I just returned from a week on Easter Island and would like to share my experience with you. I am always happy to read trip reviews and maybe I can help you with my information regarding your trip planning.
As the headline suggests, I came to the island with a limited budget. I was traveling / backpacking through Central America for 9 weeks before coming here. While I know (and you should know as well) that Easter Island is NOT a budget destination, there are still ways how one can save money without missing out on the unforgettable experience of enjoying this destination. I also came to this island on my own as a solo traveler, which is important information later on when it comes to costs for tours etc.
But now enough of the introduction, let’s talk business.
1) Booking your flight:
Visit the Chilean website of LAN (if you cannot speak Spanish, use Google Chrome and the automatic translation of websites) and check for airfare there. Flights are much cheaper than through the international page, not to mention flight search engines. I got a discount deal and paid USD 350 return from Santiago, which is quite cheap.
2) Before you go:
Easter Island is expensive, especially when it comes to food. So my advice is to stock up with food in the supermarket to get the necessary things (if you want to cook yourself, then pasta etc comes in handy). Keep in mind that most communal kitchens will not even provide you with salt or pepper, so bring spices if you plan on cooking. In general, the supply of food in supermarkets is quite limited, so even if is just about peanut butter or granola bars, bring it with you.
Also it would be great, if you could bring your own drinking bottle so you would not have to buy plastic bottles. They take recycling very serious on the island, yet plastic always is a problem everywhere in the world. The drinking water seems fine, but if you feel uncertain just bring tablets / liquids to purify the water. It will save you money in the long run as you need to drink a lot of water during the day and will help the environment.
3) When you arrive at the airport, buy the entry ticket to the National Park. It costs USD 60 / CLP 30,000 and is valid for 5 days, starting at the day of the first stamp. It will only get stamped at Orongo or Rano Raraku.
4) How long should you stay on the island?
That actually depends on what you are interested in but just with the main attractions you will keep yourself busy for 4 full days. My advice to spend 5 days if possible, of course there is enough to do to keep you occupied longer.
5) Where did I stay?
I stayed at Hostal Tojika, which has a dorm (unfortunately booked out) and so I paid CLP 20,000 per night (USD 40) for a single room. No food included, the wifi of the nearby camping ground would have been CLP 5,000 for the time of your stay.
Pros about Tojika: The location is great. It is directly at the sea and at a perfect spot for sunsets, close to the fishing harbor and a leisurely 20min walk “downtown” to restaurants and shops. Also great was the onsite bicycle rental for CLP 8,000 a day (if you want to have the bike for 3 days or longer, which is advisable – otherwise CLP 10,000 a day) – which is very cheap for a Trek Mountain Bike. The owner will help you with places to go for food and will answer every question. However, if you don’t speak Spanish at all, this will be quite difficult.
Cons about Tojika: The single room itself was nice, just the walls are paper thin and you can hear EVERYTHING, even just people talking in the other rooms, not to mention going to the bathroom, having sex, etc. I have earplug, so I don’t care, but if you are looking for a private place, maybe this is not your option.
6) How to navigate around the island?
This is the most complex question. This island is magical, but as everything magical it requires your time and attention for the magic to unfold. That means: DO NOT RUSH. Take your time and choose your way of going around the island wisely.
In my opinion, a fit person can do everything on their own – either walking or taking a bicycle. It not only saves a lot of money (a car can cost up to CLP 50,000 a day – I paid CLP 32,000 for four days having a mountain bike) it will also give you the chance to embrace the natural highlights of the island, off the main attraction paths. No, it is not the most convenient way and yes, at times it can be tiring – but if you want to relax on your vacation, go to Cancun. Easter Island is a different thing.
Regarding Tours: In my opinion you don’t need to take a tour. Costs can be as high as USD 260 per person for a full day tour (for one person) and I cannot see how this is justified. Even if you rent a car for a full day, the price difference is still up to USD 160 per person. Also, if you do good research, buy a book, read up online about the sites, etc. AND open your eyes and mind to your surroundings, the added value of a guide is only there, if you are a history fanatic. If you are just a normal traveler who wants to know more about a place but without remembering every detail, there is no need in hiring a guide.
Saying this, I do not intend to offend tour guides or say they are bad. There are most likely amazing guides around the island and if you don’t have to watch your budget, go for a tour. In my opinion, I would advise you to spend the money rather on eating out (and you can eat a lot for that money).
7) What to do on the island?
Timing is important and so I would advise you to start slowly and have the highlights waiting for day 3 or 4. It not only raises the tension and excitement, it will also give you time to sharpen your eyes, mind and thoughts for the beauty of this island.
Day 1: On the first day I would suggest you to go to the museum Sebastian Englert. It will tell you the basics about the history of the island and its people. It is a nice museum and within an hour you should be through. Everything is explained in both Spanish and English. The cost is CLP 1,000. On the way back to town you will encounter your first row of Moais (giant stone statues) at the seaside (Ahu Tahai) and other single statues. Navigate around town, get information about the vehicle of your choice (bicycle, scooter, car or horse), and buy some souvenirs or postcards. When going to the post office, DO NOT forget to bring your passport and get it stamped at the post office – the coolest souvenir in my opinion. Go to a restaurant and enjoy that you are on the island.
Day 2: Take your bicycle (I will keep referring to the bicycle as it is my vehicle of choice (If not stated otherwise, everything you can also do by car) and head north of town. Pass Ahu Tahai and Ahu Akapu and go in search of the caves facing the sea (Ana KakengaThe third cave (Ahu Tepeu) is inland and almost fully covered by palm and banana trees. The highlight of the day is the row of Moais of Ahu Akivi. Afterwards head back to town, eat, rest. Of course you can extend the tour by hiking along the northern coast.
Day 3: Start early or go in the afternoon (for the light and best pictures) and go to Rano Kau and Orongo Ceremonial Village. Hike up the walking trail (about 1 to 1.5h from Hostal Tojika) to enjoy solitude and the nature around you. In the morning the air is still fresh and makes the walk more enjoyable. When you reach the road and the mirador (viewing platform), go left if you went in the morning. Walk along the crater rim, find yourself a nice spot and watch how the sun rises higher and higher and finally fills the crater with sunlight. Pictures of the crater are best at around 10am. Also you will be alone without any other people around you (nice to read a book as well). Afterwards you can learn more about the history of this place at the Orongo Village. Pictures of the crater from the side of the village are best in the late afternoon.
Day 4: Start early and head to Anakena Beach. By bicycle it will take you around 1.5h from Hanga Roa (around 20km). Best time to arrive is at around 9am. One reason is the perfect light for taking pictures of the Moais at the beach but also there will hardly be any people at the beach by that time. I was completely alone with a couple of local children playing in the water. Have a picnic, have a nap, swim, read a book, enjoy and relax for a couple of hours.
At around 1pm or 2pm you can continue your journey past Ahu Te Pito Kura and Papa Vaka Petroglyphs to arrive at the most astonishing group of Moai at Ahu Tongariki. But do not rush here, the scenery is breathtaking on the way as you have the sea to the left and you can see Rano Raraku to the right. At Ahu Tongariki the light is best in the late afternoon / evening so what you can do is to come back later after you went to Rano Raraku.
At Rano Raraku first go to the crater lake as long as the sun as high enough to shine into it. It is not very big and there isn’t much to see, but it is a beautiful setting and hardly many people go there. It is also just a 5 minute walk from the main entrance. Afterwards walk around the quarry of Ranu Raraku and have a look at all the different Moais. Also keep an eye out to find El Gigante, the biggest ever built Moai. The road back to Hanga Roa along the sea is beautiful but a bit more difficult, especially the last part. Calculate with about 1.5 – 2h for the ride back.
I switched Day 3 and 4 so that I could recover from the heavy bike ride.
Day 5: Rise even earlier and go back to Ahu Tongariki for sunset. Now that you are already in that area, you can hike around the Poike Peninsula or enjoy another day at the beach.
There are more things to do like snorkeling or diving, surfing, horseback riding, and more hiking. But with this itinerary you will see most of the island and still have enough time in the evenings to enjoy a nice meal or read a book.
I didn’t eat out (I cooked myself and only bought the necessary things or the occasional cold Coke in supermarkets) or buy any souvenirs. But with everything included, I managed not to spend more than USD 65 a day.
The suggestions on what to do are not dependent on your budget, just the way how you visit them.
Of course you can do it more comfortable and therefore more expensive (or even cheaper with camping), but I just wanted to show that it is also possible to travel to Easter Island without thousands of Dollars as a budget. I hope that review helped and if you have any question, I try to answer them.