After our insane day trying to get last-minute flights into Santiago before our mega-expensive trip to Easter Island we finally arrived in the capital city of country #22 late at night. Our chatty Uber driver gave us a lot of tips on things to do in Santiago once we got back from Easter Island, but his top tip was change your hotel immediately.
Despite careful planning of the perfect hotel with a bit of luxury and charm but on the cheaper side of credit card points I had accidentally booked a place right in the middle of the nightly protests! Oops.
Luckily my dear husband was willing to spend a while on the phone with our credit card company to have the reservation automatically cancelled due to safety concerns late into the evening after Whit and I fell dead asleep in our comfortable Hilton hotel. It had a bathtub. Pity we were too late to enjoy it.
We were back up and at the airport early the next day for day 1 of 4 of our epic trip to Easter Island, home of the famous and mysterious moai statues.
Ben has wanted to see the moai in person since his days in the single’s ward in Cleveland, but it wasn’t a phenomenon I ever really cared about. I was happy to give him this experience, though, after he’d recently joined me on my bucket list trip the Amazon River. Love is going on an expensive trip to a place just because your partner wants to.
Whit especially loved the free snacks and movies available on the 5.5-hour flight to one of the farthest land masses on earth, and I loved once we landed. The warm humidity and tropical surroundings was such a welcome combination! I didn’t realize how stressful it’s been traveling through South America until we were close to Polynesia again. Man, I love that region!
The first thing we did was stand in line to buy our passes into the island’s various national park sites, then play with some wild dogs for a bit while waiting impatiently for our AirBnB’s caretaker to pick us up.
He finally did, arms full of welcom lais, and we piled in his beat up pickup truck for a quick trip down the road to one of the saddest places we’ve ever stayed.
In an effort to save money on this very expensive island we booked the cheapest accomodations we could find: a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house on AirBnB 15 minutes away from town. The pictures looked basic but fine, and we knew we’d be able to put up with it for 3 short nights since we planned to spend most of our time outside, anyway.
Well, it was a doozy! One of the bedrooms was locked off, the other two were hot without blackout curtains or A/C, there was no TV, kitchen appliances, or internet as advertised, no hot water, and one of the toilets wouldn’t flush.
We laughed and made it work.
We dropped our bags off quickly and decided to walk into town to get SIM cards for our phones, cash from the ATM, groceries, and reserve a rental car for the next two days. The walk was longer than we thought, but it felt so great. The majority of civilization is in one portion of the island, but it still isn’t very developed. It’s mostly dirt roads, people selling pineapple out of their truck beds, friendly wild dogs, and, eventually, rows of restaurants, car rental agencies, and souvenir shops. I loved the slow pace!
The peaceful island life includes a 3-hour break in the middle of the day, and Ben was pretty frustrated to find out that the cell phone store and bank were both unmanned when we arrived. We made do by using the internet at an ice cream store (in exchange for a $6 scoop of ice cream) and walking around town, which we just loved. We even considered renting bicycles to explore part of the island that afternoon, but after Whit fell down and scraped his knee while standing still we figured that wouldn’t be a great idea.
Our experience on Easter Island over our 4 days there turned out to be really incredible. I was surprised at how much I loved the island, since I hadn’t really looked forward to it before our trip. The moai were really incredible, the views around the island are gorgeous, it wasn’t overly touristy or developed, and we had a lot of things to do. All-in-all it was a very fun, low-key, back-to-basics holiday.
Here are some of our highlights:
- We rented a beat-up SUV with a door from another car and missing handle, but we had so much fun laughing with every pothole as we drove around and around the island listening to their one radio station and waving to horses we passed
- Wild dogs and cats are everywhere, but they are so tame and nice. Whit spent an entire hour sitting in one spot petting his new best friend, a sweet kitty, while Ben and I explored a small cave system. He’d befriended the cat by feeding it leftover pieces of lunch meat, and was practically in tears when we had to say goodbye!
- We bought groceries from the main store in town and I made breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of our trip with a package of eggs, zucchini, onion, rice, soy sauce, oatmeal, milk, lunch meat, and fruit. I was pretty proud of myself, even though none of it tasted very good!
- Whit wanted to take a bath one night, and took it upon himself to heat pots of water on the stove to fill the tub. I walked in on him pouring heavy pots of water and felt so proud that he wasn’t too Westernized to look down on it! We did try to fix the water heater, for the record, after our unit owner stopped responding to our questions, but it didn’t work and we resorted to cold, 3-minute showers each night to wash off the day’s layers of sunscreen.
- Ben and Whit did a load of laundry in our unit and hung the laundry on a line to dry while we went out for the day. We came back before it started to rain, but the wind had thrown our clothes around a little bit. Whit enthusiastically helped me bring in the laundry, and had so much fun being responsible for getting it off the line while I went around the yard. I’m so proud of him!
- The sun didn’t set until 10 pm or so, so we went to bed with the light every night
- We had most maoi sites to ourselves since we were willing to be flexible in driving around everywhere. They are huge and so beautiful!
- We stopped for pictures at a rocky bay and noticed it was full of volunteers picking trash out of the rocks once we walked closer. That was awesome.
- We loved our lunch at the Anakena beach. The water was so beautiful and the sand was slightly pink. Whit realized he needed to go to the bathroom once we pulled into the parking lot, and I ended up following him all over the grounds as he went from building to building looking for a bathroom. The only one was closed for the day, so he had to hurry and put his bathing suit on and go in the water! Ben followed him and they had a fun few minutes playing in the water, but it was too cold for them to stay. We ended up sitting in a shaded portion of beach while we ate some cheese squares, crackers, and grapes for lunch, and Whit sunbathed while I watched Ben go free diving. What a great afternoon!
- We hiked one of the small volcano hills. We thought it was only 45 minutes to the peak, but soon realized it was actually more like 2-3 hours. The sun was full on with no shade, and Whit and Ben made a game of running to any small patch of shade they could find. We ended up walking with a French couple and had an amazing time chatting nearly the whole way! Whit had enough of walking early, though, and marched up a volcano mound before the peak. We said goodbye to our new friends and followed him to what ended up being an even more incredible view of the island and a really cool volcano crater than the hike’s peak is supposed to be! We at lunch before Ben left us to run to the official hike peak so we’d know what we missed, and I walked back down with Whit. At one point I was ahead of Whit and watched him run towards me with a pack of cookies hanging at his side. He didn’t want me to take a picture, so It’s a sight of such pure childish happiness I hope I never forget.
- We also loved the Orongo volcano hill, where we saw the homes native people dug in the earth and surrounded by rocks. We’d been shocked at the rudimentary architecture style of the Incans in Peru in the 13th century, and here were people living in dug-out homes even later than that! We also learned about the tribal competition to Motanui and had even more incredible views of the land.
- We decided to “splurge” and go out for a modest dinner one of the days we were there. Two empanadas, a bottle of water, a salad, and a plate of fries: $49. Too funny!
I hope I never, ever forget about this beautiful place. It is so beautiful and so wonderfully rustic and original! It felt so good to not have internet or TV and just drive around nature in a beat up car for a while. That’s the sort of childhood I remember, and I’m thrilled Whit could experience such authentic moments, too.
On day 4 we flew back to Santiago and, again, didn’t have a hotel. We expected to reserve a new one on Easter Island, but since our internet didn’t work we found ourselves trying to book something at the last minute in the airport yet again. The new one was in a great location near the Costanera Center, the tallest building in South America featuring a viewing floor, supermarket, mall, and movie theater, but required another tense call with our credit card company to confirm the room we booked. They wanted to charge us extra for using the pull-out couch in the room as a second bed, even though the listing clearly said it was included! Crazy!
We loved how modern Santiago is, though.
I got a really delicious burger on a gluten free bun in the Costanera Center, we did some shopping from USA brands there, went to museums and a funicular, and drove and walked around town.
It was our first time being up close and personal with the South American protests, though. We didn’t see any active protesting, but we did pass many once pristine public parks and buildings now covered in graffiti and political signs and a peaceful demonstration of how much ammunition had been used against civilians outside the courthouse. It led to some great discussions with Whit, even though he’s still struggling to understand.
I’m a little sad that the protests are still active in Chile and that the price to travel is expensive, because it seems like a beautiful, intersting country. We’ve decided to explore Patagonia through Argentina in an effort to be extra safe and save some money, but I hope we can come back to Chile some time!