August 09, 2022 #ChileDiverse

Iorana! Ten unmissable wonders of the fascinating island of Rapa Nui

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TIME magazine has just included it among the 50 most incredible places in the world, and Conde Nast magazine, among the 22 places to visit in 2022. Located 3,700 kilometers from Santiago, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Rapa Nui is one of the most remote places in the world, and is home to some of the greatest archaeological treasures in all of Polynesia. The moai, gigantic stone statues located all over the island, were probably built between 1200 and 1500 A.D., and are part of the cultural heritage of humanity. After more than two years closed to tourism due to the pandemic, the remote island reopens for the world to rediscover and revel in its mysteries and wonders. Iorana!

Check the requirements to enter the island here.

Hanga Rau (Anakena): This beach is located 18 kilometers from the urban center of Hanga Roa, and it is reached through the road that crosses the island. It was the first human settlement of Rapa Nui, where the first Ariki (chief) of the island, Hotu Matu'a, landed and, therefore, is considered the cradle of the history of Rapa Nui. On this white sand beach, dominated by coconut palm trees brought from Tahiti, is the Ahu Nau Nau. This platform of 7 moais was restored between 1978 and 1980, and its state of conservation was very high as it had been covered by a sand dune. During the restoration of this ahu (platform), it was discovered that the moai had coral eyes, and the largest complete eye found to date was found, which today is exhibited in the Rapa Nui Anthropological Museum.

Ahu Tongariki: not only is it the most iconic postcard of Rapa Nui, but it is also the largest ceremonial center in all of Polynesia. Located approximately 20 kilometers from Hanga Roa, the ideal time to visit this place is at sunrise, one of the most breathtaking experiences for visitors, and recently elected in the top 10 of the most beautiful sunrises in the world. The 15 moai of Ahu Tongariki were demolished in the XVII century, in addition to suffering the inclemencies of the climate throughout the time, specially emphasizing the mega earthquake and tsunami of May 1960, whose effects hit the island and devastated these vestiges. Its restoration began in October 1992 and was completed in 1996 thanks to the cooperation of Chilean and foreign archaeologists and the Rapa Nui people. In charge of its restoration were the archaeologists of the University of Chile, Claudio Cristino -who was also director of the Anthropological Museum of Rapa Nui-, and Patricia Vargas.

Rano Raraku: very close to Tongariki (one kilometer away) is the Rano Raraku volcano, which contains a lagoon in its crater. This volcano is key in the history of Rapa Nui, given that its slopes were the quarry where the moai were elaborated, to later transfer them to the whole island in a way that still is discussed and generates controversy. In that place there are still 397 statues in different phases of carving, which allowed the researchers who restored it to understand its construction process. In this quarry is the largest moai found on the island, Te Tokanga, which has an approximate height of 21 meters and an estimated weight of 250 tons, according to the study of archaeologist Claudio Cristino.

Ahu Akivi: Located 9 kilometers north of Hanga Roa, this platform of seven moai was the first restored ceremonial site of Rapa Nui, marking a turning point in the island, since it was the first time in 150 years that the islanders could contemplate again an ahu with all its standing moai. This work was carried out in 1960 by a team led by the American William Mulloy, one of the archaeologists who traveled to the island with Thor Heyerdahl's expedition in 1955. This is one of the few platforms erected in the interior of the island (most are near the sea), but it is key. It is the only moai facing the sea on the whole island, although they are actually oriented towards the esplanade where there was once a village, protecting its inhabitants. In addition, it is said to have an astronomical importance due to the alignment of its platform from north to south.

Maunga Terevaka: is the largest and youngest volcano, and is the highest point on the island, with a height of 511 meters above sea level. It can be climbed either on foot or on horseback in a couple of hours starting from Ahu Akivi, with few trees along the way. From its summit there is a 360° view of the Pacific Ocean that, observed in the special light of sunrise or sunset, allows you to contemplate the curvature of the Earth. It does not have only one crater, because its origin is due to numerous eruptions coming from a system of small parasitic cones.

Caves and caverns: the volcanic lava flows that gave rise to the island also created a complex system of lava tubes that run through much of its subsoil. One of the must-see caves is Ana Te Pahu, located on the slopes of the Terevaka volcano, in the Roiho area. It is also known as the cave of banana trees, due to the large number of these trees found at its entrance, and was used by the ancient inhabitants as a refuge. Another of the best known is Ana Kakenga, or the cave of two windows, created by the outflow of lava flow to the sea, about 30 meters high. This cave is difficult to access, because its entrance is very narrow and at ground level.

Puna Pau: this secondary volcano located approximately 7 kilometers from Hanga Roa also has a historical relevance for the Rapa Nui culture. Because if in Rano Raraku the moai were carved; in Puna Pau the pukaos, or red headdresses that were installed on the head of these statues were elaborated. The interior of the crater is a natural source of red slag, a soft volcanic stone that was used as a material to make these headdresses, as well as a variety of other artifacts that allowed the development of the Rapa Nui culture, such as containers, cooking materials and handicrafts.

Rano Kau: although it is currently closed to visitors, Rano Kau is one of the most significant places on the island. Located 6 kilometers from Hanga Roa, at more than 300 meters above sea level, it has the largest crater on the island (1.6 kilometers in diameter) with a freshwater lagoon inside. Its origin dates back to an eruptive process that would have occurred about 2.5 million years ago. Caves, petroglyphs and house foundations have been found inside and outside the crater, traces that show that the volcano had great relevance in the life of the ancient inhabitants.

Orongo ceremonial village: located on the narrowest edge of the Rano Kau is this ceremonial village, consisting of 53 houses, related to the cult of Manutara (the sacred bird of Rapa Nui) and the competition of Tangata Manu (birdman). Its use was seasonal, since it was used only for a few weeks a year, at the beginning of spring. A type of room was developed there based on flagstone, although its design is reminiscent of the hare paenga (boat houses), common in the rest of the island. Orongo is also the main rock art site of Rapa Nui, with hundreds of petroglyphs of bird men that reveal the importance it reached. It is believed that the village began to be occupied in the XV century, although the ceremony of Tangata Manu was acquiring greater relevance in the following centuries.

Tahai Complex: located north of Hanga Roa, this archaeological complex is not only one of the oldest settlements on the island, but also one of the most impressive scenery, from where you can enjoy the best sunset of Rapa Nui. This archaeological complex has three ceremonial platforms. The first from left to right is Ahu Vai Uri, on which five moai are erected; then there is Ahu Tahai, with a solitary moai of about 4.5 meters high, the oldest of the 3 platforms; and finally Ahu Ko Te Riku, on which stands a single moai (5 meters high), which was restored with all the elements of these finished statues, i.e. a pukao (headdress), and replicas of coral eyes, making it the only moai that today has eyes on the island. This complex was restored between 1968 and 1970. In front of it rest the remains of William Mulloy, who was the precursor of the restoration of the island.


Hidden jewels:

North coast: it can only be visited on foot, in a 15 kilometers (6 hours approximately) tour that goes from Ahu Akivi along the entire west coast of the island to the north ending at Anakena beach. Due to its difficult access and lack of roads, it is the best preserved coast and the area with the highest concentration of archaeological sites on the island, with rock art, platforms, among other attractions that can only be found with a local guide.

Poike: this little known volcano contains much archeology and petroglyphs, and remarkable sites such as the so-called Cueva de las Virgenes, and spectacular cliffs. There is no road, so this tour can only be done on foot, in a 5-hour hike.



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