The Best Hikes on Easter Island

Posted by on December 19th, 2023

The moai of Tahai
Photo: Marci Kolt

As a South America specialist at Vaya, my favorite adventures to arrange for our travelers are those that venture to the most remote parts of the continent, the ones that instill in us a humbling sense of our small place in such a vast world. Easter Island, the tiny dot of land 2,500 miles off the coast of Chile, is most famous for its mysterious monolithic moais, but besides the enigmatic archaeological wonders, this island also has some of the most unique and interesting hikes I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.

Here are my favorites:

Rano Kau

Follow in the footsteps of the Birdman warriors

Rano Kau is the largest volcanic crater on Easter Island and the southernmost of the three cones that formed the triangle-shaped island hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s also the location of Orongo, the village and ceremonial site where the annual Birdman competition took place.

Rano Kau volcanic crater
Photo: Marci Kolt

Visitors can hike along almost the entire rim of the crater except for the southern edge which was destroyed by an eruption over a million years ago. From the crater’s edge, you can see down onto three islets about a mile offshore. For about 150 years, young competitors would climb down the almost 1,000-foot cliffs, swim across to Motu Nui, the largest of the three islets, and attempt to collect the first egg of the season laid by the sooty tern, a migratory seabird. Each tribal chief nominated a young man to compete on their behalf and the winning chief was named Tangata Manu, or Birdman, and named leader of the island for the next year.

From the national park checkpoint, it’s about half a mile to the Orongo village and another 3.5 miles total to return to the checkpoint, continue around the crater to the other side of the volcano, and return back to the checkpoint. 

The Birdman event actually commenced closer to the current town of Hanga Roa, where competitors began their hike up the side of the volcano. For a longer hike of about six miles, you can traverse this same trailhead that leads up through some forested areas with sweeping views of the town below.

Ma’unga Terevaka

360-degree panoramic views of the island below

Terevaka is the youngest and the largest of the three volcanoes that make up the island. It’s also the highest point on Easter Island. The hike to the summit is about six miles round-trip reaching an elevation of 1,615 feet. On a clear day, hikers are treated to a 360-degree view of the entire island and a true sense of its extreme isolation in the vast Pacific Ocean.

The Northern Coast

The most remote corner of one of the most remote islands in the world

Starting from Ahu Akivi (the only moai that face the ocean rather than facing inland), this pristine and undisturbed coastal trail is like a true open-air museum, littered with the foundations of ancient homes, hidden caves, petroglyphs, and artifacts. The hike of about 12 miles is one of the least frequented on the island, as it’s completely uninhabited with no roads, and so it’s a wonderful way to experience the rawest part of the island while feeling like you’re stepping back in time thousands of years. Sometimes the trail even disappears completely and you’ll walk through rolling grassland strewn with lava rocks. And then suddenly, the sparkling white sand and bright blue water of Anakena Beach appear before you, the perfect place to relax after your journey.

Approaching Anakena Beach from the northern coast
Photo: Marci Kolt

The Poike Peninsula

Rarely visited and filled with hidden treasures

Poike Peninsula in the northeast of the island is the oldest of the three main volcanoes that make up the island and another rarely visited area only accessible by hiking. Although a guide is required to visit any part of Rapa Nui National Park, a good guide is especially important on Poike to point out the myriad of small caves, unusual smaller moai, and hidden petroglyphs that often go unnoticed. The rolling green hills and towering cliffs of this peninsula also gaze out to Tongariki below, the largest platform of moai on the island.

The view of Tongariki from Poike Peninsula
Photo: Marci Kolt

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