Photo by Paul Rubio
Shrouded in mystery and strewn with iconic, larger-than-life statues, Rapa Nui—better known as Easter Island—is one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands and has headlined bucket lists since the advent of leisure travel. Even as today’s travel elite searches for the next great destination, this 63.2-square-mile speck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean still prevails as an undisputed must-see.
Easter Island’s mystique has captivated explorers and travelers for nearly three centuries. On Easter Sunday in 1722, European voyagers stumbled upon an otherworldly Pacific island—thousands of miles from any other landmass—speckled with towering, multi-ton chess-like statues called moai. Scholars still debate the genesis of the moai, the role they played in society, and just how they arrived in the far corners of the island. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians all yearn to unravel the conundrums surrounding Rapa Nui’s colonization (circa 300 AD to 1200 AD) and life thereafter.
Because no written history details the moais’ significance, only oral lore sheds light on the multi-century evolution of these colossal sculptures. In the most general sense, moai honored important individuals in both life and death, offered protection against rival clans, and left legacies for future generations. Oral tradition notwithstanding, much ambiguity stems from a depletion of primary knowledge, first from civil wars and then from the slave trade of the nineteenth century, which decimated Easter Island’s native population to just 111 individuals. However, this uncertainty catalyzes a palpable wow factor and stimulates the imagination. You know you’ve given into the magic of Easter Island when reality and make-believe blur and you subconsciously begin looking for secret passageways and channeling the moai in an effort to understand the island’s enigmas.
Explora Rapa Nui
Easter Island’s hypnotic lure and living history form a playground for luxury travelers thanks to the introduction of Explora Rapa Nui. The island’s premier lodge, it offers three- to six-night expeditions inclusive of accommodations, adventures, and gourmet meals.
The lodge exemplifies green construction, built principally from volcanic rock and local wood. A low-rise masterpiece partitioned into design-driven suites, Explora Rapa Nui nestles into a coastal hilltop, where wild horses roam and Pacific waves batter the craggy coastline. Throughout the property, you’ll see a love match between modernism and minimalism with oversized panoramic windows, stylish day beds, and a sleek swimming pool and spa area.
Room and exterior of Explora Rapa Nui.
Explora offers more than 20 outings across this foreign land, with two half-day tours (or one full-day tour) per day. Groups are never larger than eight and are led by expert, bilingual guides. Between excursions, you’ll return to your chic, luxurious base and feast in the lodge restaurant. Begin your days with sensational breakfast spreads including house-made breads, croissants, exotic-fruit jams, and superb omelets. At lunch and dinner, indulge in ocean-to-table delicacies, homemade gnocchi, rack of lamb, fine Chilean wines, and pisco sours. After another day navigating this wondrous island, the bar and lounge area are ideal for unwinding and swapping stories with your fellow jet-set adventurers.
The bar at Explora Rapa Nui.
The majority of Explora’s prolific excursions focus on getting up close and personal with the island’s many stone statues. The most experiential is arguably the climb up Rano Raraku, the moai stone quarry and birthplace of these 10- to 270–ton works of genius, where hundreds of statues have been partially reclaimed by the earth. This is where the statues were carved before being transported to the far reaches of the island. Nowadays, hundreds of statues peer out from the ground, partially buried—and some partially carved—forever freezing the moment in time when the moai quarry was abandoned.
Aerial view of the Rano Kau crater.
Birdman petroglyph at Rano Kau.
Prepare to saturate memory cards and max out data storage on the tour to Ahu Tongariki, the superlative assembly of restored moai standing 15 strong along the island’s southeast shoreline. And you won’t want to miss spelunking through Las Dos Ventanas cave and later ascending Rano Kau crater, the site of Easter Island’s famous Birdman competition and a nineteenth-century worship grounds.
Beyond the moai rapture, look forward to other explorations by foot, bike, and boat. Hikes range from easy to rigorous with paths traversing the rocky coastline, passing along the perimeters of the island’s extinct volcanoes, and delving into mysterious caves that played instrumental roles in protecting islanders during times of civil war. Bike paths dot the island, granting endless hours of serenity in what feels like Earth’s final frontier.
Although this is a tropical island, don’t expect the typical beachside, fun-in-the-sun vacation. Easter Island has only two very small white-sand beaches. That being said, tiny local boats float at the ready for circumventing the island and snorkeling near the outer motus. In addition, the Hi Ika Artisinal Fisheries trip allows guests to learn about and practice local fishing techniques.
Regardless of which excursions you choose—and if you opt for the six-night expedition, you’ll do most—this enigmatic island never fails to captivate and impress.
Photo by Paul Rubio
Snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean at Easter Island