Rapa Nui, a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, almost 1,300 miles from the next inhabited piece of land, and more than 2,000 from continental Chile.
When talking about Easter Island, I realized that people often underestimate what can be found there. It is considered an expensive destination, reserved for honeymooners, and apart from the famous moai, it's not worth the pricey flights just to visit a few carved menhirs and a pair of tropical beaches.
Well good, I’m glad. It's better if this microworld, condensed into just 15.3 x 7.6 miles, stays protected from the crowded South American backpacker trail.
So why bother coming so far from the rest of the world and its troubles? Let me try to give you an idea of what to expect if you ever have the chance to travel to one of the best anthropological stories ever:
1- Sunrise in Tongariki. The greatest success of the island is that the image of a moai is a world-class icon, comparable to the Mona Lisa, the Statue of Liberty or the look of Mr T.
2- Rano Raraku is one of the volcano crater lakes of Rapa Nui, and the quarry from which most of the 887 moais counted so far were carved.
Look at the giant in the top left corner, or the moai that was about to born below on the right. Rano Raraku has a hill topped with half-buried moais, apparently left behind on their way to the ceremonial platforms.
This statue is unique because is the only one sitting on its knees. It looks at the sky in a very expressive way.
Mystery solved: moais do have bodies.
3- Find the magnetic stone of Te Pito Kura, considered to be the navel of the world.
4- Discover secret pools by the sea, the perfect spot to bring your most recent conquest.
When the sun shines over underwater volcanic rocks, the spectacle is hard to forget.
5- Ovahe is one of only two small sandy beaches on the island.
Horses running free near Ovahe beach. Great colors even for a cloudy day.
6- Anakena is the other sandy beach, and one of the best in the world. It includes a major archaeological site and this little coconut tree forest. Refresh your knowledge of art history while dipping into the Pacific.
The splendid Ahu (moai's platform) of Anakena's beach was restored in 1979. By the mid-nineteenth century none of the gigantic statues of the island were standing anymore, apart from the ones buried to their shoulders around the quarry in Rano Raraku.
Recycled moai. Who says Rapas aren’t environmentally friendly?
7- The couple of rooms in the local Museum keep the only remnants of a moai's eye.
Moais like this one are scattered all around the coast, always facing inland.
8- The Rapanuis show their rich cultural heritage during the Tapati Festival, held for 10 days at the beginning of February.
Two families compete to choose the Tapati Queen in a wide variety of events.
The festival program includes several nights of Polynesian dances, with hundreds of performancers on stage (please check out the video at the end).
9- Find a fake submerged moai diving near the Motu Nui islets.
10- Orongo is an ancient ceremonial village. Until 1867, the participants of a dangerous competition would descend along the cliff and swim to the small islands in front, looking for the egg of a bird that nests only there.
And now all put together into the same image.
11- Orongo sits on the edge of the spectacular crater of Rano Kau.
Rano Kau, one of the most beautiful crater lakes this side of the galaxy.
12- Explore the extensive system of caves, like Ana Kakenga facing the ocean, or the Grotto of the Virgins in the wildest part of the island, Poike peninsula.
13- Climb the Terevaka to get a 360 degree view over the ocean. This is the other one of the three principal volcano craters, and it's located at the centre of Rapa Nui. Sorry, no lake this time.
14- Polynesian roots. Rapa Nui is the south-eastern vertex of the triangle formed with Hawaii and New Zealand (Aotearoa). Look at the distances once more. Even in hyper-high season you may have the feeling that the island is all for you.
15- Drop your jaw watching the Haka Pei: An extreme ethnic sport that takes place during the Tapati Festival.
Don't miss out on the dancers too!