I always knew that I wanted to visit Easter Island. I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit this mysterious tiny island in the middle of nowhere? For scientists and anthropologists, so many questions remain about how and why these iconic stone heads were created and erected all around this tiny island.
For modern backpackers and travelers, however, our main question always has been how to plan an Easter Island visit on a reasonable budget. Reasonable, because although you just know it won’t be a cheap trip, you can plan the budget you have according to your own travel style.
Here are six things to consider while budgeting, daydreaming about, and planning your Easter Island trip.
1. Make Easter Island your priority
Due to its geographically remote location, travelers don’t just ‘wander’ into Easter Island. You need have to have the desire to visit, and specifically to arrange your way here. Make your visit a priority, move it to the top of your destination list, and plan a trip now.
Although it is under the control of the Chilean government, the distance between Easter Island and Chile is close to 2,300 miles (3,700 km). The Pitcairn Islands are the closest inhabited location, about 1,300 miles (2,100 km). I don’t have to convince you that it is worth your time and effort to do it – just remember, it’s a long haul!
My Easter Island trip was a major priority for me. I made up my mind that the Rapa Nui Marathon would be my South American marathon – read my blog post about the Easter Island Marathon. I stayed for eight days, and wished I could stay longer.
2. Flights are limited. Get yours ASAP!
In fact, at the time of writing this, there are only two routes.
A flight from the closest part of mainland Chile takes about 5.5 hours. That’s a daily flight. The other, a weekly flight, is about 6 hours from Tahiti. Those are your choices! That’s it. LATAM Chile is the only airline that serves the small airport in the capital of Hanga Roa (airport code: IPC). Because there are so few flights, there is little competition. So prices can be quite high.
As soon as you decide to go, book your flights ASAP. The price will hike up the closer you get to your travel dates, and they almost always to sell every single seat on these flights, no matter what time of the year.
I’ve been informed that sometimes, local Chilean travel websites (in Spanish) sell slightly discounted tickets. In general though, expect to pay between $600-1,000 USD for a round trip ticket from Santiago.
Landed at Easter Island airport!
If you are doing a Round the World trip, this ticket may be included in your itinerary from French Polynesia to Easter Island to Santiago, or vice versa – just like Fiji, Tonga, or any other Pacific Island destination.
Luckily, I was able to redeem an award ticket with my Chase Sapphire Credit card, which includes the Star Alliance Airline Program in its travel rewards program. My flights both way in June were sold out.
3. Add some buffer time to your travel
OK, so you’ve purchased your round trip ticket from Santiago to Easter Island on set dates. Keep in mind though that you’ll need some time in Santiago. Be sure to leave lots of time there both before and after your flights to and from Easter Island as a buffer. You’ll be glad you did!
Sometimes they have to bump passengers because there may be an emergency evacuation from the island, or they may cancel the flight altogether due to bad weather. This happens, and it’s a good idea to have a few days to rearrange your itinerary. And if this happens during a busy season when all seats were sold out, it may take a few days for them to finally accommodate you.
So, make sure that you buffer your stay in Santiago (or Tahiti) a few days before and after your designated Easter Island flights.
I spent three days in Santiago before my trip, and two days in Valpairaiso after my trip. Thankfully, no delay happened with me. And the bonus was that I could really enjoy beautiful Santiago and Valparaiso in the same trip!
If you plan to visit Valpairaiso, you’ll get to see a very cool city. James and Sarah have a list of 5 Cool Things to do in Valpairaiso to help you plan that part of your trip.
4. Know your options on where to stay
Let’s be clear: the whole island is basically a National Park, and you are only allowed to stay in the town of Hanga Roa. So there is no outback camping allowed (and believe me, you will be found very quickly if you try to break this rule).
If you’re on a budget and enjoy camping, the popular camping location is the Mihinoa Camping, where you can camp or stay in their limited dormitory for as low as $10. There are also several Couchsurfing hosts who allow you to stay or to camp for free.
Budget hotels on Easter Island are scarce. On average, expect to pay $40-100 per night for a basic place to stay.
I stayed at the Casa de Fatima Hotu hostel, which has a 6-bed dorm. The cost was $23 per night. For the entire 8 nights I stayed, I only had one roommate for one night. Heck, I even had my own kitchen and a comfortable (and very isolated and quiet!) living room, which was a perfect place to catch up on my reading.
Having my own kitchen to cook is a must if I’m going to consider my accommodations truly “budget” accommodations – which brings me to my next point.
5. Food on Easter Island: cook or eat out?
On Easter Island, food is relatively expensive compared to Chile and the rest of South America. There are several grocery stores on the main road of Hanga Roa, and they offer many different things. Locals go to certain stores for brands or products they like. All stores sell different brands and products.
If you’re a picky eater, you definitely need to bring food with you from the mainland. For the rest of us, there are plenty of food options available at reasonable prices.
By Western standards, groceries are not very expensive. You can get practically any basic item, like canned meat, beans, or rice and vegetables from any of the stores the stores on Hanga Roa groceries stores for roughly $2-$5 apiece.
On the other hand, eating out in the handful restaurant is fairly expensive. A small lunch will set you back about $10 or more, so if you are on a tight budget, definitely stay away from this option.
I tried to budget by bringing a bagful of dried and canned food from Santiago, but I really didn’t have to do that. I could afford slightly more expensive food from the grocery store. It’s one thing to decide to bring your own food. But keep in mind, you don’t want to check in an overweight bag on your flight to the Island, otherwise you will have pay extra when checking in. So much for any savings!
I didn’t eat out much at the ‘touristy’ restaurants – but a few dinners with new friends cost me roughly $15-20 each time, which I thought was still quite reasonable.
6. How do you get around?
Simply put, public transportation does not exist. Hitchhiking is an option for transportation, and locals (and some friendly tourists) will gladly offer rides across the island. Don’t depend on it though, unless you’re flexible.
And, of course, you can also rent a car. Oceanic is the leading car rental company on Easter Island, and you can budget around $100 for a day of car rental. But I advise waiting till you get there. You can “rent” a car from the locals for a cheaper rate. It is a very informal and laid back system.
If you meet fellow travelers at your hostel/hotel, consider splitting a rental car for a more budget friendly experience. Easter Island is very small – you are guaranteed to see these people all over the island while visiting the same destination, and even running into them while walking on the main road of Hanga Roa. You can save a lot of money by doing things together!
Hanga Roa’s main road is about 13 miles long and cuts through the middle of the island. It’s possible to rent a bike or an all-terrain vehicle, but I would suggest an arranged tour as a better way to see the island. Mahinatur is a company that offers three tours to different areas of the island. Transportation is included, as is lunch for the full day tour. You could do all three tours in two days, and I highly recommend it. Their office is on Hanga Roa’s main road. Don’t worry. You can’t miss it.
I did two out of three tours and spent a whole day hiking up to Rano Kau, where the view was totally worth it! It was a pleasant, uphill hike from Hanga Roa. Don’t forget to bring your own picnic and water, as there is no way to get either along the hike.
Bonus Points! SCUBA Diving on Easter Island!
If you are a certified SCUBA Diver, you can dive in several places where Jacques Cousteau dove during his six months living here in 1976.
The most famous site here is where the Moai is resting at the bottom of the ocean. Is this real, you may ask? Well, yes and no. It is definitely a real statue, but it is not an actual statue carved hundreds of years ago. In fact, it was a prop from the Kevin Costner movie, Rapa Nui.
During my Easter Island visit, I dove for four straight days straight with Mike Rapu and loved every dive I did. My favorite was the Cathedral Cave, where a series of steep walls and low buttresses were formed underwater with swaying currents.
On average, tourists stay two to three days on Easter Island. I stayed for eight days and I still feel that I could have stayed longer.
Either way, it was a rewarding experience. I’ve been to hundreds, even thousands of cities and towns around the world. My Easter Island trip was no doubt one of the most special I’ve ever done. You will understand how I feel once you visit this legendary place.
If you’re on a budget, make sure to read this article from Globotreks on how to travel Easter Island for cheap.
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