Easter Island: Make the most of its mysteries

(CNN) — Easter Island is on lots of bucket lists. Who wouldn’t want the chance to visit one of the world’s most remote islands and take selfies with those ancient, stoic stone faces?

Yet there’s more to Easter Island than the mythic moai statues.

Enormous volcanic craters, preserved stone villages, beaches, fantastic seafood and world-class diving are among the unsung delights of this mysterious destination also known by the native name Rapa Nui.

Indeed, the Chile-governed territory, which is 1,300 miles away from the nearest inhabited island (Pitcairn Island) and 2,200 miles away from South America’s mainland, has plenty on offer for the active traveler, culture vulture, jet-setter and more.

It’s also more accessible than you might think. LATAM Airlines, one of Latin America’s leading carriers, flies direct there a few times a week from Santiago, Chile, and once a week from Papeete, Tahiti; either route takes less than six hours.

The island has a range of accommodation options: guesthouses, luxury resorts, Airbnbs and such.

For more inspiration, here are six things to do to make the most of this enchanting Polynesian destination.

1. Check into an eco-lodge

“Remote” and “roughing it” need not be mutually inclusive on Easter Island. Sustainable boutique resorts such as Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa, which features curvy, earthy suites that mirror the ancient stone dwellings of the Orongo villagers, employ solar power and wind turbines to conserve energy.
At Explora Rapa Nui, active pursuits led by resident tour guides are part of the package.

At Explora Rapa Nui, active pursuits led by resident tour guides are part of the package.

From Explora Rapa Nui

The isolated, LEED-certified Explora Rapa Nui tends to attract the vigorous vacationer as its fully inclusive program (including half- and full-day active tours) can have guests hiking, diving, biking, spelunking and more to their heart’s content with resident tour guides. However, retreating to one of Explora’s 30 modern, ocean-facing suites surely helps to restore the body and spirit.

2. Visit a UNESCO-designated national park

Though not without conflict, the local Rapa Nui and Chilean peoples have done much to preserve Easter Island’s natural and cultural luster.

Their efforts were further bolstered in 1995, when UNESCO awarded its park (Rapa Nui National Park) with World Heritage Site status, keeping threats of hyperdevelopment, damage and the like to a minimum.

The national park comprises 42% of the island and contains the land’s greatest hits, from volcanic peaks and stone villages to formidable displays of moai statues, the stone figures unique to Easter Island.

3. Meet the stoic stone people

There are 887 moai strewn across the 63 square-mile land, and theories still abound on the purpose and process of these intimidating human-like stone figures constructed around 1200 to 1600 A.D. Arguably the two best sites to visit are the Rano Raraku quarry and Ahu Tongariki.

From Hayk Hovhannisyan

Rano Raraku is said to be the only production site for the moai because of its abundant source of volcanic tuff, and today holds nearly 400 of the moai in various positions. Ahu Tongariki is perhaps the most picturesque of the many “ahus” (platforms) around the island with 15 larger-than-life moai statues (one as tall as 40 feet) near coast’s edge with the cliffs of Poike in the background.

It is strongly recommended to enlist a professional tour guide for a fuller understanding and appreciation of these megalithic marvels.

One can also visit the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum, Easter Island’s sole museum, for a close-up viewing of moai and several other cultural artifacts.

4. Work up a sweat

There’s plenty to keep the restless traveler busy on the 14-mile-long by 7-mile-wide island. On land, there’s horseback riding as well as excellent hiking opportunities along the coast and green-carpeted volcanoes.

With all the Pacific water surrounding the tiny island, snorkelers spot abundant sea life among coral beds, while scuba divers delight in exploring lava caves, encountering sea turtles and even an underwater moai.

Boat and fishing trips are easily booked through outfitters such as Mahinatur Tours. And those who prefer a laid-back alternative to island exploration need look no farther than Anakena Beach or Ovahe Beach for sand, sun and serenity.

5. Dig into something fresh from the sea

Disclaimer: Easter Island isn’t a destination for Michelin-starred fare. Instead, the fresh, affordable and readily available seafood is the island’s strongest suit.

Tuna is king for the local diet, with tasty variations from ceviche to empanadas thanks to the Chilean influence. There are familiar types of catch (swordfish, lobster, mahi mahi), but a tourist favorite is the exotic, red-colored kana kana, often cooked simply on hot stones near the sea.

Travelers can sample local seafood and other native favorites along with a lively ancestral Rapa Nui show at the popular Te Ra’ai in Hanga Roa, Easter Island’s only town.

6. Explore magnificent volcanoes

The island owes its existence to millions of years of volcanic activity, with about 70 small vents and three major volcanoes that define the island’s triangular figure. All of the volcanoes are extinct, allowing for scenic and safe hikes onto the peaks of Poike and the island’s highest point, Terevaka, at 1,664 feet.

Rano Kau, on the southwestern end of the island, has a massive crater with a freshwater lake and is host to an array of vegetation.

If it weren’t for volcanic eruptions yielding basalt, obsidian, tuff and other stones, the magical moai would not exist.

This article originally appeared here