Located in the South Pacific, Easter Island – Rapa Nui – is a beautifully tiny speck of green amid a literal sea of blue. Known the world over for the Moai statues that dot the land, this little island is so far removed from the rest of the world that it’s a wonder it was ever even inhabited at all. Although the island is technically a territory of Chile, it was once inhabited by the Polynesians who, despite being isolated, managed to create some of the most imaginative artistic and architectural works in the world.
It’s thought that the Polynesians came across the vast ocean in wooden outriggers (Canoes), and settled on Rapa Nui around AD 300. As the population grew steadily, and evolved from the stone age society they were a part of when settling on Rapa Nui, the Polynesians began to create Moai statues (thought to represent sacred ancestors) near their villages and ceremonial shrines, called Ahu, that lie along the coast. When over-population and environmental deterioration caused the population to split into two separate clans in the 16th century, the inhabitants on the island began waging continuous war with one another, and the Polynesian society on Rapa Nui began a sharp decline.When Jacob Roggveen of the Dutch East India Company stumbled upon the small island in 1722, he took the liberty of christening his newly found land Easter Island after the date on the calendar. It would later be claimed by the Spanish in 1770, and visited by explorers and whalers alike throughout the next 100 years who would introduce the natives to venereal diseases and forced slavery. By the time the island was annexed to Chile in 1888 there were roughly 100 native Polynesians left out of the 10,000 estimated to inhabit the island by the first European explorers.
Today the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and boasts great diving, surfing, beautiful beaches, and multiple volcanoes to explore along with its rich and interesting history. You can tour the island via car, motorcycle or guided tour, and should make a point to check out the rock quarries where hundreds of Moai statues still sit in various stages of completion.