Easter Island with Kids
Why did we go?
Easter Island! It’s one of those places that you see in National Geographic or the occasional Discover Channel show, or as a reference on the Simpsons, that never makes the news but that you grow up sort of knowing about: remote; unique; mysterious. Part of being there involved continually pinching ourselves and reminding ourselves where we were – on a tiny dot in the middle of the south Pacific, halfway between Chile and Tahiti. A dot with a lot of cool statues.
My 6-year-old son Henry has been traveling the world since he was born, and he’s always been an excellent traveler. Unlike my other kids, though, he’s never wanted to go anywhere. Home is good. His room is good. His LEGO collection is good. Why leave? That changed, however, with an out-of-the-blue request to go to Easter Island.
The question I got most frequently from others during the planning stage was: He does know that the Easter Bunny doesn’t live there, right? At first I laughed it off, but then I realized that it was a completely reasonable question to ask a 6-year-old willing to spend 20 hours on a plane to go to one of the most remote spots on earth. I certainly didn’t want to take him all the way there only to see profound disappointment on his face at the lack of a large rabbit carrying chocolate. So I asked him why he wanted to go and he replied that he really wanted to see the Moai (the large human-like statues carved on the island between 500 and 800 years ago). Plus, he had recently become fascinated with geography, and liked that it was a remote island. He assured me that Hop notwithstanding, he wasn’t anticipating anything Easter-related.
Easter Island is definitely remote, but it’s not difficult to get to – it just involves a lot of travel. In our case we flew LA-Panama, did a one-day layover in Panama, flew to Santiago, Chile, did a one-day stop there, and then flew non-stop from Santiago.
It’s always fun to spot land when you’ve been over nothing but water for 5+ hours. It was really fun to know we were about to land at Easter Island. We thought we even saw some Moai from the plane.
We were met at the airport by Bill, an Aussie expat who owns the Taura’a Hotel with his Rapa Nui wife Edith. We booked the Taura’a based on TripAdvisor ratings and couldn’t have been happier with the choice. Bill drove us all of four minutes from the airport to the hotel, and we dropped off our luggage and walked into town. The walk took roughly four more minutes.
Hanga Roa, Easter Island’s only town, has a great island vibe – a lot of cafes and restaurants, a lot of low-key souvenir stores, some playgrounds, a couple of ATMs, several dive shops, and a school right in the middle of everything where the kids seemed to be playing soccer every time we passed by, regardless of the time of day. On the playgrounds all of the equipment was made out of wood. Henry wasn’t too sure about sliding down a wooden slide.
We ate lunch the first afternoon on the water. None of our restaurants the entire trip were far from the water. The food was excellent everywhere. I generally stuck with seafood. Depending on the meal, Henry chose chicken, steak or seafood. Our entire stay in Easter Island was mercifully free of pasta and pizza, a win when traveling with a 6-year-old.
After lunch we walked roughly five minutes to Tahai, the closest major Moai site to town. Henry was extraordinarily excited to be there. When he wasn’t taking pictures with his iPod, he was running around, checking out the different rocks, getting as close to the Moai as we were allowed, jumping off walls, and overall having the time of his life. If Antarctica was a huge playground for an adventurous 8-year-old, Easter Island was a playground of equal stature for a 6-year-old who loves geography, history and nature.
With only one flight a day, and with people staying an average of four days or so, there are rarely more than 1,000 visitors on the island at a time. And even then, we barely saw any of those other visitors. There was no one else at Tahai that first day. Pretty cool to be the only ones there – just us and the Rapa Nui chiefs, immortalized in stone.
After Tahai we roamed around the town a little, checking out the various craft markets and stores, comparing mini-Moai statues and carved canoe paddles and getting a feel for the price of souvenirs, which of course we knew we would be taking home. How can you go to Easter Island and not buy a mini-Moai? We ended the day with an excellent dinner at La Taverne du Pecheur. We chose it based on the upstairs patio with a great view of the harbor, and luckily the food matched the view.
We had breakfast at our lodge before joining Bill for a 6-hour tour of the island. We started at Vaihu / Hanga Te’e on the south side of the island and circled counter-clockwise from there. Bill was a great guide, giving us the background on each site and telling the story of the Moai, the Rapa Nui people who sculpted and moved them, and the chiefs they depicted, as well as overall island history. We hung on every word.
After visiting several coastal sites, we headed to Rano Raraku, the quarry where all Moai had been sculpted before being transported to their seaside locations.
Rano Raraku was very cool. Any photos that you see of Moai on a hillside, either standing or lying down, are from Rano Raraku. Because of the Easter Bunny questions we had gotten before the trip, as well as the timing of our trip the week after Easter, we brought along some eggs.
Heading directly down to the shore from the quarry, we reached Ahu Tongariki, the most impressive line of Moai. Even here we were alone – it felt like we had Easter Island to ourselves!
From Anakena we cut across the island back to Hanga Roa, and Bill gave us a tour of the town before we returned to the hotel. That night we had a great dinner at Haka Honu and hung out in town until well after sunset, just watching the surfers and paddle boarders and enjoying the atmosphere around the harbor.
On our last full day on the island, we could have done anything. There were one or two sites that we hadn’t seen the day before, so we could have arranged a tour or rented a car. We could have gone back to the same amazing sites as the day before. We could have headed back up to the beach at Anakena. I ran through the options with Henry at breakfast, and he voted for just sticking around town and spending more time at his favorite Moai site, Tahai. It was his trip, so I didn’t try to change his mind. And that plan worked out really well because as we walked to Tahai we discovered the only thing that could intrude on our private island experience: a cruise ship. An Oceana ship had just disembarked its passengers, most of whom immediately jumped on buses heading to the sites we had seen the day before. Easter Island had been magical for us partially because we had the sites to ourselves. To have gone back and seen them with hundreds of cruise-goers would only have taken away from the previous day. So we spent time at Tahai in between tour groups, enjoyed a leisurely lunch of empanadas by the harbor, and scoured the markets for the perfect Moai replicas.
Dinner was at Te Moana. Another great meal on the water, watching the surfers and the sunset.
After breakfast we headed to Tahai one last time, packed, and went to the airport. Edith recommended getting to the airport about two hours before the flight, and it was good to check in early, but otherwise we spent a lot of time there just reading and wasting time. At least the terminal was largely outdoors – exactly what you would expect for a tropical island that sees one flight a day.
Overall it was an excellent few days, and well worth the journey. We easily could have spent more time there, but we had seen most of the island and spent a lot of time wandering the town, so we were ready to move on to Iguazu. We talked to other travelers who were spending a week on the island, but they were cycling, renting mopeds and/or diving – none of which are realistic options with a 6-year-old. Both of us would go back in a heartbeat, though. Next time we’ll look up the cruise schedule in advance and plan around that, just to be safe.
Kid Friendly: Very
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Airline/Routing: Copa Airlines to Santiago from LA (via Panama), LAN from Santiago to Easter Island and back. Aerolineas Argentinas to Iguazu and Buenos Aires, and United from Buenos Aires back to LA.
Hotel: Taura’a Hotel
Trip Length: 11.5 days total, including three days on Easter Island. We spent a day in Panama and a day in Santiago before heading to Easter Island, and then two days at Iguazu, Argentina and a day in Buenos Aires on the way back. Travel added up to a couple of days too.
Travel Stats: 9 flights, 19,148 miles
Days of School Missed: 7.5 Days
Cost Factors: In order to put together a complicated air itinerary at the best cost, I once again used Brett Snyder at Cranky Concierge. The main expense was the airfare. The hotel for three nights, including breakfast and a full-day island tour, added up to about $600. Meals on Easter Island were cheaper than Bora Bora but more expensive than Hawaii. The food was excellent though.