Rapa Nui: Paradise Beyond the Moai

Flying out from Santiago to Easter Island

Flying out from Santiago to Easter Island

A place that shouldn’t even exist.  Easter Island or Rapa Nui is a 63 SQ km island smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It sits more than 2000 km from its nearest neighbor. Yet, around 1200 years ago, a small group of Polynesians made their way across the vast ocean expanse and landed here in a small double-hulled canoe.

The story of Easter Island is long and dramatic, but I will leave that one for another article. For now, I want to focus on what there is to do in this magical place beyond visiting the world-renowned Moai.

When you arrive in Easter Island, the Polynesian origins are immediately apparent.  You are often greeted with leis and flowers and the traditional warmth of the native people. Over 60% of the island’s 6,000 inhabitants are descended from the native population and all but a few hundred live in the capital city of Hanga Roa.

We traveled to this Pacific island as an off-shoot to our visit to Chile.  Christina was six months pregnant at the time and we were anxious for some tropical exploration after touring the incredible Atacama desert. Easter Island is small, a few days is all you need to experience the island in its entirety.  Almost everyone knows about Easter Island from its signature Moai, the large stone sculptures that are spread throughout the island, but there is a lot more to this island than just the Moai, here are a few of our favorites.

Hanga Roa

Grab a coffee at Mikafe

After getting settled in, we recommend heading to the marina and grabbing a delicious specialty coffee at Mikafe.  This small cafe offers great people watching where you can see the local fishermen bringing in their catch and the locals going about their day.

Easter Island - Mikafe

Catch a show at Ballet Kari Kari

Ballet Kari Kari shares the history of Rapa Nui through dance and theater. As with everything on Easter Island, the venue is small and intimate, yet the team squeezes in a great deal of production value. You’ll get an opportunity for your face to be painted in the traditional native style and the local dancers put on a very energetic performance that will be sure to capture your attention. Stay to the end for some interactive dancing and entertainment!

Easter Island - Join the fun

Check out the beautiful artwork at the Church of Rapa Nui

The Church of Rapa Nui is the central focus of the modern local populace, many of whom identify as Roman Catholic. The church has spectacular locally made wood carvings depicting biblical stories and icons.  Whether religion is your thing or not, it is worth taking a look just for the relaxing ambiance and beautiful woodwork, as well as checking out the unique statue of a black Mary.

Easter Island - Black Mary

Outside of Hanga Roa

Hike the crater at Rano Kau to Orongo

Rona Kau is an extinct volcano that rises 324 m above Honga Roa. It houses one of the only three areas of natural freshwater on the island in its crater lake. As you make your way to the crater you will come across Orongo, a small stone village which was the center of the Birdman cult. During the 18th and 19th centuries, political leaders were decided by a race where warriors scaled the island cliffs and swam to the nearby island to capture a sooty tern egg and return it unharmed to Orongo.

A colourful marsh reflects the clouds within a volcanic crater surrounded by lush green cliffs

Feel the magic at the Navel of the World

When you first see what the Rapa Nui call the Navel of the World, it’s underwhelming. At first glance, it seems to be little more than a big round boulder surrounded but a circle of piled up smaller rocks. The Rapa Nui, however, believed that it was brought to the island specifically by the Island’s first king, Hotu Matua. The stone was given its name based on the legend that it is from where all life sprang from. No matter the origin, this rock is known to have a few intricacies, such as when a compass is placed on the rock it loses its direction.

A large round rock is circled by four smaller round rocks sitting on red ground within a stone foundation. Blue skies and a wavy ocean are in the background

Take a dip at Anakena Beach

It was a long and hard day of hiking the many amazing trails of Easter Island. The thought of spreading your toes into the white sand of Anakena beach and wading slowly in to the warm pacific water seemed like paradise. Beyond the small group of Moai that sit silently watching over the beach, Anakena is also believed to be the location where Hotu Matua first landed to populate the island.

Easter Island - Anakena Beach

Hire Alexander Huerta to discover some of the cool caves of Rapa Nui

We got lucky when our flight out of Easter Island was cancelled.  Not only were we re-booked on the next flight 6 hours later, but they upgraded us to First Class for the leg into Santiago! We wondered what to do with our added few hours. Christina suggested we try to check out some of the caves. We had heard of several, but hadn’t had an opportunity to visit. We stepped out of the airport and hailed a cab, and that is how we met Alexander. He was more than happy to give us a tour and show us some of his favorite nooks and crannies within Easter Island.  He even stopped and picked up some of his family to join us for some exploration making our last day on Rapa Nui very special!

Easter Island - Alexander Huerta

Easter Island is magical and it makes for an incredible experience and learning opportunity.  Given the chance, I would return here in a heartbeat! We traveled to Easter Island before kids. With Christina being six months pregnant, the thought of children wasn’t far.  Easter Island struck us as a near-perfect destination for little ones. Yes, the flight is long, but the country is easy to maneuver. The hikes are entertaining without being too difficult and the people are warm and inviting.

If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path location for your next family adventure, don’t overlook Rapa Nui!

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Rapa Nui Beyond the Moai - Pinterest

About the Author

Kevin Wagar is a professional traveler and family travel expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life. With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that traveling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.

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  1. Absolutely amazing! This is one of my favorite places that I hope to travel to one day! Great article, pictures and awesome blog in general! πŸ™‚

  2. I’ve been reading up on Chile a lot lately and Easter island seems to be an ideal side trip from there…. But no one’s actually made it sound interesting until now! Awesome post! (P.S. I live in Toronto too! Represent TO bloggers!)

    1. Hi Tamar, it’s great to see a local on here! Easter Island is an easy trip for sure. The flight is a bit long, but well worth it, and LAN airlines does a good job of making you comfortable.

  3. Great article! I don’t know much about Easter Island other than the Moai so it’s nice to read about other attractions and alternatives. Really like the idea about the ballet Kari kari-I love getting the opportunity to see, and participate, in unique cultural activities. And who doesn’t like a fun bit of facepaint?!

  4. Wow thanks for this! Now I know a trip to Easter Island will be well worth it. The Navel of the World and the Black Madonna in wood! Love it! And, of course the Moai.

  5. No video of you dancing? πŸ™‚

    Seriously, though, this makes Easter Island look like paradise. A great mix of culture, history, and beauty! I <3 places that have this type of mix. They feel the most authentic to me. I have a mini (like 2 inches tall) moai that is going to be our travel buddy this year.

  6. Easter Island has always been at the top of my list of places to go. Your post confirmed this for me and also showed me that there is so much more to see that than Moai. I suppose the difficulty in getting there only ensures that it remains as beautiful and non-touristy as it has always been.
    Happy Travels and thank you for sharing your journey to this amazing part of the world πŸ™‚


  7. Love the post – Easter Island is definitely on my bucket list. Hiking around Rano Kau crater looks amazing. Although the Moai are interesting, its great to see a post on other things to do on the island. Happy travels!

  8. I’m a theater nerd myself so the opportunity to see any type of performance would be exciting. I love that you get see the culture through their representation that way. Really great overview!

  9. How incredible! I had only ever really thought about the Moai when considering Easter Island but I love how much else there is to do on the island. The hike to the crater at Rona Kau looks stunning and the caves at Rapa Nui fascinating. I also always appreciate a good coffee recommendation!

  10. This place looks absolutely great! I’m not the type of mountains and all that and seeing the photos of the beach. Yay! I liked it. And as I’m an coffee addict I really appreciated your Tip. πŸ˜‰

  11. Looks like an absolute cracking destination to visit. The art work and such reminds me of the Maori people of New Zealand i somehow think they are descendants of each other.

  12. Easter Island sounds so intriguing and Navel of the world, Rapa Nui also. Would love to visit these exotic places, seem so out of this world.

  13. Sweet – I love going to interactive shows; watching people dance and have fun is nice… but I’d rather be participating. That’s so cool they painted your faces too!

  14. Easter Island has always fascinated me, particularly the moai sculptures. The Ballet Kari Kari seemed like such a fun experience! Dance and theatre are such wonderful mediums to learn about history and culture πŸ™‚

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