EASTER ISLAND, Chile
GOOD FOR: Strange and intriguing statues 2,000km from anywhere
When your nearest inhabited neighbour is almost equally remote Pitcairn, you know you’re far from home. Despite its Polynesian roots and its mid-pacific location some 3,500km west of mainland South America, Easter Island belongs to Chile – it was annexed by the country in 1888. However, by that time, the traditional society of the local Rapa Nui people had already collapsed, due to deforestation, slave raiders and outbreaks of disease brought by foreign explorers. Thus little is known about the island’s most remarkable attraction: its mysterious moai.
No one quite knows why the Rapa Nui carved more than 800 of these huge stone heads, which weigh up to 86,000kg. Theories abound; some think they’re the work of aliens. But they remain one of the world’s greatest wonders.
Much of the island is a national park. You can follow trails that lead up to the extinct volcano of Rano Kau to look into the wide, reed-dotted crater lagoon, and you can hike up Mount Terevaka (507m), the island’s highest point. You can wander around the lush bowl of Rano Raraku crater, where most of the statues were carved (and many still remain). And you can visit magnificent moai sites such as Ahu Tongariki, where 15 huge heads gaze out from atop their ceremonial platform.
GETTING THERE: LATAM Airlines (latam.com) flies six times a week from Santiago (mainland Chile) to Easter Island; flight time is from around 5.5 hours.