Last Updated on September 14, 2020 by Jeremy
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Easter Island is one of the smallest islands I have ever stayed on, and definitely the smallest I've ever driven on. At about 10 miles at its widest point, you can drive around the island in a full loop in just over an hour with a few quick stops.
Prior to our Easter Island visit, we were quite torn about renting a car. We read many stories online about some of the difficulties that other travelers faced, and were not even sure it would be necessary considering how tiny the island really is. Once we realized that there is no public transportation on the island, and a rental doesn't cost that much more than a round-trip taxi doing an island loop, picking up a car for half our stay was a logical choice.
But even with our eagerness to get out and explore Easter Island, we did have to consider those difficulties we've read about online time and time again. Luckily for you, we think they're quite overblown.
Cars Are Not Insured
When you read about driving on Easter Island, the first thing you'll likely find is that no car on the island carries insurance. If you damage the car, you have to pay for it in full.
When you really think about it for a moment, this sounds incredibly scary! Although I have never been in a wreck in my 12 years of driving, I was planning on being extra cautious while exploring the island. Within moments of arriving I realized that my fears were overblown.
The reason I say this is not because I became reckless, but rather that I saw there was hardly anything to worry about while exploring the island. Yes, some of the roads are not fully paved and deserve driving incredibly slow on, and there are stray dogs, horses, and cows wandering freely, but these are the only concerns you really need to worry about.
Why is that? Well, Easter Island is empty.
During most of our driving around the island we would only pass a dozen or so cars in any given day. The biggest “traffic jam” we saw in Hanga Roa, the only town, was about 5 cars and that was after a tsunami alert was issued and people were driving to higher ground (more on that in our next post). You do need to keep alert at the intersections a bit as the locals do tend to do rolling stops harder than in other places since there is normally never anyone there!
So with our mind at ease with the potential troubles of driving around Easter Island, it was time to explore!
What to See With Your Car
Naturally, the top sights are all about the Easter Island moai. With a dozen or so restored sites, you can spend a good day (or more) driving around the island to see these famous statues.
Some of the best sites worth venturing to with your rental car include the following:
- Ahu Tongariki: Perhaps the most famous of all, this ahu contains 15 moai heads standing up and is the best place on the island to watch the sunrise. In our 3 days of renting a car, we visited this one 4 times to catch it at various different lighting throughout the day (including two sunrises).
- Ahu Nau Nau: Located on Anakena beach, this Ahu is popular not only for its location but also due to the fact that four out of the five standing moai have their topknots resting precariously on their heads!
- Ahu Akivi: The only ahu where the moai are facing the ocean rather than the village, this one looks especially stunning late in the day when the sun gets low in the horizon.
- Ahu Vinapu: Although all the moai are fallen at this ahu, it is unique in that you can get closer to the statues than at any of the other sites on the island.
- The Quarry (Rano Raraku): Where else can you see hundreds of moai next to each other? Only here! This iconic spot is a must see that you'll spend a few hours at, and coupled with neighboring Tongariki (just 5 minutes away), you'll have a full day with these gorgeous statues. (One visit included with your national park fee).
But while the Moai are the reason you go to the island, and also why you rented a car, you may be curious what else there is to see while you have your rental? The following were some of our favorites.
- Climb to the Highest Point on Easter Island: From Ahu Akivi you can take the 90 minute(+) hiking trail up to the highest point of the island. It is not very strenuous, but up all the way. Along the fields (since there is not much of a trail), you'll see volcano craters and have some of the best views of the whole island, including a full 360 degree view of water all around.
- Visit the Orongo Village: Located just outside of Hanga Roa, atop a massive volcano, the Orongo Village is the best restored village on the island. The volcano itself may be even more impressive as the crater is the biggest you'll see on the island. (One visit included with your national park fee).
- Cave “Windows“: On the western coast of Hanga Roa lies many caves that can be explored that were formed during the volcanic early days of the island. One in particular on this stretch of road leads you through a very narrow corridor to an open window overlooking the beach. Bring a head torch and prepare to squeeze! This one is best done later in the day when there is more lighting from the West (and be careful on this road as it is not paved).
Although these are just a handful of the activities you can see on the island while driving, we thought they were some of the best. When you hop in your car to explore, be sure to hit these top attractions!
Wait, Isn't Gas Expensive?
For an island as isolated as it is, you would think gas would be more expensive than the car rental itself. But when we went to fill up our tank at the only gas station on the island, we were in for a huge surprise – gas was incredibly cheap!
Okay, well, not as cheap as at home, but far cheaper than the time we went driving in Mauritius.
So how much is a gallon of gas? You may be shocked to hear that it was about $5.80 ($1.54/liter) during our stay in April 2014. That is only about 7 cents more per gallon than in Santiago!
The best part was that even though we drove around the island at least 5 times, due to its small size we barely went through 3/4 a tank, or 9 gallons of gas (32 liters)! So at the end of our three day rental we only had to spend about $50 for gas, which we split with our friends who we shared the car with.
When you consider that a group day tour of the island costs upwards of $100+ per person, and a large automatic car costs just a bit more than that per day, we had to wonder: why take a tour? Picking up an automatic rental car for three days, sharing it with a few new friends, and one tank of gas costs just a little bit more per person, and you get to enjoy Easter Island that much more.
Considering the amount of money you're already spending to visit Easter Island in the first place, it would be silly not to consider renting a car at this once in a lifetime destination. You truly won't regret it.
We'd like to thank our friends at Insular Rent a Car for providing us a discounted rental during our stay on the island. If you're headed to Easter Island, we highly recommend checking them out!
Looking to book a room in Easter Island? Check out these great options!
About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.