Chile & Easter Island
This is an adventure indeed - travelling across the globe with an international expert to see some of the strangest rock art in the world in vast and 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, visible only from far away.
- Extraordinary rock art amid the lunar-like landscapes of the Atacama Desert; and the giant imposing, enigmatic Moai statues on Easter Island
- Enjoy a memorable tour led by Paul Bahn, renowned expert on prehistoric rock art
- The New World
- Rock Art
- Cultural Excursion
- Special Access
- Small Group
- Low Single Supplement
- All Inclusive
We fly overnight to Santiago, landing in the morning of Day 2.
Following our arrival to Santiago, Chile’s capital city since the colonial era, we make a short transfer to our comfortable hotel. This afternoon we have the option to simply relax and recover from our flight, or join a guided walk around Santiago’s many parks, winding streets and eclectic buildings, admiring the fusion of colonial, art deco, and neo-gothic styles. A thoroughly laid-back afternoon.
Following breakfast we catch a morning 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 stones: a vivid assortment of 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 ‘backpacking’ figures can be seen.
We finish the day at the excellent Regional Museum in Iquique, where archaeological and anthropological collections feature two Chinchorro Mummies and an illuminating exhibition on the history of saltpetre extraction in northern Chile.
Our morning starts with an atmospheric tour of the 'ghost town' of Humberstone, a former saltpetre mining town which was abandoned in 1960, and has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. A unique opportunity to peer back through the sands of time.
Later we visit El Gigante de Atacama, the largest prehistoric geoglyph of a human being in the world. This 119-metre high depiction of a deity dates from the first millennium AD, and would have been used as an early astronomical calendar.
To complete the afternoon we enjoy a boat trip into the Pacific from Iquique harbour, with the opportunity to spot pelicans, sea-lions and endangered Humboldt penguins.
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 continue to San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis village surrounded by spectacular volcanic scenery – one of Chile’s most beloved destinations. Nearby geysers and bizarre rock formations add to the town’s other-worldly atmosphere.
We have the morning to relax in San Pedro di Atacama, with the possibility of optional excursions.
Our afternoon is spent amongst the lunar landscapes of the Valle de la Luna, a colourful and textured valley containing unusual wind-carved formations, contorted caverns and dry lakes gleaming with salt.
Today we take a thrilling off-road drive to the petroglyphs at Yerbas Buenas, located in Chile’s geographical centre. More than 1,000 images are visible here, left by the Altacameno people, thought to date from roughly 10,000 years ago.
An afternoon flight to Santiago takes us out of the desert and back to the buzzing metropolis.
We make our way over to Vina del Mar to visit the enthralling Museo de Arqueologico e Historia Francisco Fonck. The museum is an excellent taster of Easter Island archaeology, with its display of original island statues (moais) and ceramics – not to mention an unforgettable exhibit on the process of shrinking heads!
After lunch we embark on an informative walking tour of Valparaiso, a quirky town 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 second section of our holiday 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 just over 3,000 islanders – approximately 87% of the entire population.
Our first full day on Easter Island kicks off 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.
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 timeframe 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 erected moai, weighing in at an almost inconceivable 86 tonnes. 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 Ahu Nau Nau.
Our afternoon is free to relax at Anakena Beach, with its palm-fringed white coral sands.
We visit the quarry at Puna Pau this morning, an extinct volcano and source of the huge red cylindrical stone top-knots seen on the heads of many a moai. The rock here is soft and easy to carve, and given its colour by a high iron content. A climb to the sides of the crater reward us with wonderful views of Hanga Roa.
Our next stop is the lava cave at Te Pahu, a tunnel thought to have been formed many thousands of years ago, during the last local lava spill. Its name translates to ‘the cave of the drum’, thanks to the vibrations that result from hitting or jumping over its extraordinary lava bark. We also pay a visit to Aku Akivi this afternoon. This celestial observatory was established in the 16th century, and its seven identical statues have been carefully placed to mark both spring and autumn equinoxes.
We wake to explore Ana Kaitangata, the name of which translates to the 'cannibal cave'. Situated directly on the seafront, the cave contains beautiful images of sea birds. Though the practice of cannibalism at this site cannot be ruled out, no evidence for it has yet been found…
We continue to Rano Ka, 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 rock, Motu Island, final destination for competitors in the annual Birdman swimming race, the first prize of which was to govern Easter Island for a year.
We transfer to the airport this afternoon for our return flight to Santiago.
Our last full day in the capital starts 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 Larraín García-Moreno, many of the artefacts here have been selected specifically for their aesthetic qualities. Highlights include funereal masks and copper figures, as well as a 3,000-year old painted cloth from the prehistoric Chavin civilisation.
We transfer to the airport for our afternoon flights home.
We arrive home this morning.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
5 nights in central Santiago
1 night in a beach hotel in Arica
2 nights in central Iquique
2 nights in San Pedro de Atacama
5 nights in a family-run hotel set in lovely gardens in Hanga Roa
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