Easter Island’s extreme isolation not only means its history remains little understood, but for many years it was simply off the map. The most recent estimates suggest the island was first settled between 700 AD and 1100 AD, but these assertions have been challenged, with some claiming settlement took place later.
The difference between radiocarbon dating and oral tradition has further added to the confusion. The latter identifies the white coral sand beach of Anakena as the first settlement; a likely scenario given the first settlers are believed to have been boat people from Polynesia. But then science suggests Tahai predates this area.
Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that wherever the first Easter Islanders came from, they must have come a very long way by boat, most likely from the Gambier Islands, 1,600 miles to the west. This hypothesis is largely attributed to the fact that four out of five words in Mangarevan, a dialect spoken in the Gambier, are the same or very similar to those used on Easter Island.
Historians believe the islanders started to build Easter Island’s famous statues soon after they first arrived, a practice that is widely attributed to the hierarchical nature of the community of that time, which revered ancestors and sought to immortalise them in stone. But whereas the moai helped remember the dead, they are also thought to have contributed to the death of the living, albeit indirectly. Some theories claim their construction led to the widespread deforestation seen on Easter Island, which prompted a collapse of the ecosystem, including within the human population. Home to about 15,000 people at the start of the 17th century, Easter Island saw its population plummet to no more than 3,000 people a century later when the first Europeans arrived.
The most popular time for trips to Easter Island is in the summer between November and February, when hot weather that can reach as high as 95°F is kept comfortable by the persistent wind that blows across the island. It is at this time of year that the beaches come into their own, though rarely do they get busy. With the dramatic rise in visitor numbers and volatile price of flights to get here, it increasingly makes sense to book ahead during this busy period.
Currency: Solomon Islands Dollar
Official language: Icelandic
Easter Island Culture
Visitor numbers to Easter Island continue to soar, with some 50,000 arriving in 2007, a figure that was expected to have reached many times this number in 2013 amid concerns the tourist industry has began to put a strain on the island and its resources. Most visitors include a traditional Polynesian dance as par for the course, which sees locals dress in garland dresses and bikini tops with flowers woven in to their hair as bare-chested men play drums.
Although the South Pacific is widely known for its unpredictable tropical weather patterns that hit areas farther east, Easter Island manages to escape the worst of this weather, meaning storms are few and far between, and are rarely severe. Rainfall is low and fairly constant throughout the year, peaking in April and May but rarely is either month a washout. When rains do hit, the worst storms typically occur in the winter months, between June and August.
Wind is the main weather problem on Easter Island, resulting in a climate that feels cooler than suggested by the searing sunshine in the summer, which rarely feels uncomfortable. Visitors to the island’s highest point, Terevaka volcano, should brace themselves for the strong winds that can get dangerous. In winter, the winds can make temperatures feel chilly, especially at night during August. Lows in winter seldom drop below 59°F in the daytime, however.
Iceland is a party to the Schengen Agreement. This means that U.S. citizens may enter Iceland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond your planned date of departure from the Schengen area.
Cruises to Easter Island
Cruise ships are increasingly making a short stop here. By boat, the only other viable route is from New Zealand on Tallship Soren Larsen, which completes the seemingly endless voyage in 35 days, but only once per year.
Car Rental and Taxis on Easter Island
Getting around is far easier. Tourists can rent cars, usually jeeps, as well as dirt bikes and scooters. There are specialist places that offer rentals but often the easiest way to arrange a vehicle is to ask someone at your hotel reception. Given the island’s small size, bicycle is among the best ways to get around, and bikes are readily available for hire.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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