Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Reopens for Tourism: how to get there

Moai on Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Chile

After being closed for two years due to the pandemic, the island of Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua) has reopened as of Aug 4, 2022. Chris and I visited the weekend of October 7, just a couple of days after a fire swept through the national park, damaging several of the moai. Fortuitously, when we visited, an investigation team was on the scene, and all national park sites were once again open to the public.

Two moai, located near the volcanic stone quarry that all moai were carved from. Nearly half of the island’s 887 moai still wait at the Rano Raraku quarry, never having been transported to the island’s villages in ancient times.

Getting to Rapa Nui can be tricky, but not impossible. Only one airline, Latam Airlines, currently flies here. Pre-pandemic, there were daily flights from Santiago, Chile, as well as weekly flights connecting Rapa Nui to Tahiti. The best (cheapest) way to get a ticket on Latam Airlines is to access it via their “Chilean” website (as in, use a VPN, or when it asks you if you’d like to redirect to the US Latam site, click “no”). You will have to navigate through the site in Spanish, but it’s pretty straightforward. For now, you can only purchase a ticket originating in Santiago Chile. If you go through the other Latam portals, the fare will be increased by quite a bit.

Traveling via Latam Airlines may be tricky, but not as tricky as sailing from Micronesia. Polynesian oral tradition says that these 7 explorers reached Rapa Nui, and in a dream, Chief Hotu Matu’a saw that they had arrived successfully. They are the only 7 moai to face the sea, anticipating the chief’s arrival from Hiva

The second step is to secure your accommodations. Per the Latam website, you must book with a Sernatur designated accommodation, or have a letter of invite from an island resident. However, this is not too much of a worry, as basically all hotels and cabañas on the island are registered with Sernatur. With a population of only 7000, everyone here knows everyone else, and tourism is the main income generator, so everyone is following the official rules.

Ancient Rapa Nuians lived in these thatched houses shaped like upside-down boats. Now, most of the island’s population of 7,000 live in Hanga Roa, the only city on the island.

To visit Chile, you will need to enter your vaccine information to the government website Mevacuno. Be sure to do this a few days before you go, as it takes 24-72 hours to go through the approval process. Your hotel will likely send you this link as well, as will Latam Airlines. As of October 1, you do not need a PCR test to enter Chile.

Iorana! It means “welcome”; very similar to Kia Ora in New Zealand and Ia Orana in Tahiti

However! You do need a PCR test to enter Rapa Nui. You must take a test 24 hours prior to your flight from Santiago to the island. You can do this at the airport (go to the Domestic terminal), or at other locations around town. This test costs about $22 (cash or card, USD or pesos is fine) at the airport, and we received our results in about six hours. There is also a testing site at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport.

Apparently, as of December 1, 2022, the Covid test 24 hours prior to arrival is no longer mandated.

It’s only a 20 minute walk from the island’s airport to Ahu Tahai, a beautiful sunset point. You do not need the national park pass here.

Once you get the result from the testing facility (this will be sent to you in an email), you will need to upload this to the FUI, a form that allows you to enter Rapa Nui. And now the paperwork is done! Head to the airport, find the Latam Airlines ticket counters, and present your printouts or screenshots of your hotel reservation, your Mevacuno, your PCR test results, and your FUI. They will double and triple check you so it’s easiest to have it all at your fingertips when you present your passport to get your boarding pass. Despite having all this, they still asked to see our physical vaccine cards- so bring those as well.

Only about 45 of the moai were ever completely finished: carved out of volcanic rock, transported to a village, inserting eyes and a pukao (top knot), and raised into a vertical position. The rest of the moai either remain at the quarry, or were broken in transit.

This sounds like a lot, but just take it one step at a time. Your hotel will likely send you reminders along the way. As you plan your trip, consider how long you want to stay and what you want to see there. Be aware that in order to see the sites, you MUST purchase a national park pass, which costs $80USD (you can purchase online or at the info point in town, and you can use cash, credit, USD or Chilean pesos). The park pass is good for up to ten days. You will need to show this at each of the dozen or so national park sites across the island. I guess you could stand at the edge of the road and look in from afar, but did you really fly all the way here to not see them close up?

The next step to getting here is to climb down this crater, cut enough reeds to make a float, swim out to a nearby island Motu Nui, and wait for the first bird’s egg of spring. First one with an egg wins! Just kidding, you don’t have to do that- but for 200 years, warriors would compete each spring for dominance of political and social power, in a Birdman Competition on the island.

Do the moai have bodies buried beneath the earth? Only one moai was ever carved with a body and feet, in a kneeling position. The rest of the moai have heads and torsos, and were meant to rest upon raised funerary platforms (ahu)- not planted in the ground. There are some moai that fell over the ages, and have been partially buried by erosion.

Do you need to rent a car? Do you need a guide? As of October 2022, you must have a registered guide to visit the national park sites (this is a fairly new requirement, so older blogs might say differently). So you can either rent a car and hire a guide for the day, find a group tour, or hire a guide who has a car. In our case, our hotel hooked us up with Tararainor Tour, owned and operated by local guide Jorge Tepano, and we had a wonderful time with him. We did a full day tour and two half day tours with Jorge, and learned so much about the island, it’s people, and their history. He really knows his stuff and I highly recommend him.

Jorge shows us where two moai began to be carved from the volcanic motherstone- but were never completed.

I know a lot of travelers chafe at “having” to employ a guide, but think of it this way. This island has been closed to tourism for two years. The hotels, the restaurants, the guides, everyone has suffered, with very little help from the Chilean government or UNESCO. The least we can do is employ a guide to share their knowledge with us, and ensure their family can remain on their ancestral island. In addition, people without guide supervision continuously do dumb stuff at tourist sites around the world, disrespecting and even damaging priceless historical artifacts.

Rapa Nui is a beautiful island, and believe me- you will appreciate it so much more with a local guide

Would I recommend wading through the paperwork, uploading the information, paying for price of the tickets, etc., just to see some thousand-year-old statues? I absolutely would.

Questions about Rapa Nui? Drop them below and let me know!

My solo trip to Machu Picchu, Peru

Panorama of Machu Picchu Peru

“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges- something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”- The Explorers, by Rudyard Kipling

I decided on Machu Picchu for Spring Break this year! Super excited to head to Peru, I was understandably worried Continue reading “My solo trip to Machu Picchu, Peru”

Christmas in the Galapagos

lady sitting next to sea lion on bench in galapagos

Another one crossed off our bucket list! From DC, we flew to Quito, then to the islands. We met another couple, Ben and Jo, right off as we were checking into our guest house. We wound up spending most of the next week doing day tours with them. As we had not booked anything in advance besides our a few nights at our guesthouse, we found it fairly easy to roam around town and see what options were open, and then book on the spot. On our first day on the island, we snorkeled off of San Cristobal island, and swam with baby sea lions (so cute!).

The next day, we took a ferry over to Isabela Island and visited the underwater lava caves and saw white tipped sharks, equatorial penguins, and flamingos. It was super hot that day, even though it was December, and I wound up getting a sunburn. Ouch!

flamingo drinking water at Galapagos Islands

We visited two turtle breeding hatcheries, part of the national park, and saw ancient land turtles as well.

We went diving at Gordon’s Rocks and saw a huge sunfish, several manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and giant sea turtles.

And everywhere we went, we saw blue footed boobies, tons of playful sea lions, iguanas sunning themselves, and frigate birds freewheeling in the breeze.

It was a great vacation and words don’t do it justice, so I’ll just add some photos- they speak for themselves. The best part? Making two new travel friends. We can’t wait to get together with Ben and Jo again soon.

Couple next to giant turtle statue Galapagos
A really giant turtle!

From Colombia to Panama: Hiking the Ciudad Perdida and Sailing the San Blas Islands

woman with lobster sailboat panama sailing

What a fun two weeks!  And yet exhausting!  We flew down to Colombia, landed in Barranquilla, and stayed at the Puerta del Sol hotel for one night- very nice! Then a bus ride to Santa Marta, where we prepared for our hike to the Ciudad Perdida.  Previously in territory that was dangerously close to the FARC rebel group, this hike takes hikers to the remnants of a hidden city deep in the jungle. The hike itself was 46 kilometers over four days, and involved hiking up – and then back down- three large mountains and crossing six rivers- or the same river six different times, I’m not sure.  Between the rain each day, the intestinal discomfort that eventually reached every single one of our group, and the heatstroke that took out one of our group, it was very challenging and at times absolutely exhausting, but I made it and getting to see the ruins of a 7th century city was amazing.  And I learned that sleeping in hammocks isn’t so bad.

After the hike and a day of recovery in the quaint town of Santa Marta, we went to Cartagena de Indies to enjoy the beach and the old walled city.  I liked the cobbled streets from the old section and seeing how it’s been revitalized and still retained its quaintness.  Home to writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a visitor so taken by the charm of the city once remarked to the famous author “You’re just a notary without imagination”.

Ready for some ocean action, we signed on to take a sailboat to Panama.  We loaded up with supplies, met our captain and the other couple sailing with us, and set sail. The first two days were ocean crossing, and a bit rough, but we made it through and the last two days were blissful sailing and swimming around the beautiful San Blas islands.  Snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, sailing, and lobster to eat- what more can be asked of a vacation?  Plus a bottle of Medellin rum, shared four ways.

Finally we left our sailboat and made our way in to Panama City, where we went to see the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal.  We enjoyed staying at the Central Park Hotel and Casino and especially their shower and their bed that did not go up and down with the swells.  We toured the museum at the Canal, and watched several really large cargo container ships pass through.  They are building a second set of locks that will accommodate boats up to three times bigger!  That is incredible.  All too soon it was time to head home, although to be honest, this time I think was ready to get back to normal life for a while.