When I say Hanga Roa is the “main” town on the island, I am referring to the fact that about 90% of the population lives there. It is a quaint little town and I appreciated my tourist experience being integrated with the local every day scene – it made the trip feel more authentic.
The town is built along the coastline which always makes for some awesome scenery, but the Rapa Nui people took this notion to another level of awesome. As you walk along the coastline you pass some beautifully manicured coves which are great for swimming, hanging out with turtles, climbing on rocks, reading, or pure relaxation, but then you come across some incredible Moai and wonder where the heck you are. It’s crazy that the residents of the island have these mystical symbols of history in the backdrop of their everyday lives.
Walking up from the ocean you hit the ‘main strip’ of shops, restaurants, hotels and small markets (the only ones on the island). Basically all food is imported from Chile’s mainland, so it’s all pretty expensive. I recommend bringing some food with if you plan on going. We literally ate peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches everyday for lunch and cooked dinner most nights.
Along the main strip there is a parking lot where locals set up shop in the back of their vans, or trucks selling souvenirs, fresh produce and fresh meat cut right off the bone in front of you. Also, you will see many people riding around on their quads or scooters which is pretty cool and both are available to rent. Tourism is the main pillar of the economy, but fishing, farming and some Chilean government departments such as the Navy play a roll as well.
We enjoyed this humble town quite a bit. It was fairly mellow in the off season which made it peaceful and allowed us to genuinely observe the Rapa Nui lifestyle.
Last note: if you go, make sure you stop by the post office (Correos Chile) and get your passport stamped, it’s a sweet stamp with moai (what else, right?)!