How to Visit Rapa Nui on a Budget (Easter Island)
Like Galapagos, Easter Island was one of the more expensive destinations we visited during our trip. The airfare, pricey accommodations and costly meals can quickly add up and feel like a punch in the gut to the average backpacker. However, the trip is completely worth every penny as it is one of the most magnificent and special places you will ever see. Fear not as I will give you a few quick tips on how to visit Rapa Nui on a budget and make your dream trip a reality.
Pick a date, any date
Being on a long-term backpacking trip and having an open schedule already gives you a leg up on other travelers as you are relatively free to choose the dates to visit Rapa Nui. A great tool we normally use is Google Flights, which gives you the option to see what airfare costs on different days of the week in any given month. Only Lan flies into Rapa Nui so you do not have much option in choosing an airline but you do have a plethora of days to choose from if you keep an open schedule. As an example a cheap to average flight from Santiago may cost around $500 USD per person.
Grab a couple of friends and make a plan
You have come all this way on your long-term trip and met so many interesting new people, why not grab a few friends and make your way to Easter Island? When we found out our friends Charlie and Romina had already booked their flight that solidified our plans of visiting and we decided to all share a cabin. Accommodations in Rapa Nui vary from a rustic campsite (Camping Mihinoa) in front of the ocean (spaces sell out quickly-book early!) to über luxurious resorts with stunning views. We were somewhere in between and booked our cabin with Cesar (Cabañas Kaituoe) at a cost of $100 USD per night/ for 4 ppl.
I can’t express just how friendly, down to earth and real the locals are and Cesar was no exception. He was amazing and provided us with discounts on bike rentals, a car rental and even provided the boys with some rods and bread for fishing (they were totally triumphant btw). I would highly suggest booking with them and hope that we could come back to visit them when we return to the island. Another option for finding a cheap accommodation is Couch Surfing. I have not personally used this service but met people on the island who were successfully using it. With such friendly locals in town I can only see it as a fantastic experience.
Stuff those backpacks full of goodies
Like on many islands food in Rapa Nui is expensive since most things have to be imported from the mainland. I thought we would be restricted in what food we could bring when flying to Easter Island but that was not the case. No one checked our bags when leaving Santiago or when we arrived in Rapa Nui. In fact, we saw loads of people at the airport bringing in crates of all kinds of foods. Having a place with a kitchen really helps save money when visiting so leave all your unnecessary clothes behind and bring as much food as you can carry (yes, that includes fresh produce). Agriculture on the island is not as big a deal as in mainland Chile but be sure to eat all of your food in Rapa Nui as you will not be able to bring most back with you when you return to Santiago (bonus: you’ll have a lightweight backpack for a bit)
Bike, walk, share or hitch
The island is fairly small and walking or biking around the town center of Hanga Roa is easy and enjoyable. We rented bikes for two days and were able to visit Rano Kau volcano crater and Ana Kai Tangata cave, which were near our cabin. Depending on where you are staying you may want to rent a vehicle to get to some of the other sites, as biking uphill around the island can be a challenge. We decided to share the cost of the car among the four of us and were able to get a good price from Cesar at 35,000 Chilean Pesos/per day. Hitch hiking around the island is always an option and is safe to do.
The backpacker’s tour
Most of the sites in Rapa Nui such as Anakena beach, Hanga Roa Cemetery the Moai at Ahu Akivi, Ahu Akapu, Tahai, and Ana Kakenga cave among others can be visited on your own without a guide and free of cost. However, since the whole island is considered a national park you will need to pay the CONAF fee of 30,000CLP (purchase at the airport or the CONAF offices near Orongo trail or Rano Raraku). The rangers can ask for this ticket at anytime and you will need to present it when visiting the Orongo ceremonial village and Rano Raraku moai quarry.
For some sites such as the Rano Raraku moai quarry, Ahu Tongariki , Te Pito Kura and Vaihu I would suggest doing a one-day guided tour, as they will give you insight and history behind this enchanting island and the mysterious moai (signage around the island is average at best). We chose Aku Aku tour company and our guide was fantastic ( 35,000CLP without lunch/ per person )
Treat yo’ self
Now that you have saved all of this money give yourself a pat on the back and splurge just a tiny bit. For a nice meal out be sure not to miss the incredible tuna ceviche at Tataku Vave. The fish tastes so fresh you will swear they just scooped it out of the ocean before serving it onto your plate. Do not miss visiting at least one of the traditional dance shows while in Rapa Nui. The dancers do an incredible job and the energy that they give off while performing is remarkable. Two highly recommended shows are Kari-Kari and Vai Te Mihi. Finally, do not miss buying souvenirs at the craft shop just outside of Ana Kai Tangata cave. You will get some of the most beautiful and carefully crafted handmade jewelry from a lovely girl who even played the ukulele and sang for us when we visited!
Rapa Nui is a one of a kind place full of history, mysticism, beauty and some of the most fascinating and kind-hearted people you will ever meet. You will not regret making the trip even if it costs you a bit more than you originally planned and you can still visit and save. We were never disappointed and were amazed with all of the bounties the island had to offer. I will always remember my visit to the island fondly and how it made my soul just a bit more complete.
*Don’t forget to get your awesome souvenir Rapa Nui stamp at the local post office