Of course, Rapa Nui isn’t very big, only about 171 sq km (roughly 66 square miles), but it’s just big enough that walking around the village of Hanga Roa and getting out to see its monumental archaeological sites is more time-consuming than most visitors expect. Given that I now spend most of my visits updating practical information in town, rather than seeing the sights per se, I rent a car when, as last Saturday, I take a semi-sightseeing day.
For getting around Hanga Roa, many hotels have loaner or rental bikes, and several agencies along the main commercial street of Atamu Tekena offer rentals as well. Strong mountain bikers can probably handle the main sightseeing loop from Hanga Roa east to Rano Raraku (pictured at top) and Ahu Tongariki, then northwest to Playa Anakena (pictured above) and back in a day, but should get an early start – there’s a lot to see. The climbs on that route are mostly gradual, but it’s imperative to carry water (though water may be available for sale at Rano Raraku and Anakena).
Cycling to the crater of Rano Kau (pictured above) and the Orongo ceremonial village (pictured below), just south of the village, means a steep climb from sea level to more than 400 meters (but a breezy ride down). I’ve usually taken a taxi (about US$6) there, and walked back along a footpath that offers spectacular ocean views and passes some seaside lava caves that one might otherwise miss.
This time, to do the loop described above, I rented a car from Insular Rent A Car (pictured below) which, like other agencies in the village, also offers motorcycles and quadricycles. The first vehicle they gave me, though, had what felt like a dangerous shimmy as I left town, and I returned it slowly and exchanged it for another, better one. The explanation I got was that no place on the island is equipped to do front end alignments; fortunately, the second car was in better shape. It’s worth noting that no 4WD vehicles are available or even necessary – the main roads are not bad – but high clearance is still a good idea.
Renting a car for the day cost me 30,000 pesos, about US$60 at the current exchange rate. In fact, the 24-hour rate was 35,000 pesos (about US$70), but I managed to negotiate the eight-hour rate for a period that took me from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. This is possible in face-to-face negotiation, especially if you suggest you might go to the agency across the street, but if you call to have a vehicle delivered to your hotel, there’s not much room for discussion.
There’s one big caveat about renting a car here – there is no such thing as collision insurance on the island so, if you wreck a car, you’re on your own. Agencies require a credit card deposit slip that they’ll tear up if you return the car in reasonable shape – they don’t inspect for dents the way, say, Hertz might. Most cars here have a few dings, and plenty of those are due to the feral horses that have virtually free run over the island.