Discovered by the outside world on Easter Sunday in 1722, the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui is one of the world’s most remote islands, the remnants of a giant caldera jutting out of a raging Pacific Ocean some 2000km to the nearest populated land mass. Inhabited by the Rapa Nui people, original descendants of Polynesians who arrived some thousand years ago, Easter Island caught the world’s imagination with images of the iconic Moai Statues, huge monolithic human figures that lay scattered about the island. Over 800 have now been discovered, the largest 10m in height and weighing some 82 tonnes.
At its peak, the island’s population was estimated at 15000 which had plummeted to 2000 by the arrival of the first Europeans. Overhunting, overharvesting and deforestation is understood to have stripped the island of the once lush forests brimming with native wildlife, all now extinct, and caused the collapse of a proud culture. In anger, the survivors turned on their stone Moai gods, toppling them the island over, the last statue falling in 1868.
Annexed by Chile in 1888, regular flights now link Easter Island with Santiago and Rapa Nui has embraced tourism with a good range of accommodation around the main town Hanga Roa. The fascinating local culture combined with the wonderful Moai make this enigmatic island one of Chile’s most important tourist attractions and well worth spending 3-4 days exploring.