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Peru & Chile in 11 Days – Part 14 – Easter Island in a Day

Posted on Sep 5, 2012 by in International, Travel | 11 comments

Our Itinerary:

Red-Eye Flight to Easter Island

Most of Easter Island was still asleep when our plane touched down on the single landing strip of Mataveri International Airport.  In fact, the airport itself appeared to slowly awaken only minutes after the airplane hatch swung open, with a handful of airport personnel quietly making their way to their respective posts adjacent to the open runway as the first passengers began to disembark.

We had just arrived at the remotest airport in the world.

Welcome to Easter Island, land of the iconic moai statues and home to an age old mystery that continues to intrigue and stump modern day history buffs.  Who were the Rapa Nui?  How did they come to the island and what led to their societal collapse?  Or, more pressing to the average tourist, why did they build those huge monolithic statues strategically placed throughout the island?  So many questions, so few answers, none of which we were likely to answer in the 30 hours we had to explore the island.

In an ironic twist to our mostly well-researched 11-day 7-city South American travel itinerary and for reasons still slightly inexplicable to us,  we decided to “wing it” in Easter Island.  With the exception of a last minute internet booking with a local guesthouse twenty four hours prior (which included an airport pick-up), we had nothing else scheduled and planned to book something either on arrival at the airport or with the guesthouse.  Worst case, we figured we’d walk into town and talk to a few tour operators.

We miscalculated on all accounts.

Best Unlaid Plans Unraveled

The airport arrival area was completely deserted of all travel vendors.   The stalls touting local excursions and tour packages were there, they were just unmanned.  Completely empty.

The guesthouse airport pick-up was on time, but the driver (the high-school aged son of the guesthouse owner) did not speak English.  When we arrived at the property we discovered that the one person who spoke English (the owner) had been called away on business (she’s also the island’s meteorologist) and no one knew when she was expected back.

Finally, it was suddenly unclear whether the town even had a travel company open this time of year since it was still low season for tourists.

The three of us could only look at each other and wait for the sunrise, hoping that the light of day would bring us better travel karma.   We decided to settle into our accommodations and regroup at breakfast.

Sunrise on Easter Island

Catching the Sunrise and waiting for breakfast

Fortunately for us, breakfast was just what the travel doctor ordered.   The food itself was forgettable, but it was there that we met our “Easter Island Angel”, Patricia from Brazil.  In one fell swoop, she would quickly turn what was quickly becoming a comedy of errors into an enchanting day of delightful exploration.

The Kindness of Strangers

Minutes after we arrived in the communal dining room, Patricia, a blond, statuesque beauty from Brazil sauntered in with a dazzling smile and friendly greeting.  She introduced herself as a fellow guest who had spent a week exploring the island on her own and was catching an afternoon flight back home later that day.   Our breakfast was interrupted by a call from the guesthouse owner who confirmed that she would be waylaid at work for the entire day and suggested that we head into town to see if we could find a local taxi to take us around the island.  Upon hearing of our predicament, Patricia immediately volunteered to walk us into town and help us flag down a taxi.  Taxi drivers on the island, she told us, didn’t speak much English.

Apparently my high school Spanish classes would come in handy after all.

The first taxi we flagged down turned out to be a dud.  After exchanging a few words with the driver, Patricia quickly said, “Adios” and waved him off.  Instead of giving us a straightforward price, he wanted us to follow him home and negotiate something there.  No thanks.

The second time was the charm for us, however.  Sergio, a cherubic faced Chilean in his early 30s was just nearing the end of his shift and heading home when Patricia hailed him down.  She told him we wanted a driver for the day who would show us around the island and help explain some of the famous sites.  Without hesitation, he quoted us a reasonable all-in price.  Despite some reservations about the fact that Sergio didn’t speak any English, our scheduling mishaps of the morning quickly tipped the scales in favor of quick acceptance.

That was one of the best decisions we made that day.

Once we reached town, we parted ways with Patricia after exchanging hugs and contact details (we’re now Facebook friends and continue to be inspired by her beautiful energy and adventurous spirit).  She not only helped lift our flagging spirits after a series of initial disappointments, but also helped us connect with a stellar guide that would end up making our day on Easter Island one of the highlights of our entire South American trip.  Muchas gracias, Patricia!

Our Easter Island Angel – the lovely Patricia from Brazil


Easter Island Photo Tour

English or no English, our day on Easter Island would turn out to be spectacular.  Without further ado, I present our full day exploration of the sublime and mysterious Easter Island:

Introducing our capable and trusty tour guide for the day – Sergio

Following Sergio on the trail at Rano Raraku

Mysterious Moai of Easter Island

Mr. Travelbypoints does his best leaning Moai impression…

We go up, down and all around the mountain…

Walking through a meadow of wildflowers in search of Moai

Horses seemed to outnumber humans on the remote island…

Sergio shows us his favorite meditation spot at the magnetic rock

View from Orongo of Moto Nui and Moto Iti – two small islands that played a significant role in the ancient Birdman competition

Water Filled Crater at Rano Kau

Easter Island’s version of Waikiki – Anakena Beach

Anakena Moai

Common sights along the way – a wandering cow

Hiking the rolling hillsides of Easter Island

Our sturdy taxi awaits at sunset..

Sunset on Easter Island

Leaving Easter Island the next day

Last view of Easter Island from the plane

Lessons Learned

Despite the initial hiccups on arrival, our Easter Island experience turned out to surpass even our moderately high expectations in large part because we had the good fortune to meet kind and helpful strangers.  Just when we were ready to beat ourselves over the head with remorse that we hadn’t locked in concrete plans, fate managed to show us that it’s okay to veer off the beaten path every once in a while to see where it might lead.  

In our case, we were rewarded with a full day of eye-opening exploration in the company of a kindhearted soul who introduced us to the many wonders of Easter Island without speaking more than a handful words of English.

Come with an open mind and you will leave with a heart full of appreciation for the magic of endless possibilities.


P.S.  I couldn’t end this post without noting that I have never seen my mom more talkative than when she is conversing in a language that requires her daughter to translate.  I had to remind her more than once that high school Spanish means having to keep it simple. Just the basics, Mom, just the basics…. 🙂


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  • Very cool!  I would love to go to Easter Island some day.

    • You never know, that day may come sooner than you think!  It’s a beautiful place to visit.

      • I would hope it comes sooner rather than later, but I’m not too sure.  Got some debt to tackle first 😉

  • Chunky

    Your South America is epic!  I am taking the exact same itinerary/flights as you are in November to Easter Island.  Can you tell us about the logistics/cost of your 30 hours there?

    • Chunky

       I just realized that Mr. Travelpoints’ blog you linked to answered my question!  🙂

      • Thank you for your kind words, Chunky.  I’m glad you found the link to Mr. Travelbypoints’ blog.  It has a lot of great info on all the logistics and costs which you should find helpful in planning/budgeting for your trip.  Easter Island should be beautiful in November.  Have a wonderful trip!

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  • Easter Island seems to be a good place to visit, i like the trail at the Rano Raraku that you posted:)


    • Hi, Simon! Rano Raraku is beautiful and imparts the feeling seeing the Moai gradually emerge from the mountainside quarry.  Eerie, but very cool.  

  • So jealous. 

  • americantaitai

    Prana, I think this is one of your most memorable posts!  I love how you managed to “wing” it on the Island and yet the kindness of strangers really made the trip for you guys!  Amazing photos!  

    • Aw, thanks, Americantaitai.  What a compliment that is coming from you!  

      Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers when we were at our most helpless. 🙂

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