I have always been fascinated by the Moai statues and knew I wanted to visit Easter Island someday. The story of the people fascinate me—an ancient and complex civilization on a small, remote island in the Pacific mostly unimpacted by outsiders that peaked and almost disappeared. What’s not to be intrigued by?
I finally had the opportunity to go a few years ago. My only must-see when I planned a trip to Chile was to visit Easter Island. It is almost 3,700 miles off the coast of Chile and was annexed in 1888. However, due to the remoteness of the island, the people remain largely unintegrated. The flight is over five hours as Easter Island is a good distance from the mainland but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to see it in person.
The morning after my arrival I woke to the sound of roosters alerting me that I wasn’t in Santiago anymore. Though rental cars are available, I decided to join a small-group tour so I could learn more about the history, the people, and of course, the Moai. As a bit of a history nerd, learning is as important to me as seeing and doing. Our guide was Rapa Nui, a native to the island and he offered some amazing insights.
A Brief History of Easter Island
The Rapa Nui came from Polynesia between 400 AD and 800 AD. The Moai Cult, also called the Ancestor’s Cult, took control of the island from around 800 AD until 1,600 AD when the people almost became extinct.
At its height in the 1600s, the population of Rapa Nui rose to around 20,000. The island is very small, only 15 miles by 10 miles, and this growth led to its downfall. The population plummeted to just over 100 shortly after due to overpopulation, not enough resources, war, and starvation. Easter Island is a cautionary tale for uncontrolled growth and not respecting natural resources.
Easter Island Moai
The Rapa Nui believed in life after death and the Moai represented the souls of the dead. Close to 1,000 statues were built and places throughout the island.
I toured several incredible sites and spent the day walking among the Moai. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. This trip was seriously a dream and it was so interesting to learn more about this amazing island and its history. Some of my favorite sites:
This site features a row of 15 Moai that once stood watching over families in the area. The moai are resting on an ahu (platform). The ahu isn’t far from the ocean and it’s a beautiful and relaxing area to walk around.
Rano Raraku is the quarry in the side of a caldera where the moai statues were carved from the rock. I could see at least 50 statues in various states of progress located where they stopped working on them. Each Moai took 1-2 years to carve which is impressive when you think of the number that used to cover the island.
Anakena Beach is one of the two sandy beaches on the island and it’s gorgeous! The contrast of the white sand, the large black lava rocks sprinkled around, and the waters in shades of teal and turquoise were stunning. A grouping of Moai sits on a grassy area near the beach and they feature a red rock on the top of the head representing hair.
Orongo and the Birdman Story
On my second day visiting, I was in for a treat—learning about the Birdman. I went with a group to the sacred Rano Kau volcano, the largest on the island. The crater is almost 1 mile in diameter. Near the top of the volcano is Orongo, a ceremonial village built in the 15th and 16th centuries. It is the site of an old and important tradition of the Birdman that was carried out from around the height of the Rapa Nui in 1600 for nearly two hundred years.
The chiefs who ruled the tribes on the island selected their best warriors for an annual competition to determine who would rule the island for the following year. The warriors climbed down the volcano then swam to the small island of Moto Nui off the coast to get the egg from the sooty term birds that live there. The first to find an egg won the competition. The winner’s chief became the Birdman with the power to rule the island.
I loved everything Moai and though the beaches are truly spectacular, I encourage you to go and learn about the incredible evolution of this island.
Written by: Sam Glauser (Samantha)
Sam is a travel-obsessed animal lover with big plans to travel the world with her dog. When she’s not blogging about her travel adventures at
myflyingleap.com, you can find her volunteering with her pet-therapy cat and dog, on the top of a mountain, or enjoying a glass of bold red wine planning for her next trip.