Easter Island

Island of a Thousand Mysteries

A tiny windswept piece of land called Rapa Nui continues to captivate and mystify a curious world long after its “discovery” by the Dutch West India Company in 1722, on Easter Sunday.

Surrounded by a million square miles of Pacific Ocean, it’s the world’s most remote inhabited island–over 1,200 miles from its nearest populated neighbor, Pitcairn lsland.

Called the “Navelof the World” by early settlers, Easter Island is an ancient open-air 50-square-mile museum of natural history home to some of archaeology’s most valuable treasures.

It is most often identified today with its famous moai, more than 600 huge, eerie, elongated stone figures that stare eyeless at the distant horizon. Many are 30 to 50 feet tall and weigh up to 250 tons.

They were carved from the island’s volcanic tufa, transported for miles, then raised onto great stone altars called ahu.

Believed to date from somewhere between the 9th and 17th centuries A.D., these silent figures are best viewed outdoors in all their primitive splendor at Ahu Tongariki, the largest excavated and restored religious monument in Polynesia.

Were they conceived and carved by Polynesian people who first landed on the island around A.D. 500, or by pre-Incan stone carvers from Peru? The answer remains elusive.

What: island.

Where: 2,350 miles/3,781 km west of Santiago, Chile, 4 1/2 hours by air on flights that typically continue on to Tahiti. It can also be reached by some cruise lines.

How: TCS Expeditions in the U.S. organizes all-day trip that includes Santiago, with guest lecturers who are experts on the prehistory of the island; tel 800-727-7477 or 206-727-7300, fax 206-727-7309; tcsexp@wolfenet.com.

Cost: $4,990 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive, land only.

When: Jan departures only. A shorter 4-day stay leaving weekly from Santiago year-round can be arranged in the U.S. through Maxim Tours, tel 800-655-0222 or 973-984-9068, fax 973-984-5383; maximtours@earthlink.net; www.maximtours.com.

Cost: from $284 per person, all-inclusive, land only.

Best times: Nov-Mar.

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