In early Febuary I was among the first guests to check into Posada de Mike Rapu, the hotel of the Explora en Rapa Nui resort, which opened in December and has finally brought first-class accommodations to the island. It’s the third eco-friendly luxury lodge developed by the Santiago-based Explora company (the others are in Southern Patagonia and the northern Chilean desert). Although Easter Island prohibits land sales to non-natives, Explora was able, after years of negotiation, to open the hotel by partnering with a local businessman.
Situated on a secluded plain above the roaring Pacific, the luxurious lodge, built of indigenous volcanic stone and hardwoods, has 30 simply but handsomely furnished guest rooms, each with a huge picture window. After checking in, I was tempted to sprawl out on the daybed and stare out at the endless sea. Integral to the Explora philosophy, however, is getting guests up and moving—and not just to the excellent restaurant at the hotel, which features succulent just-caught fish and robust Chilean wines.
Though the lodge’s daily morning and afternoon hikes—which take about three hours each and range in difficulty from casual to heart thumping—are not obligatory, you do like feel like a slacker if you don’t partake. And even the most sedentary guests are likely to be charmed outside by the hotel’s hiking guides. All island natives, they are well informed, friendly and, oh yes, quite nice to look at. On my trip, the other guests showed varying levels of commitment to the outdoors—and to the lodge’s recommendation to pack sturdy hiking shoes. While a Toronto couple, on their way back from a voyage in Antarctica, arrived for each trek outfitted with Everest-ready gear, a charming Italian woman and her teenage daughters appeared for their first expedition in sundresses and strappy little low-heeled sandals—attire that would have been perfect on Capri. The next day the Italians showed up wearing much more sensible Teva sports sandals, which they had just bought in town, not to mention expressions of horror and amusement over their unfashionable footwear. The third morning, they skipped the hike altogether, which I discovered when they busted me playing hooky by the pool.
One of the most fascinating hikes was to Rano Raraku, one of the island’s three extinct volcanoes. Raraku, a quarry, was the nursery of the moai, as is evidenced by the sculptural forms emerging from the hill in various states of completion. Dozens of fully sculpted moai, meanwhile, sit on the slope, as if they’d just come off an assembly line and were awaiting delivery.
As our guide explained, the moai were built between the years 1000 and 1600 as protective figures. After the death of a tribe’s chief, a moai was carved in his image, then erected on a stone altarlike platform, where it watched over the village. While many mysteries remain about how these leviathans were built and raised into their positions, one theory holds that they were transported on a series of rolling logs. In their frenzy to build, however, the Rapa Nui deforested their tiny island. By the 18th century, the island was roiled by civil war and disease.