Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Ahu Tongariki
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Ahu Tongariki iStock / tankbmb
Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Polynesian dancers
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Polynesian Dancers iStock / Christhilf
Rapa Nui, Easter Island, wild horse grazing
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Wild Horse iStock / Photon-Photos
Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Pacific Ocean
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Rapa Nui's Rocky Coast iStock / JudyDillon
Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Rano Kao volcanic crater
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Rano Kao volcanic crater iStock / Grigory Fedyukovich
Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Easter Island head
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Moai Statue iStock / Photon-Photos

Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Moai statue Moai statue in Rapa Nui iStock / Jeremy Richards

One of the most remote islands in the world, Rapa Nui — also known as Easter Island — sits 2,300 miles off the coast of Chile and 1,300 miles from the island of Pitcairn. Out of that isolation evolved a complex Polynesian culture capable of creating the island's mysterious stone monoliths (“moai”) and the only written language in Polynesia. Both the monoliths and the mysteries remain, making Rapa Nui a dream destination for intrepid travelers.

What We Love

Orongo: Set on the rim of Rano Kau, a volcanic crater, this ceremonial village was once the site of the Birdman races. Representatives from different clans would descend razor-sharp cliffs and swim through shark-infested waters to islets filled with nesting sooty tern. The first one to return with an intact egg would be declared Birdman. Many structures and petroglyphs from that time remain, as do the jaw-dropping Pacific views.

Wild horses: Keep those cameras ready — the island's equine population is pure Instagram magic, especially if a few happen to wander by a seaside cliff.

Best Known For

Moai: Standing 14 feet tall on average, Rapa Nui's famous volcanic-stone statues are said to honor ancestors or chiefs. There are almost 900 in several locations — some wearing red stone “pukao” (hats) and many lined up on seaside platforms called “ahus.”

Culture: Polynesians arrived in Rapa Nui by dugout canoe 1,600 years ago and lived in isolation until the island was "discovered" by Dutch explorers on Easter Sunday, 1722; it was then annexed by Chile in 1888. The people and cuisine reflect that blending of backgrounds, and though Spanish is widely spoken, most islanders also speak Rapa Nui. Be sure to check out a performance of traditional dances like the “sau-sau” and “tamuré.”

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Who It's Best For

History and Anthropology Buffs: If you spend most of your TV time flipping between the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, Rapa Nui should be on your bucket list.

Nature Lovers: The island’s raw beauty will satisfy anyone who craves the untamed. Hike, bike, and ride horses over the island's windswept terrain, then hit the Pacific to sail, snorkel, or fish.

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

You Might Get Dirty: Most of the roads on Rapa Nui are not paved and the earth here is a powder-fine rusty red — and it clings to everything.

Donna Heiderstadt

Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.

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Itineraries Including Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
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