Culturally Polynesian, politically Chilean and semitropical in climate, Easter Island has much to offer the modern-day vacationer.
The first inhabitants of Easter Island called it Te Pito o Te Henua (the Navel of the World). Visitors today often call it the world's largest open-air museum. The island, which is 60 sq mi/155 sq km, has a fascinating—and tragic—history.
Sprawling and densely wooded Hanga Roa, the island's only town, is the site of the much-improved Father Sebastian Englert's Archaeological Museum. Nearby sites such as Ahu Tahai, the spectacular Rano Kau crater and its Orongo ceremonial village—site of the "birdman" cult that superseded the moai as objects of veneration—and Ahu Vaihu are all easily accessible from town. Many visitors rent cars for the easiest access, but a knowledgeable local guide can be an asset.
The highlight of any visit to Easter Island is the iconic moais, or mysterious stone monoliths, that have intrigued Western visitors for centuries. If it weren't for those strangely beautiful ruins—massive carvings of abstract human figures, toppled and abandoned long ago—few would likely venture here.
Rano Raraku quarry alone has nearly 400 moais. At the quarry, you can see moai in various stages of completion, from a rough outline in the ground to the nearly finished product (apparently the carvers simply laid down their tools one day, never to take them up again).
Also try to visit some of the volcanic tubes, often incorrectly called caves, where some hid during tribal wars; other tubes served as garden and orchard sites. On the western coast of the island, near Orongo, is a cliff and a petroglyph-covered altar, the center of the birdman-worshipping cult that sprang up after the stone deities "lost" their power.
The island has volcanic lava cliffs, lush subtropical gardens, paved and unpaved but passable roads, clear air and hundreds of horses and cattle. Anakena, where several moai stand atop a restored ahu (platform), has the island's best beach.
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