NEW YORK (CNNfn) - On April 6, 1722, Dutch navigator Jakob Roggeven came across a tiny volcanic speck in the South Pacific about 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile. It was Easter Sunday. |
Others had come before him and others have followed, and today, Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, continues to fascinate travelers around the world.
Novelist John Dos Passos described the remote location as "an island for anyone who has an ounce of curiosity in his veins," and many would agree.
The most isolated spot on earth, the 45-square-mile island is perhaps best known for the hundreds of great statues, or "moais," that were carved from the sides of volcanoes and stand by the ocean as a kind of open-air museum.
Chile took possession of Easter Island in 1888 and the entire area is now a national park. Despite its out-of-the-way location — or perhaps because of it — Easter Island attracts visitors who long to walk among the stone giants.
"There's something about the place," said Mary Dell Lucas, founding director of Far Horizons Archaeological and Cultural Trips, which conducts tours of Easter Island. "You stand there on the volcano and you can't see anything else but ocean all around you."
'Navel of the world'
Because of its distance from just about everything, Easter Island is an add-on for many travelers who are on their way to other places. For others, it is the ultimate destination.
"It's off the beaten path," said travel writer Edward Hasbrouck. "It cannot support mass tourism and I don't think they're trying to attract mass tourism. They want a limited, controlled amount of tourism that won't destroy the character of the place."
If you go, be prepared for a lengthy plane ride. Easter Island is about 5 hours from Santiago, Chile and 5 hours and 20 minutes from Tahiti. Factor in the trip from your hometown and you're looking at a lot of time in the sky. But then, this is the "navel of the world," as the natives call their home.
Lan Chile, the national airline of Chile, has two flights a week to Easter Island, leaving Santiago Thursdays and Sundays and costing about $898 round trip. There are also two flights a week from Tahiti going for about $350.
If you're coming from the northern hemisphere, remember the seasons are reversed in this part of the world, with summer coming while people up north brace for the winter snows.
"It's out there," Hasbrouck said. "It's not next door to anywhere and it's not really on the way to anywhere."
And yet people go. Many to see the moai, some of which can weigh up to 80 tons and stand 66 feet tall. Theories abound about the origins of these massive figures, with some believing they are the work of ancient alien visitors, while others see the sculptures as huge talismans.
'It's a great time'
Lucas, of Far Horizons, first saw Easter Island in 1985. A former archeologist, Lucas said the Albuquerque, N.M-based company's tours to Easter Island are very popular.
"We have several people who have gone twice on the same tour," she said. "And we have one woman who's taken it five times."
The Far Horizons tour runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 4, costs $3,995 per person, double occupancy, and includes round-trip air from Santiago to Easter Island, all hotels and most meals.
The trip, which is limited to 15 people, is timed to coincide with the Tapati Festival, a celebration of the Rapa Nui culture.
"It's a great time," Lucas said. "You see people in costume. There's incredible dancing, games of chance and horse racing. There's a real feeling of excitement that fills the air. You can't miss it."
If you want to expand your experience, Far Horizons has a pre-trip extension into northern Chile for $1995. This trip includes a visit to spectacular pictographs and geoglyphs, or huge ground drawings similar to the Nazca Lines in southern Peru, and displays of the world's oldest mummies.
'Almost like a pilgrimage'
Several companies offer tours of Easter Island and an Internet search will give you an idea of what's out there.
Protours Limitada in Chile has a five-day Easter Island tour that includes hiking and horse-backing riding. The tour goes for $530 double occupancy, airfare not included.
There is also a four-day tour available through Lan Chile. The tour, which includes three guided excursions, costs about $430. Miami-based Tara Tours lists a nine-day tour that includes 3 nights in Santiago on its Web site. The tour costs about $2,788 departing from Miami and slightly more from Los Angeles and New York.
Vantage Adventures offers a seven-day Easter Island Discovery Tour ranging from about $939 to $1,319 per person single occupancy and $639 to $779 double occupancy. Airfare is not included. Travel Beyond, based in Wayzata, Minn., has a four day/three night Easter Island tour for about $535 double occupancy. Carbone Travel in New York City lists a four-day Easter Island tour on its site with prices ranging from $314 to $515 double occupancy.
If you want to sail the ocean blue, the way Jakob Roggeven did, Society Expeditions offers its 18-day "In the Wake of the Bounty" South Pacific cruise that, depending upon the season, will either start or end at Easter Island.
The Bounty cruises depart in the spring and fall and include stops at the Pitcairn Islands, Bora Bora and lesser-known locations.
"These are some of the hardest islands to visit," said John Tillotson, vice president of operations for the Seattle-based company. "Many of them don't have airports."
Several experts ship out with the passengers and share their knowledge of history, biology, archeology and other subjects. The cost of the spring tour ranges from about $6,300 per person for the lowest category cabin to suite going for about $14,300. Fall cruises are slightly more expensive, running between $6,500 and about $15,000.
Any way you go, Easter Island is waiting.
"It's a classical destination," Tillotson said. "It's almost like a pilgrimage."
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