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.

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!