Chile & Easter Island with Dr. Elizabeth Baquedano
This is an adventure indeed - travelling across the globe with an international expert to see some of the most enigmatic rock art in the world, situated in vast and often remote landscapes. Doing so involves travelling down the coast of northern Chile and into the Atacama desert, before flying over the Pacific to a tiny speck of land - the iconic Easter Island.
We shall be discovering places seldom visited, which our ancestors chose to decorate with huge earth pictures and complex rock art. Some of the sites we see are simply extraordinary - their gigantic scale makes us ask why and for whom such things were created.
- Discover extraordinary rock art amid lunar-like landscapes
- Encounter the imposing Moai statues on the iconic Easter Island
- Enjoy a memorable tour led by an expert
- Visit fascinating regional museums in a variety of locations
- Traverse the striking Atacama Desert, declared the world’s driest
We fly overnight from London to Santiago and land in the morning of Day Two.
Upon our arrival, we have a short transfer to the hotel. After a welcome lunch, we have the rest of the afternoon to simple relax and recover from our flight, or join a guided walk around Santiago, Chile’s capital city since the colonial era. On foot is the perfect way to take in the culture and local atmosphere as we discover its many parks, winding streets and eclectic buildings, admiring the fusion of colonial, Art Deco, and neo-gothic styles.
After breakfast we catch a flight to Arica, a seaside port and town in northern Chile, just a few miles south of the Peruvian border. Here we visit the San Miguel Archaeological Museum, home to the famous Chinchorro Mummies, preserved for several millennia by the dry heat of the desert. Modern analysis of the mummies has revealed them to be semi-nomadic people subsisting on the sea. Astonishingly, the oldest body predates the Egyptian mummies by some 3,000 years. Later we cross the stark oasis of the Azapa Valley to view the spectacular rock art still visible on the hillsides — a vivid assortment of human figures and animals.
This morning our journey takes us through the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world according to studies by NASA. Parts of this region have never received even one drop of rain. We stop at Chiza and Tiliviche to see the sprawling human and llama geoglyphs here, thought to have been created as a guide to caravans descending from the mountains to the coast. We also visit the Ariquilda petroglyphs, where a rich variety of human, animal and geometric figures can be seen. Finally, we travel to our hotel in Iquique, stopping en-route to explore El Gigante del Atacama, the world’s largest prehistoric depiction of a human.
We start our day with a boat trip into the Pacific from Iquique harbour, with the opportunity to spot pelicans, sea-lions and endangered Humboldt penguins. Next, we visit the excellent Regional Museum in Iquique, where archaeological collections feature two Chinchorro Mummies and an illuminating exhibition on the history of the saltpetre extraction in northern Chile. After lunch, there is an atmospheric tour of the ‘ghost town’ of Humberstone, a former saltpetre mining town itinerary that was abandoned in 1960, and has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a unique opportunity to peer back through the sands of time.
After breakfast we drive to Cerros Pintados to view geoglyphs scattered for miles along the hillsides. More than 450 figures have been discovered here, with over 60 restored so far; the largest collection of its kind in South America. Once we have finished observing the numerous geometric shapes and figures here, we visit Quillagua and its small museum before continuing to San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis village surrounded by spectacular volcanic scenery – one of Chile’s most beloved destinations.
Today we drive to the petroglyphs at Yerbas Beunas, located in Chile’s geographical centre. More than 1,000 images are visible here, left by the Altacameno people. The afternoon is free to spend how you wish, either stay in San Pedro de Atacama or join an option excursion, such as the Atacama Salt Flat Tour. Taking you through beautiful natural landscapes, including part of the largest salt flat in Chile, we will see native fauna and flora, visit the Flamencos National Reserve, Lake Chaxa and the village of Toconao.
Our morning is spent among the amazing lunar landscapes of the Valle de la Luna, which is a colourful and textured valley that contains unusual wind-carved formations and dry lakes that gleam with salt. This afternoon we fly back to Santiago.
We make our way over to Vina del Mar to visit the Museo de Arqueologico e Historia Francisco Fonck. The museum has a rich collection of wooden carvings, striking displays of archaeological material from other parts of Chile and an unforgettable exhibit on the process of shrinking heads! After lunch we embark on an informative walking tour of Valparaiso, a quirky city famed for its maze-like streets, vibrant colonial architecture, and richly artistic heritage. Not for nothing has this lively place been nicknamed the ‘Jewel of the Pacific’.
The next part of our adventure begins as we fly across the ocean to enigmatic Easter Island, one of the most isolated locations on the planet. Our explorations start with a preliminary walk around Hanga Roa, the island’s capital and harbour, as well as its only town. This calm and compact settlement is home to most of the islands 5,000 inhabitants.
Our first full day on Easter Island begins with a trip to our first moai at Ahu Tahai, where these monolithic human figures stand – one with its giant coral eyes replaced. Three ceremonial platforms remain on this site, which was restored by the late American archaeologist, Dr William Mulloy. He and his wife are both buried here. We continue on to the nearby Museo Antropologico Sebastian Englert to learn the story behind the moai and their discoverers. Here we see the only female moai to have been discovered, as well as an original moai eye. This afternoon is free for us to enjoy at leisure.
After breakfast we journey to the quarry at Rano Raraku, where many unfinished moai are still standing in situ. The site was in use until the 18th century, supplying stone for around 97% of the island’s moai over a time frame of approximately 500 years. The biggest moai in existence lies here incomplete, and measures a staggering 21.6 metres from end to end. Following this we visit the longest line of standing statues at Tongariki, the largest Ahu on the island, where we find the world’s heaviest re-erected moai, weighing in at an almost inconceivable 86 tonnes. After a picnic lunch at Rano Raraku, our day concludes with a viewing of the rock carvings at Papa Vaka. Here we see marine petroglyphs carved into the basalt, including a remarkable depiction of a squid.
We continue to explore further moai sites around the south coast today. There is Ahu Vaihu, where the moai lie face down with broken necks; Akahanga, an unrestored platform near which the island’s first king is said to be buried; Hanga Tetenga, where tumbled statues rest amidst scattered rocks; Te Pito te Kura, the site of a bizarre magnetic stone as well as the largest moai to be transported from Rano Raraku; and, lastly, but by no means least, the detailed carved figures of the royal platform of Ahu Nau Nau. After a barbecue lunch, we make our way to Anakena Beach with its white coral sands, where we have the afternoon free to relax.
This morning we head out to the ruined platforms of Vinapu which feature the finest stonework on the island. After lunch we visit Ahu Hari a Urenga, (an inland platform with an astronomical orientation and a single moai with four hands); then the quarry at Puna Pau, an extinct volcano and source of the huge red cylindrical stone top-knots seen on the heads of many maoi. The rock here is soft, easy to carve and is given its colour by the high iron content. A climb to the sides of the crater rewards us with wonderful views of Hanga Roa. Our next stop it Ahu Akibi, another inland platform whose seven identical statues seem to have been carefully placed to mark both spring and autumn equinoxes. Finally, we walk to the lava cave at Te Pahu, a tunnel formed many thousands of years ago, during the last local lava spill. After a picnic lunch here, we make our way to the restored moai in the harbour of Hanga Piko, and to Ana Kai Tangata (the name of which translates to ‘cannibal cave’), situated directly on the sea-front. We continue to Rano Kau, a wide volcano within which lies a crater lake, as well as a fertile landscape nurturing figs and luscious vines. Here we visit the Orongo ceremonial village, perched magnificently on the crater’s edge, beside a sheer 300-metre cliff. Looking out across the water we see the offshore islet of Motu Nui, final destination for competitors in the annual Birdman swimming race, the first prize of which was to rule Easter Island for a year.
After a morning spent at leisure, we transfer to the airport and catch our return flight to Santiago.
Our last full day in this exciting capital begins with a visit to the Museo de Arte Precolombino, which houses a world-class collection of Latin American antiquities. Begun by Chilean architect and antiques fanatic Sergio Larraían García-Moreno, it displays many interesting artefacts that have been selected specifically for their aesthetic qualities. Highlights here include Mapuche funeral carvings and an entire room of beautiful prehistoric textiles. In the afternoon we make our way to the airport for our return journey to the UK.
We arrive in London today.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - Most meals included
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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