Easter Island - History and Facts | History Hit

Easter Island

Easter Island, Valparaiso Region, Chile

Easter Island in Chile is the home of the famous tenth century moai stone heads and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Image Credit: Alberto Loyo / Shutterstock

About Easter Island

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in Chile is a remote island surrounded by 4,000 km of ocean and with a mysterious past.

History of Easter Island

‘Discovered’ by Dutch explorers in 1722, Easter Island – so named because the explorers landed on Easter Sunday – is thought to have been inhabited since 700AD and perhaps even as early as the fourth century AD. This is still disputed, as is the origin of the people of Easter Island. Most scientists now believe that the first inhabitants were of Polynesian descent.

Perhaps the most famous aspects of Easter Island are its almost 900 head shaped statues, known as moai. Originally known as the “living faces of our ancestors”, the moai are incredibly large and heavy stone statues which are thought to have been built in around 1000AD to protect the islanders. When they were found, the moai were not standing and a large number have since been erected upright.

Much of the reason behind the mystery of Easter Island is due to the vast reduction in its population over the years. When found, Easter Island had around 12,000 inhabitants, but by the late 19th century, this had diminished to around 110 people, through a combination of emigration, the arrival of new European diseases, and slavers raiding the island repeatedly. In 1888, Chile annexed Easter Island. Today, the population has recovered significantly, returning to between 7000 and 8000 inhabitants at any one time .

Prior to the arrival of the explorers, evidence suggests that, in the seventeenth century, Easter Island underwent a period of civil war, even cannibalism. During this time, the moai were pulled down. However, the people of Easter Island were found to be healthy and at peace when the Dutch arrived. It was only afterwards that disease and natural disasters took their toll.

Today, Easter Island makes up the Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Easter Island today

Easter Island is famously remote – 3700km west of Chile, it’s a dot in the middle of the South Pacific – but many make the trek each year to visit this mysterious speck in the ocean.

Once there, you can explore a variety of sites, including the moai heads and the quarry at the Rano Raraku volcano.

The landscape is also phenomenal: whether you like hiking, diving, snorkelling, horseback riding, or simply pristine hills and beaches, there’s pretty much nowhere left like Easter Island, so make the most of it. Having said that, it’s not huge, so depending on how much you pack into your itinerary, you could spend a day or two, or several weeks.

Whilst Easter Island is technically part of Chile, it’s culturally more Polynesian. Summer in the northern hemisphere is winter for Easter Island, so expect winds and showers – head over December-February for the best weather, and the most expensive prices. Bring cash just in case – ATMs on the island are limited.

Getting to Easter Island

Unless you’re planning on an epic boat journey, you’ll be flying in and out of Easter Island. There are daily flights from Santiago (Chile) to Easter Island by LATAM – the journey takes about 5 hours. Less frequent are flights to Tahiti. Routes to and from Lima (Peru) previously existed, and may well restart depending on demand.

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