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Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui
Rapa Nui National Park and its stone sculptures are testimony to an isolated cultural evolution.

Rapa Nui is the indigenous name of Easter Island. It's a volcanic island, with still two large craters: Rano Kau and Rano Raraku.

The most characteristic cultural feature of Rapa Nui are the huge moai, found all over the island. These figures were created to represent the important ancestors of each clan. As time went by, their forms became more stylized and they increased in size.

Rapa Nui is considered one of the most isolated inhabited places in the world. Almost 2000 km distant is Pitcairn, the closest inhabited island. Its 4100 km to Tahiti and 3700 km to the Chilean coast. Nevertheless, Rapa Nui belongs to Polynesia, a geographic area defined by an imaginery triangle whose verticles are New Zealand, Hawaii and Rapa Nui itself. All the islands have a common cultural tradition, whose roots extend back to the second millenium BC.

Around 400 AD, Rapa Nui was colonized by Polynesians. They arrived in big canoes, and took with them many cultural elements that had developed on the other Polynesian islands.

Visit March 2002

I spent 5 days on Easter Island - making a dream come true. Reading the books by Thor Heyerdahl as a child, I never imagined I would set foot on this remote island. But times have changed the last 15 years: travelling around the globe has become much easier and cheaper.

As has to be expected, I didn't find a lost paradise here. It's quite an expensive destination, geared to the wealthy western traveller. But I had a fine time here. I walked, cycled and drove around the island. From ahu with or without moai to petroglyph to vulcano. Rapa Nui is an open air museum in the best sense of the word.

The sight I probably liked best is Tongariki, the ahu with 15 moai in a row. Maybe that's because this was my reward after cycling 2,5 hours on Easter Island's roads that know no shade.


George Clarke (Australia):
I have just returned from Rapanui..what an awesome experience. Their second language is Spanish. My command of the Spanish language is minimal to zero, however, I spoke Maori to the locals at the church and they were so excited as they could understand me. I said "Kia ora" One elder replied, "He Maori keo no Aotearoa?" I said "ae" I said Kei hea ta kotou Museum? the elder said "Haere koe i runga i te ara...ka huri pera, 'Indicating with his hand. "a ka Huri pera" On his instructions I found their museum.
Love their history.
Date posted: June 2012
Solivagant (UK):
It is an unfortunate fact that long-anticipated visits to “iconic” WHS can often disappoint, but ours to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) most certainly did not! This, despite the fact that we had but a mere 7 hours ashore during a trans-Pacific cruise which took us on the “Heyerdal” sea route from the Peruvian coast taking 5 days on our cruise ship and then onward into “Polynesia proper”.
However you get there, Easter Island is an expensive and logistically awkward destination – most visitors will either fly through Papeete or do Santiago return. It certainly justifies more than the short day we gave it, but we were able to take in the main sites with reasonable free time. It would of course have been nice to return at different times of day for optimal photographic conditions and to have explored the less famous locations. On arrival you have the choice of minibus tours, private taxi, rent-a-car, bicycle or walking. We took the former in the morning and then a taxi in the afternoon. As regards walking and bicycle – well, it may look a mere “speck” on the World map, but it is a bit bigger “on the ground”! The main “town” of Hanga Roa is actually a very spread out village now full of restaurants, guest houses and the accoutrements of a tourist centre – just walking around it from your guest house could take a while but there are nearby walkable sites which could be very pleasant to reach along cliff paths. The other main sites are across the island and you would need to be prepared for a reasonable all day cycle ride to reach them.
So what did we see?
a. Ahu Tahai. Walkable just north of Hanga Roa so no problem to take in. It actually covers 3 different Ahu and Tahai is in the middle with its “restored” coral eyes.
b. Ahu Tongariku. 15 moai restored by anastylosis from both their late-moai cult destruction and by a major tsunami in 1960. Yes, it is almost entirely a reconstruction (it isn’t even known which moai were originally placed where), but its location in front of surf and cliffs is stunning, as is its size and scope
c. Rano Raraku. The quarry from which the moai were cut. A number remain still only half-formed in the living rock but all around are part buried (from forehead to waist) and toppled examples of fully formed ones at all sorts of angles to the ground, looking as enigmatic as you always expected them to be! If you were to cycle out from Hanga Roa you would have to be prepared to cover at least the 18kms to here – but the road follows the coast and you would pass 10 or more Ahu in various states of destruction some of which at least which would be interesting to stop at and explore (in our tour mini-bus we were unable to!) including examples of face-down and face-up topplings (a potentially historically significant difference apparently!). The site also provides fine distant views of Tongariku a bit further on. You will have to show (or obtain if you haven’t already done so) your National Park ticket (US $60 pp) here in order to get in.
d. Orongo. A ceremonial “village” used by the Bird-man cult of 18th and 19th Centuries which, at least partly, superseded the older moai cult. It is situated around 3kms SW of Hanga Roa along a dirt road – a foot path following the cliffs looked more interesting. The site is stunningly situated on a rocky promentary, high above the sea with a spectacular deep circular volcanic caldera on the other side. A series of dry stone constructed cult houses leads to a “high place” of rocks covered with “birdmen” petroglyphs. Far below lie the islands which the birdmen had to reach to collect the Sooty Tern egg before returning to the cliff top with it! WMF have just constructed a small visitor centre and exhibit here and again you will need a ticket to enter. Another “do not miss” site in my view.

It might have been nice to visit Anakena with its group of restored moai. It lies beyond Tongariki and also has a beach – but we are not “beach people” and made the decision (rightly I think) that we didn’t really “need” more moai but that Orongo was absolutely “necessary” to provide a rounded picture of Easter Island culture.
Date posted: May 2012
Joseph Colletti (USA):
I visited Easter Island in April 2009 and although several of the previous writers have decried the "development for rich American tourists" (actually I heard more Spanish, understandable, and Italian) the island is still relatively undeveloped and not the golf course self contained hotel disasters one sees elsewhere. In fact the only town is Honga Roa and it retains a somewhat down at the heels but charming quality. Sure there are T-shirt shops but there are grocery stores and hardware shops too. Don't expect beautiful beaches and lush landscapes either but there are those statues.

The chief attraction are the statues or moai. I found the sites where the moai have not been re-erected to be the most interesting as one can get a better sense of the past and paradoxically what they might have looked like when standing. There is a haunting sadness to the site of a toppled, broken moai that affected me more than the standing statues, those those are certainly dramatic and not to be dismissed. Getting around requires either a tour, a four wheel drive (many of the roads are not just unpaved but little better than dirt paths) or a car with driver though I did see lots of bikes. Prices were not exorbitant. Four days at a minimum are necessary to really get a sense of the island and there are many interesting hikes and some caving. I spent one day hiking the northern coast (about six hours) where there are no roads but some of the most spectacular sites. Getting lost is impossible--keep the ocean on your left.

Most of the literature talks about "the collapse" or the ecological disaster leading to civil war but much of that is under dispute, so go with a skeptical approach to most of the theories. The museum is small but provides a good foundation for the visit.
Date posted: May 2009
Aaron (USA):
I think that Easter Island is about the most intriguing place on earth. I lived on Oahu for 3 years, and the only thing that disappointed me was how it catered to American life. I would change my life in a second to live in a place that people know that money doesn't bring happiness. That you could enjoy every day you're alive because you are with your friends and family, living in the best place on earth.
Date posted: May 2006
Nicole (USA):
Okay, so I didn't really read your site. But I didn't actually have to, I mean my dad is from Easter Island (believe it or not). So as you can probably guess I have pretty strong ways of juding someone who talks about the Island. I in no means am trying to be mean, but put yourself in my shoes. I've visited there only twice, but have had Rapa Nui in my blood all my life. You all can go to visit,and judge it the way you would like, but by all means you really have no idea what life is really like for these people. My Grandma had 17 children, most of which still remain at home on the island. I have seen so much life through these people's eyes, and they get so much pride out of so little. So when you visit and say that it seems kind of expensive, look at how the people actually live. In shacks! If this was your only way of making money was toursits, then you would do it. So before you judge these people imagine picking corn, running a bussines for very few people, or raising horses just to feed your family. You wouldn't make it one day, while these people have made it a lifetime. So don't judge, look deep in the souls of the people there. In all honesty they can teach us Americans a way of life we would never want to live or could live. But you know what, they are the most happiest people alive, beause in there eyes they are rich because they have family, friends, and all the essential's of life. So take time to get to know the Island before you judge it, because believe it or not it can teach you a life lesson, even if you just speak English. Oh yeah believe it or not my Uncle is the Mayor of the Island Julio Araki. Look up the Araki's if you ever visit they will treat you just like family, they are mine!
Dana Hagstrom (Sweden and the U.K.):
I spent 2 weeks in Rapa Nui last year. the plan was to bring a tent and sleepingbag, to keep the costs down on accommodation, but amazingly it turned out cheeper to rent a room in a lady's house than to pitch my tent up on one of the camingsites.
The island is truly beautiful. The atmosphere and the hospitality amazing. The family I stayed with did their very best to look after me, show me their island and include me in their everyday activities. I couldn't have wished for anything better.
Now, the only thing that spoiled this little paradise, was the way it has been exploited to the American tourists. There is this massive hotel which has been built, where the prices are sky-high of course, and designed to cater for the "rich and comfortable". It is such a shame. Thelocals, of course, are happy for the money they can make, but it makes you wonder what the travelagents who exploit places like this think of?! The whole charm, the exotic feeling this island gives you will disappear if they try and change Rapa Nui to yet another tourist-trap.

None the less, I will definetely return to this little paradise. Just as much for the amazing scenery and magic nature as for the kind people and their culture.

Have you been to Rapa Nui National Park? Share your experiences!

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Site info

Rapa Nui National Park
Country: Chile
Inscribed: 1995
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (1) (3) (5)
Category: Archaeological site, Pacific

Site history:
1995 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»Parque Nacional

In the news:
» Easter Island's ancient inhabitants weren't so lonely after all (23-10-2014).
» Rats! Diet of Easter Islanders Revealed (27-09-2013).
» Easter Island's 'Walking' Stone Heads Stir Debate (14-06-2013).
» Sustainable Visitor Center Opens on Easter Island (05-06-2011).
» New book challenges accepted wisdom about demise of the indigenous civilisation of Easter Island (06-05-2011).
» Archaeologists have disproved the 50-year-old theory underpinning our understanding of how the famous stone statues were moved around Easter Island (19-05-2010).
» Giant statues give up hat secret (08-09-2009).
» A group of residents on Easter Island on the weekend occupied the local airport to prevent Chileans from the mainland or foreigners from continuing to arrive to settle permanently on the island (17-08-2009).
» Finn breaks off Easter Island statue's ear (27-03-2008).
» The Easter Island moai are dying by natural causes (07-12-2007).
» Chile's Easter Island moais statues threatened by corrosion (23-09-2006).

Related links:
» The Lessons of Easter Island.
» Rongo-Rongo script.
» Easter Island Homepage.
» Sacred sites.
» Ancient and lost civilizations.
» Mysterious places.

Related Forum posts:
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Getting there

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Cave dwellings . Dry Stone Construction .
Petroglyphs . Pictographs .
Blown up . Hit by Tsunami . Iconoclasm .
Lava tubes .
Caldera . Dependent territories . Located at an "extreme point" of Latitude/Longitude . Pacific Ocean . Polynesia .
Historical Food Remains . Neolithic age . Recorded cultural discoveries . WIC .
Human Activity
Astronomy and Astrology . Cannibalism . Secret Locations . Stone Quarries . Writing systems .
Individual People
Captain James Cook . Erich von Däniken . Female Archaeologists . Jacques-Yves Cousteau .
Religion and Belief
Legends and Folk Myths .
Built in the 12th century .
Built elsewhere as a full size replica . Cultural sites closely connected to volcanoes . Cultural sites taking up an entire island . Cultural WHS set within an IUCN recognised protected area . First inscriptions . History of the World in 100 objects . In the British museum . Isolated WHS . Minority communities . Purpose Built Visitor Centre . Visited by Nicolas Hulot .
WHS on Other Lists
World Monuments Watch (past) .
World Heritage Process
Slow Starters .

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