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Easter Island is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. Early settlers called the island "Te Pito O Te Henua" (Navel of The World). Officially a territory of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway to Tahiti. Known as one of the world's sacred sites, it is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone statues or Moai whose oversized heads, carved centuries ago, reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.
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About Hanga Roa
The English name of the island commemorates its European discovery by a Dutch exploration vessel on Easter Sunday in 1722.
Ever since Thor Heyerdahl and a small party of adventurers sailed their raft from South America to the Tuamotu islands, far to the north of Easter Island, a controversy has raged over the origin of the islanders. Today DNA testing has proved conclusively that the Polynesians arrived from the west rather than the east, and that the people of Easter Island are descendants of intrepid voyagers who set out from another island thousands of years ago. Legend says that the people left for Easter Island because their own island was slowly being swallowed by the sea.
In brief, the prehistory of Easter Island is one of supreme accomplishment, flourishing and civilization, followed by environmental devastation and decline. Although it is not agreed when people first arrived on Easter Island (with estimates ranging from several hundred to more than one thousand years ago), consensus seems to be that the first peoples arrived from Polynesia. Rather than being inhabited by mistake or chance, evidence has suggested that Easter Island was colonized deliberately by large boats with many settlers—a remarkable feat given the distance of Easter Island from any other land in the Pacific Ocean.
The first islanders found a land of undoubted paradise—archaeological evidence shows that the island was covered in trees of various sorts, including the largest palm tree species in the world, whose bark and wood furnished the natives with cloth, rope, and canoes. Birds were abundant as well, and provided food for them. A mild climate favored an easy life, and abundant waters yielded fish and oysters.
The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the religion which sprouted in their leisure, which had at its centerpiece the giant moai statues, that are the island's most distinctive feature today. These moai, which the island is littered with, are supposed to have been depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing or watchful safekeeping eye over each small village. The ruins of Rano Raraku crater, the stone quarry where most of the Moai were carved and outside which many still sit today, is a testament to how central these figures were to the islanders, and how their life revolved around these creations. It has been suggested that their isolation from all other peoples fueled this outlet of trade and creativity—lacking any other significant way to direct their skills and resources. The bird-man culture (seen in petroglyphs), is an obvious testament to the islanders' fascination with the ability to leave their island for distant lands.
However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island's environment. Deforestation of the island's trees gradually increased, and as this main resource was depleted, the islanders would find it hard to continue making rope, canoes, and all the necessities to hunt and fish, and ultimately, support the culture that produced the giant stone figureheads. Apparently, disagreements began to break out (with some violence) as confidence in the old religion was lost, and is reflected partly in the ruins of moai which were deliberately toppled by human hands. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, and the residents—with little food or other ways to obtain sustenance—resorted sometimes to cannibalism and a bare subsistence. Subsequent slave raids by powers such as Peru and Bolivia devastated the population even more, as did epidemics of western diseases, until barely a hundred native Rapa Nui were left by the late nineteenth century.
Today, Rapa Nui National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its residents rely much on the tourism and economic links to Chile and daily flights to Santiago. As with many native peoples, the Rapa Nui seek a link to their past and how to integrate their culture with the political, economic, and social realities of today.
There are around 25 restaurants catering to tourists on the island. A few can be found close to the dock in Hanga Roa, with a few others scattered in the surrounding areas. Menus tend to be limited, as most of the food on the island needs to be imported. The range of fish, though, is considerable - as is true for most of Chile. There are also a few "supermarkets" where visitors can pick up snacks, limited sundries, booze, etc.
Like the souvenir vendors on the island many restaurants do not accept credit cards or will have a high minimum charge. Also tipping is appreciated but should be done in moderation, usually spare change or less than 10% works.
As a result of the increased amount of tourists, some of the restaurants may be a kind of "tourist trap," so don't hesitate to ask your guide or your host for advice where to go.
- Te Moana - Quite possibly the best restaurant on the island. The tuna sandwich is particularly good. A live band is often playing on Wednesdays and the weekends. Get to Te Moana early or it is likely that you will not get a table.
- La Taverne du Pêcheur - A small restaurant in the port section of the village held by a resident of Rapa Nui who lived for some time in French Polynesia. Very good seafood, the most expensive restaurant on the island. Some consider it to be a lot of money for not much of value.
- Varua, Atamu Takena. A new restaurant with all the classics to be found on the island at good prices, plus an excellent value Menu del dia (starter, main course and fruit juice for only CLP9,000). Service and food both excellent.
- Au bout du Monde - A nice Belgian restaurant overlooking the sea. Pretty expensive but the seafood is really good. During certain nights, you can also watch a Polynesian dance for an hour or so. It costs CLP10,000 but it is definitely worth it.
- Hetu u, ☎ +56 39 552163. 10:00-23:00. Great food and staff. Try the shrimp, tuna, and sopaipillas. USD15-40.
- Aringa Ora. This restaurant, one of the largest, is easily recognised because of the two Moai facsimiles that stand either side of its front door. Its location at the southern end of the main road and its simple and low-price dishes mean its often quite busy.
- BonBon Chinois, Avenida Pont. Small place that does both Thai, Peruvian and Polynesian dishes in addition to local fare.
Those on a backpacker's budget or seeking simple food can try the following two options:
-- next to the main Kai Nene supermarket is an empanada shop, where a variety of cheap and tasty made-to-order on the spot empanadas can be had, prices are in the CLP1,200-2,500 range, including Atun y queso, camarones, champignons, etc. Closes 20:00?
-- at the end of the main street walking towards the east, are several food stands, which prepare hot dogs with many toppings, chicken sandwiches, to slightly more elaborate meals such as mashed potatoes and steak, in a pleasant outdoor seating area. CLP1,200-3,000. Open until 22:00.
Pisco, a hard alcohol made from fermented grapes, is the unofficial drink of the island. Try a pisco sour, which is pisco mixed with lemon juice. Another common cocktail is the piscola - pisco and coke. Drinking pisco straight is possible, as it has less of a kick than Vodka, although Chileans would not advise it.
Most, if not all of the commerce on this island occurs in the port town of Hanga Roa. There are a number of small shops geared toward tourists, as well as an open market. If you join an organized tour, expect to see the same souvenir-sellers at each site selling the same items - generally a plethora of moai-inspired trinkets. The official currency is the Chilean Peso, but, unlike on the mainland, transactions can be performed in US Dollars.
When buying souvenirs it is best to use cash. Often the vendors will have a very high minimum charge or will tack on a service fee for using a credit card (about 10-20%). This is only if the vendor accepts credit cards at all; many small vendors will only accept cash.
At least four ATMs are available on the island: one from Banco Estado on Tu'u maheke, Hanga Roa, which only accepts Cirrus, Maestro and MasterCard branded cards but NOT Visa. The other one inside the bank Santander, a bit further, on Policarpo Toro, which accepts Visa, Cirrus, Maestro and MasterCard. There's also an ATM in the departure hall of the airport, and also at least one at the gas station near the airport.
The local bank can do cash advances against a Visa card, but the bank opening times are limited and the lines can be long.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Easter Island on Wikivoyage.