Things to Do in Easter Island
The isolated island was named “Easter Island” by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who first saw the island on Easter Sunday in the year 1722. Today, Easter Island is best known for the hundreds of gigantic stone statues that are lined up all around the coast. These surviving statues – called moai – are some of the only remains of the island’s native inhabitants. Most were thought to have died off more than 150 years ago due to the slave trade and disease brought to the island by European colonizers.
Today, the moai are by far the most popular reason for travelers to visit Easter Island. Much like Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids at Giza, archaeologists are not entirely sure how the moai were transported to their final locations, which makes these big-headed statues all the more interesting.
But driving/hiking around to see the moai aren’t the only things to do here. Visitors can also expect to find many archaeological sites scattered all around the island (many near the burial grounds that the moai are associated with), as well as volcanic craters, caves, white-sand beaches suitable for surfing, snorkeling and even scuba diving.
With 15 gigantic stone-carved moai lined up on a 200-foot-long platform and a remote location framed by the looming Rano Raraku volcano and the crashing ocean, Ahu Tongariki is nothing short of spectacular. For many visitors, this is the star attraction of Easter Island, and looking up at the towering figures, the largest of which stands 14 meters tall, it’s hard not to be in awe of the Rapa Nui people, who achieved the seemingly impossible feat of carving and moving the 30-ton stone boulders to their waterfront perch.
Ahu Tongariki is the largest ceremonial site ever made on the island, featuring the largest number of moai ever erected on a single site, and each statue is unique, with only one featuring the iconic red-rock “pukao,” or ceremonial headdress. Even more astounding, considering the size and weight of the statues, is that the site was almost completely destroyed by a tsunami in 1960, with the rocks flung more than 90 meters inland. The ahu has since been painstakingly restored, a project that took Chilean archaeologists Claudio Cristino and Patricia Vargas five years and was finally completed in 1995.
Restored by archaeologists William Mulley and Gonzalo Figueroa in 1960, the seven grand moai that make up Ahu Akivi are among the most visited attractions of Easter Island. Dating back to the 15th century, the moai are thought to have been built in three stages and are unique in their placement—not only is Ahu Akivi one of few moai sites located inland, but the moai are the only ones on the island that face toward the ocean.
Legend has it that the seven identical moai of Ahu Akivi were built in honor of the seven explorers sent to discover the island by founder Hotu Matu'a; thus the statues look out to sea toward their home land. Another theory on their placement is that the site was used as a celestial observatory—the moai face the sunset during the Spring Equinox and look away from the sunrise of the Autumn Equinox.
Located on the northeastern coast of Easter Island, where it’s believed that King Hotu Matu’a first set foot on Easter Island, Anakena is one of only two sand beaches on the island. Boasting coconut palms and calm waters, it’s an idyllic spot to enjoy the island’s unique beauty. Nearby are two ceremonial platforms, known as ahus, with moai statues.
An ancient volcano-turned quarry, Rano Raraku was the source material for around 95 percent of Easter Island’s moai statues. Abandoned in the 18th century, the site contains nearly 400 moai, including the massive El Gigante at 71 feet (21 meters). The moai here are in different states: some unfinished, some half buried, some still attached to the walls, and some broken.
Located just outside Hanga Roa, Tahai is one of the oldest and most popular ceremonial complexes on Easter Island. It features three ceremonial platforms (ahu) with moai statues, as well as the remains of an ancient village with traditional boathouses (hare paenga). It also offers one of the best sunset views on the island.
Perched on a narrow ridge on the edge of the Rano Kau crater, Orongo Ceremonial Village was the ritual center of the tangata manu, or birdman, cult. Home to remnants of stone houses that were used in the annual birdman ceremony and thousands of petroglyphs, it also offers views of the ocean and offshore islets called motus.
A small, extinct volcano, Puna Pau is home to a quarry that provided all of the soft red scoria stone used to carve the ceremonial topknot (pukao) found atop of certain moai statues on Easter Island at the most important ceremonial sites (ahu). More than two dozen mostly finished pukao can still be found at the
Located near Hanga Roa, Ana Kai Tangata is one of the most popular caves on Easter Island. The volcanic cave is known for its many petroglyphs and association with the birdman cult—as well as unsubstantiated rumors of cannibalism. It’s also a place where canoes were built and a great spot to watch the waves beak onto the cliffs.
A small cove surrounded by hills south of Hanga Roa that means “hidden bay” in Rapanui, Hanga Piko has long been inhabited by the residents of Easter Island. Today, it’s the main cargo port for the island and the center of its traditional fishing industry. It’s also home to a cave and an ahu ceremonial platform with one moai statue.
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