned in transportation and others that were simply never finished; if a moai fell, it was left there since it didn’t pass muster - or mana - needed to represent a spiritual figure.

Duration: 3 hours
Distance: 2.7 miles / 4.5 km
Vertical Ascent: 208 feet

Ara O Te Moai is the volcano from which all Moai were carved and brought down to various spots around the island. You'll find many abandoned Moai that fell during transport along the way.

Ara O Te Moai is the volcano from which all Moai were carved and brought down to various spots around the island. You'll find many abandoned Moai that fell during transport along the way.

5. Explore volcanic tubes and caves, and take in the astronomically impressive Ahu Akivi. It took some serious understanding of astronomy to build the huge timepiece, facing directly at sunset on the spring equinox and have their backs to the Autumn sunrise on that equinox. Bonus points if you time your trip to coincide with this event!

During the day, explore the unique underground of Rapa Nui, with interconnected caves and hollow lava tubes, some of which offer stunning views of the pacific from where the lava once flowed.

Duration: 3.5 hours, including sunrise or sunset; but maybe do both, because who doesn’t love a great sunrise and sunset!? #SunrisePorn #SunsetPorn

Distance: 3.9 miles / 6.5 km
Vertical Ascent: 368 feet / 115 m

Hollow tubes where lava once flowed now create breathtaking views of the Pacific.

Hollow tubes where lava once flowed now create breathtaking views of the Pacific.

Ahu Akivi is an astronomical marvel that #ScienceGeeks will surely appreciate.

Ahu Akivi is an astronomical marvel that #ScienceGeeks will surely appreciate.

Rapa Nui is certain to stimulate all of your senses, whether you seek historical reflection, an appreciation for isolation, or even looking for a few thrills.

If you'd like more information about planning a trip to Rapa Nui (with easy access and a nice addition to your trip from Chile, Peru, Ecuador, or Tahiti), get in touch with us!