The southwestern tip of Easter Island is stunningly scenic and has heaps of post-moai history on the island. The main points of interest can be seen via car or tour bus, but to hike Easter Island is the best experience. On our Easter Island hike, we visited many areas that are part of the UNESCO listed Rapa Nui National Forest.
We left the main town, Hanga Roa, to the south and passed several restored moai before coming to the Ana Kai Tangata cave, then the started the gradual climb to Rano Kau crater and on to Orongo on top of 1000-foot cliffs. It took some a bit of leg and lung power, but well worth the opportunity to take in the magnificent viewpoints.
Hike Easter Island: Ana Kai Tangata
Ana Kai Tangata was a gathering cave, but I quite enjoyed the solitude I found there. It is located at sea level, made accessible with a marked path and steps down the cliff. On the day we hiked Easter Island, I was the sole visitor. I think if I lived on Easter Island, it would be my favorite shady spot to read a book by the ocean.
There are two other caves in the area, but neither have paths to them and both could be better reached by water. While standing atop the cliffs, I kept my distance from the edge, but Kris happily explored the overhanging rocks (nearly causing me a panic attack). With more time, we could have spent an entire afternoon looking out at the wide expanse of blue ocean, but we had our sights set on making it to the crater, so on we went.
Hike Easter Island: Through the forest
The clearly marked path led us through the CONAF (National Forest Corporation) headquarters and botanical garden and through a forest of Eucalyptus trees. We huffed and puffed our way up the last stretch of incline, stopping to look back as the town grew smaller and a clearer outline of the island took shape.
We also just happened to catch Kris timed our hike perfectly to watch the daily LAN flight from Santiago landing at the airport.
Hike Easter Island: Rano Kau
When we finally climbed the last three steps to Rano Kau crater’s edge, I was awe-struck. The extinct volcanic crater nearly 1km wide is filled with fresh water and reeds. The colors were so vibrant I had to blink to make sure it was real.
The southwestern wall takes the brunt of the harsh elements (wind, rain, and salt) and is crumbling under the pressure. Nicknamed ‘the bite,’ this missing section is a window to the vast ocean; a striking contrast between containment and freedom.
Hike Easter Island: Orongo
From Rano Kau, it’s a 15 minute walk to Orongo, where historic stone dwellings cling to the side of the cliff overlooking the ocean and the site of the Birdman Competition. The era of the Birdman Competition on Easter Island occured post-Moai. For one and a half centuries, tribes participated in the games, with the last race taking place in 1866.
The Birdman Competition was a test of strength. It took place in the spring when the Sooty Tern (a seabird) migrated to Motu Nui, the furthest of the three islets beyond the cliff walls, to lay its eggs. The competitors, young men representing their tribe, were tasked with scaling down the walls, swimming out to Motu Nui and capturing an egg. The first to bring an safely to Orongo was the winner. The victorious tribe would gain great benefit over the other tribes and their leader would be placed in the highest stature.
It is difficult to imagine the month long competition and the festivities that took place. . They, like so much of the island, seem mythical. However, like so little of the Rapa Nui history, the Birdman Competition is actually recorded fact.
The hike back to town was a breeze, mostly because it was downhill (minus our one incident of a bovine roadblock). Once back in Hanga Roa, we enjoyed a much needed empanada and Escudo. Saludos!
Before You Go: Our top tips for your trip
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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