Published on May 31st, 20153
Easter Island – on the CHEAP
Yep. Yet another “Dream Destination” realized, on this dodderin’ lass’ decidedly minimal income. This time ’twas (again, as always?) an incredibly cheapo airfare that (temporarily) turned my wanderlust attention away from cobbling together a DIY explore of Machu Pichu and southern Peru in favor of…
OMG! You mean to tell me that I can gawk at those iconic Easter Island moai for… just $654 round trip – all the way from ECUADOR???
Good grief! That precious island is more than 2 THOUSAND air miles from anywhere on the Planet. And generally the airfare out to it (from Santiago on mainland Chile) runs more than a half grand ALONE!
I mean, let me get this straight – you’re saying that you (LAN Airlines) will fly me from Guayaquil, Ecuador (a mere 4 hr. bus ride from my home here in Cuenca) to Santiago, Chile, then all the way out to that remote Isla de Pascua (and back)… for little more than $600 TOTAL?
Whoa! No need to think twice – sign me up for some of THAT ice-cream!
And so it was, that miraculously (even for a rabid “you CAN make-your-travel-dreams-come-true” advocate like me) I suddenly had the opportunity to set my very own baby-blues on those wondrous and mysterious Easter Island statues that I’d stared at, spell-bound in yellow-covered National Geographic magazines as a 10 yr. old.
Granted, it would be a somewhat uncharacteristically short trip – just 4.5 days on the ground, given that I only had a week’s window between teaching classes here in Cuenca, and the transit o/n in Guayaquil plus the four to ‘n fro flights would take up 3 nights. Nonetheless, happily – Easter Island is so small, that allowing 4.5 days to explore it was plenty.
Next task was grabbing a place to stay on Easter Island, and I most definitely can recommend the one I chose (Mihira’a rated a 9.1 on bookings.com, just $30 per night private bath sgl.) Not only was it comfy and the owners super helpful (gratis airport pick-up/return, with a beautiful flower lei and a Pisco Sour upon arrival), but there’s a full kitchen for guests so I was able to save a bundle on (otherwise very pricey) meals during my stay. Quite the bargain indeed, as most all the other travelers I bumped into on the isle were paying upwards of $150 per night.
Other research chores: An overnight in Guayaquil on the outbound as well as the return as I planned on taking the bus to and from Guayaquil (but a sweet $4 each way with my “tecera edad” 50% discount for a very comfy a/c ride). So for convenience I chose a cheapo private room near both the bus terminal and GYE airport: Mundial City ($15 per night, not fancy, but lovely staff, a/c room – dearly needed in sultry Guayaquil – AND an indoor swimming pool!)
Then there was an overnight layover in Santiago on the outbound (with just enough time to look for but alas not find, a geocache and get a good nights sleep before continuing on to Easter Island (another 5+ hr. flight). For this I chose a remarkable hostel (Aji Hostel, just $11.90 per night for a female dorm bed including breakfast AND dinner!) Indeed, located in a leafy cul-de-sac in the beautiful “Providencia” neighbood, I only wish I’d had more time to explore Santiago. Clearly mainland Chile has much to offer and it’s now a notch or three higher up on my “sooner rather than later” list.
Dropping Anchor On Easter Island
Next morning, it was a sweet flight out to the National-Geographic-Target-Of-My-Childhood-Dreams: Rapa Nui (the local, Polynesian name for Easter Island, in Spanish it’s Isla de Pascua), an exquisite gem plunked oh so lonesomely out in the middle of the vast south Pacific ocean – 4,000+ kms from Tahiti, and near equally as far from the Chilean mainland.
Arriving at 1 pm, I spent my first afternoon getting my bearings, wandering the tiny town of Hanga Roa, and grabbing a nifty Easter Island stamp in my passport at the local post office. I also popped into one of the (several) markets and stocked up on milk (for breakfasts, I’d wisely brought my own stash of granola, instant coffee, etc.) plus fresh bakery rolls, a spot of ham, cheese, an avocado and tomato. So I was all set for breakfasts and lunches, and free to splurge on a $13 lunch of an empanada or bowl of fresh tuna ceviche every now and then.
Indeed, my research had forwarned me that food is pricey on the isle (understandable given that most everything must be flown in from the far-off mainland), and I can now attest to the wisdom of packing in at least a few of your own snacks. Interestingly, LAN actually allows an extra 23 kilos (50 pounds!) of gratis checked baggage just for the Easter Island flight. Not surprising when a simple handful of french fries for example will run you $7, and most any dinner is in the minimum $25+ range.
And while tours on the isle proved extremely economical (a full day guided tour of most all the major moai sites, the quarry, etc. was just $45; and half-day tours $30), I was astounded to find that – merely using a bathroom at any of the sites required coughing up (no, not 10 centavos as in Ecuador or similar in some Asian countries) a full DOLLAR – just to take a tinkle! Seriously. What’s with THAT? I KNOW things tend to be more pricey on islands that must import most everything. But a few squares of t.p.? They surely didn’t charge a buck-per-pee in the Galapagos, nor Borneo, nor any other remote island I’ve ever visited. Just makes ya wonder…
Ah but that is the full and complete lump sum of my Easter Island whining. Rapa Nui is truly a most exquisitely beautiful and sublimely tranquil place. Magical even – and not just those mysterious moai. The whole island, the climate, the spectacular coastline, the verdant green hills (turns out May is a fine time to visit as the island is abloom with a proliferation of wild flowers) – all simply idyllic. The tiny (and only) town of Hanga Roa easily walkable, and indeed, several of the key sites are within an easy walk or short hike from town. And while I don’t presume to have sampled all the activities, the main attractions (the moai along with assorted ceremonial centers, the quarry, several magnificent volcanic crater hikes, etc.) can be easily done in but 2 or 3 days.
The entire week was wondrous of course (well o.k. maybe not so much those many flights and twiddling thumbs in airports, but still…) My most memorable moments included:
First and foremost (a.k.a. I shall NEVER forget that morning) witnessing sunrise behind those iconic 15 ancient moai along the shore at Ahu Tongariki. For my full day tour (booked through a tour company called “Rapa Nui” – recommended) we had an excellent English (and German and Spanish) speaking guide, and just a trio of us (me, plus 2 lads: 1 from my native land, 1 from Germany). Our tour included most all the major attractions: the quarry at Rano Raraku, the iconic 15 moai at Ahu Tongariki, the 7 Ahu Nau Nau moai (4 with their intriguing red “pukao” top-knots) guarding the wondrous tropical beach at Anakena, and Te Pito Kura – the “navel of the world”).
As our day’s circuit ’round the island drew to an end, I suggested hiring a taxi to take us (back) to the 15 moai site along the eastern shore for sunrise the following morning. Happily both my tour-mates agreed, and a friend of our tour guide drove us out there before dawn the next morning, and waited over an hour while we snapped a bazillion pics of the most spectacular sunrise I’ve seen – ever. Not cheap ($84) but shared 3 ways, it was the best $28 I ever spent.
Another day I hiked up to Mirador Rano Kau, about a 5 km easy hike through eucalyptus forest and rolling hills of wildflowers overlooking the village. But what I hadn’t counted on, was the B-R-E-A-T-H-T-A-K-I-N-G view (literally, it nearly stopped my heart when I first glimpsed it) of the volcanic crater. The limits of my 25 mm wide camera lens don’t do it justice, but…
And of course (you just KNEW it was coming) I had to seek a few geocaches. There’s nine geocaches on Easter Island (including 3 Earth caches) and I ended up finding four and DNFing (DidNotFind) one near Ahu Tahai (as I neared ground zero, the sky opened in a downpour dampening my enthusiasm for looking amid a gazillion rock cubbies – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it) 😉 Then there was this one (pictured). It took two tries as grabbing the geojoy proved a good bit dicey. Actually *dangerous* might be a better description ‘cuz I had to climb over a rock wall and verrrrry carefully scoot my way out to the very edge of a cliff to nab it!
Another major highlight involved meeting a pair of young Chilean folks who were hanging out on Easter Island for several months. Fellow members of my “tribe” (i.e. serious travelers who will do most anything to stay perpetually on the trail), they earned just enough money to get by from cleaning hotel rooms and selling DVDs.
One night I was out of bread and wanted to make a sandwich to take on my full day tour the next morning, so I politely asked them if they happened to have a couple of slices of bread. They spoke not a word of English of course, but Pablo replied “No hay problema. ¿Me gustaría hacerte un poco de pan?” (No problem. Would you like me to make you some?) Turns out he’s quite the cook, and in but 30 minutes, presented me with a panful of crusty baked yeast bread – fresh from our hostel oven!
And finally, with but hours until my flight off the isle departed for Santiago, I decided to get a permanent tattoo. While my assortment of bitty travel tattoos has grown over the years (I now have 4, one on each wrist, an ankle bracelet and my first little “Tranquility” kanji on the top of my foot from my 6 week solo romp ’round South Africa at the tender age of 6-oh!), I clearly don’t get a tattoo for every county (40 now!) that I visit.
But Easter Island left a magical impression on me, and I wanted a souvenir of my brief visit to remember this special place forever. My new “ink” is a traditional Easter Island symbol, representing “freedom”. To me, it signifies my wanderlust and penchant for ever being “free as a bird”.
What’s that you say? Your want pics?
As always, we’ve got plenty of images to share. Try these on for size…
Oh yeah, and the tab for all this fun?
So you thought that (like the Galapagos) gawking at those legendary moai on Easter Island would cost an arm and a leg, yes? (Much like my post on The Galapagos on the CHEAP): Not so. In a nutshell, my Easter Island adventure cost no more than a week’s trip to say… Disneyland? In short, my “Easter Island on the CHEAP” expenses tally little more than $1,000:
|Rt. air Ecuador – Easter Island||$654|
|Rt. bus Cuenca – Guayaquil||$8|
|Rt. taxi bus terminal – hostel – airport||$6|
|2 nts. lodging, Guayaquil||$30|
|Rt. airport transfer Santiago||$24|
|1 nt. lodging w/ breakfast & dinner, Santiago||$12|
|5 nts. lodging w/ kitchen Easter Island||$150|
|Groceries, Easter Island||$20|
|Restaurant meals (2) Easter Island||$30|
|Full day island tour||$45|
|Shared rt. taxi sunrise tour||$28|
(ever ONLY what I can easily tuck into my backpack)
1 necklace, 1 scarf and my $30 tattoo)
|Rt. bus Cuenca – Guayaquil||$8|
|Easter Island National Park fee:
Serendipity strikes again! Normally all visitors to Easter Island must pay a $60 National Park fee. But due to a recent political tiff between the local Rapa Nui community and the Chilean gubberment – the fee was (temporarily) dropped and happily, entry to all the sites was FREE!
Now how ’bout you? Do you too have a dream of visiting Easter Island? Have you been there?
Do share the details or ask me any questions you might have about going there in the comments below.