The World Has Two Navels
Easter Island, Isla de Pasqua, Rapa Nui, or the original native name: Te Pito o Te Henua, The Navel of the World… so if you thought Cusco was the Navel of the World, now you know… the world has two navels.
Rapa Nui, better known in the English-speaking world as Easter Island, has to be one of the most fascinating, intriguing, iconic destinations that we offer at Vaya. It is, in my opinion, one of the most unique cultural destinations in our or any South America travel company’s portfolio. That is largely because it is the only destination we offer, other than Antarctica, that is technically not part of South America. It is part of Polynesia and makes up the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian triangle, which starts with New Zealand in the Southwest, includes Hawaii as its northern vertex, and has Easter Island, Rapa Nui, as the southeast corner. The island has been an official part of Chile since 1888, and it is closer to Chile than it is to the next airport, which is Tahiti, so if you’re ever going to visit Easter Island, it is likely only going to happen if you work it into your South America trip. For intellectually curious travelers with an interest in history, indigenous cultures, languages or archaeology, this is a recommended destination.
Three things that make Easter Island such an outstanding destination:
First, the Rapa Nui people and culture. The very existence of this vibrant culture is as remarkable a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit as you’ll find anywhere on the planet. The discovery and colonization of this tiny island is the crown jewel achievement of the ancient Polynesian wayfarers, as they successfully navigated hundreds of miles of open Pacific in outrigger canoes and were able to then survive and thrive in such a remote corner of the globe. Initially they may have continued to sail back and forth to other Polynesian islands, but eventually they were essentially stranded here, as the island became deforested and they could no longer build seaworthy vessels.
So, Easter Island becomes a fascinating case study in humanity. Take a few hundred people, leave them in total isolation on an island for hundreds of years and see what happens? Well, they thrived, spread out all over the island, adapted the land for agriculture, and, of course, most famously developed a unique style of massive monolith stone statue-making.
Today, the Rapa Nui are a proud people who maintain local culture and traditions and enjoy semi-autonomous “special territory” status in Chile. If you plan your visit in February, try to coincide with the Tapati Festival to witness islanders in traditional dress competing in a variety of traditional events to become honorary king and queen for the year, as well as song and dance competitions. If you are there in January, you will witness the preparations for the festival. Any other time of year, there are numerous enjoyable local shows that feature traditional costumes, music and dance, including the Kari Kari Cultural Ballet, a large traditional ensemble, and Vai Te Mihi, which fuses Rapa Nui music with modern music.
Any opportunity to interact with the locals that we can help facilitate is time well spent. If you speak Spanish, this is your chance to use your Spanish in one of the most exotic ways possible, communicating with locals on the only Spanish-speaking island in Polynesia.
The second thing that makes Easter Island such an outstanding destination – and this is the one that goes almost without saying – is the Moai statues. There’s a reason the giant stone heads of Easter Island have become a world-renowned cultural icon, and that the Moia statues are often mentioned on the same lists as Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, the Pyramids, the Taj Majal and other man-made wonders. The Moai are awesome. There are 887 of them on the island, some upright on their Ahu platforms along the coast, some fallen along the way, and a whopping 397 at the Rano Raraku archaeological site. A visit to Rano Raraku alone would make the trip to Easter Island worth it, in my opinion.
The third thing that makes Easter Island such an outstanding destination is Explora Rapa Nui. Of course it is possible to arrange a great Easter Island trip without using Explora, but the fact that this hotel exists out there takes the experience to a whole other level. When I mention Explora, I’m invoking excellent food, excellent service, excellent guides, a variety of well thought out, active excursions, and excellent accommodations. It is possible to get most of that by using other properties and arranging private excursions, but Explora represents all of those things at once.
Check out out Easter Island & Chilean Patagonia itinerary and our Machu Picchu & Easter Island itinerary for some ideas on how to include this awe-inspiring destination into your South American adventure. And for a fascinating, in-depth discussion of Rapa Nui history, check out this episode of the 80 days podcast: https://80dayspodcast.com/2017/04/16/easter-island/