Rano Raraku, the quarry of the Moai

Areal view of Rano Raraku volcano

The Rano Raraku volcano is one of the most incredible and extraordinary archaeological sites on the planet. In this magical place full of mystery, the moai were made, the giant statues that have made Easter Island famous worldwide. The enormous figures and the quarries of the volcano surpass any expectation and get the traveler to be speechless when he contemplates one of the most fascinating wonders of humanity.


Maunga Eo, the perfumed hill

Vista de la cara norte del volcán Rano Raraku en Isla de Pascua
View of the north face of the Rano Raraku volcano

The Rano Raraku volcano is located 20 km northeast of Hanga Roa, very close to the Poike peninsula and just 1,000 meters northwest of the Hanga Nui bay. Its unique shape and location mean that both the views of the volcano from Tongariki and the wide perspective seen from its hillside are of great beauty.

The old name of this place was Maunga Eo, which means “perfumed hill”, since in the past a very aromatic plant grew and its smell permeated the whole area. In fact, an ancient legend tells how two young female spirits came to the island attracted by the intense aroma of the place.

The current name derives from the word Rano, which in the Rapanui language refers to volcanoes that have an inner lagoon. It is believed that the term Raraku, which means striped or grooved, refers to the large grooves that the south face of the mountain presents, although it could also be related to the name of an old character who, according to tradition, finished with all the evil spirits of the island murdering them with a moko or wooden lizard.

Geological origin of the volcano

Vista aérea del volcán Rano Raraku en Isla de Pascua
Aerial view of the Rano Raraku volcano

In addition to its great archaeological relevance, Rano Raraku is one of the most interesting volcanic centers of Easter Island from a geological point of view. This volcanic cone, now extinct, was formed more than 300 thousand years ago as a result of the eruptive activity of the Maunga Terevaka and Pua Katiki volcanoes.

The Rano Raraku has a maximum height of 160 meters on its southeast edge and its crater presents an elliptical shape whose largest diameter measures about 700 meters. Inside it houses a freshwater lagoon about 3 to 4 meters deep caused by the frequent rainfall suffered by the island.

The northern slope has a gentle slope but towards the south the height increases considerably. Right here, at the end facing the sea, the ovoid silhouette of the crater is interrupted abruptly by a cut of the terrain, forming a steep cliff from which two points protrude.


The English archaeologist Katherine Routledge wrote that the shape of the volcano looked like a huge drinking container for dogs, and although the expression detracts glamor from this geological wonder, it must be said that it is a very appropriate simile.

The appearance of Rano Raraku, in spite of being twice smaller, recalls the great Rano Kau volcano located in the southwest corner of the island. In addition to containing a lake like its big brother, it also presents a Kari Kari or nible on the eastern edge of the crater that ends in an imposing cliff. In both cases, these steep, almost vertical walls were formed by the continuous marine erosion suffered over the centuries. And, just like the Rano Kau volcano, Rano Raraku was formerly located on the seashore, but the lava flows that emerged from several auxiliary cones of Maunga Terevaka surrounded the volcano, taking it one kilometer away from the coast and creating the great plain that reaches the Poike.

A unique raw material on the island

El moai viajero con el volcán Rano Raraku al fondo en Isla de Pascua
The “traveler moai” located in Tongariki with the Rano Raraku volcano in the background

Unlike most island volcanic cones, Rano Raraku is composed of a unique type of rock on the island known as the Lapilli tuff. The tuff is a porous rock formed by the accumulation of volcanic ash ejected during an eruption, which when cooled, in contact with the atmosphere, is compacted and hardened.

The main characteristic of this volcanic tuff is its low hardness under the surface, compared to basalt, which encouraged the ancient sculptors to use it as raw material to carve the huge statues.

It is striking that most of the tuff is concentrated in the southeast half of the cone, coinciding with the vertical wall, and just emerges a little in the northern half. According to some geologists, this large rocky cliff would be the only remnant of an ancient submarine volcano. Which, largely disappeared due to erosion, was later covered by red ash emitted by the new adjacent crater. This would explain the great difference of materials found on both sides of the Rano Raraku.

Rano Raraku, the Moai factory

Vista de las canteras y los moai en la cara suroeste de Rano Raraku en Isla de Pascua
View of quarries and moai on the southwest face of Rano Raraku

The previous geological details explain why Rano Raraku became the quarry where almost all of the 1,000 statues that have been found on Easter Island were sculpted. Here the moai were carved and then they were taken to the ahu or ceremonial platforms, distributed along the entire coast, to honor the memory of the ancestors.

Read more about Moai, the giant statues of Easter Island

The vision of the southern slope of the volcano causes great perplexity and admiration in the visitor. Dozens of stone heads stand out from the ground and as you look up to the top, there are many holes and figures cut out on the rocky surface of the mountain.

At first it is difficult to distinguish them but if you look closely, you will discover more and more images that appear carved in all possible positions on the abrupt slope of tuff. Some are placed vertically, with the head pointing towards the top and others in the opposite direction. In other cases, they are placed horizontally, one on top of the other, sometimes with the head and feet alternating on each side.

It does not appear that any established work order or system has been followed. The statues are everywhere and in almost inaccessible places, as if the slogan had been to take advantage of any space available in a valuable and limited material.

In the quarry, which in total is more than 800 meters long, there are many empty niches from which the statues that moved to the ahu were extracted. But there are still many figures in Rano Raraku. Between the finished figures that rest at the foot of the volcano and those that still remain on the outer and inner slope of the same, a total of 397 moai have been counted. This is the area of the island where the largest number of statues is concentrated, almost 40% of the total.

Work in the quarry

Estatua en una de las canteras de Rano Raraku en Isla de Pascua
Statue in one of the quarries of Rano Raraku

The figures that are still on the upper slopes of the quarry are in all stages of development, which has allowed to deduce the method used for its construction.

The first step was to choose a suitable sector to do the work. Sometimes the carvers had to climb to places at the top or with extreme inclinations. Once there, the rock was carved until a rectangular block was obtained. Later, in order to attack the material more easily, a narrow half-meter-wide corridor was made around the block where the sculptors were placed.

With the help of basalt tools, called toki, they began to cut the tuff to shape the moai. All the images were carved on their backs, regardless of whether they were in a horizontal or vertical position.

Sculpting the face was the first step, paying special attention to the nose as it served as a guide to maintain the symmetry and proportions of the sculpture. Then work on the neck, the torso, the arms and the hands were followed. After that the sculptors continued with the sides and released the material under the statue until they left a narrow strip of stone that ran along the column, as if it were the keel of a ship.

Examinando una estatua con quilla durante la expedición de Thor Heyerdahl en Isla de Pascua
Examining a statue with keel during Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition

While the statue was holded with heaps of stones, like a wedge, holes were drilled in the keel until it was completely trimmed and released from its niche. Some statues broke at that time.

The next difficult task was to slide the statue down the steep slope without damaging it. It seems that they used trunks and ropes made of vegetable fiber to support the moai and dug channels in the ground to maintain balance during the descent. Even so many accidents occurred as evidenced by the remains of torsos and broken heads that dot the hillside.

Once down, the sculptures were introduced into holes previously excavated in the ground where they were kept standing. The carving process was finished in this vertical position, carving the details of the back and polishing the figure with the help of an abrasive volcanic stone called punga.

One of the many unknowns is why they did not remove the blocks from the quarry and took them to another place where it would have been easier and more comfortable to carve the statues. And why instead all the fine features of the face and hands were sculpted in the niches located in truly complicated locations.

Dos estatuas a medio tallar permanecen aún en su nicho Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
Two half-carved statues remain still in their niche

The time needed to model a statue is not known. The most optimistic theories believe that a couple of weeks would be enough. Others more realistic estimate that with rotating work teams of several carvers, they could finish a moai in a year.

On the slopes of the hill large amounts of waste material was accumulated, produced by the carving of hundreds of moai over several centuries, along with thousands of tools of basalt, which were replaced frequently as soon as they lost the edge.

After the work of carving, the statues were transported to ceremonial platforms using a method still unknown. Several hypotheses suggest the use of trunks, ropes and the strength of dozens of men, but so far has not been discovered the system used to move such colossi through a fairly irregular terrain.

It is surprising to find such a quantity of statues in the quarry compared to those that were moved. Many of them were left unfinished by fractures suffered by the rock or because harder areas or defects found on them which made them useless to continue with the work.

It is also thought that some figures were carved in the rock as a bas-relief without any intention of being extracted. This may be due to the impossibility of withdrawing them due to their enormous size, as occurs with the figure of the giant, the lack of resources of the clans that commissioned them or because, although they realized that there was no material means to lift them over a ahu, they wanted to continue honoring their ancestors.

The abandonment of a colossal work

Detalle de estatuas abandonadas en la cantera de Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
Detail of abandoned statues in the quarry

The silence and stillness that is now breathed in the quarries produce a feeling of respect and veneration more typical of a sacred place than a hectic factory. But it was not always like this. It is estimated that the work of carving the statues in Rano Raraku spanned more than 500 years, beginning around 1000 AD. and ending in the mid-eighteenth century.

During that period the quarries of the volcano overflowed with activity. Numerous workers scattered on its hillside hit the rock with their tools, accompanying the constant rattle with their songs. It is possible that the different groups rivaled each other, trying to get bigger and bigger images or competing for whoever carved them faster.

Currently it is difficult to understand why the Rapanui people invested so much time in this arduous task. Beliefs and respect for their ancestors along with the lack of other distractions in which to occupy the day in this tiny island, achieved portentous feats that now seem superhuman. Another example of the power of effort and perseverance.

Las antiguas estatuas yacen ahora enterradas tras el paso de los siglos en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
The ancient statues now lie buried after the passage of centuries

In addition, it seems that the incessant activity in the volcano was beneficial for all the inhabitants of the island. The numerous gangs of cutters had to be fed conveniently, which resulted in an increase of the different crops and a promotion of fishing in the sea, resulting in a long period of abundance and prosperity for all.

However, this long golden age came to an end, and as a result the workers stopped hitting the stone to never do it again. Looking at the quarry now empty and silent with so many unfinished statues, it gives the impression that, for some reason, that enormous effort was suddenly interrupted.

According to an old legend, the cessation of activity was due to the anger of an old woman who had the power to make the statues move. One day, the workers ate a lobster without keeping any pieces for her. The woman became so angry who ordered the statues to collapse, paralyzing the works forever.


On the other hand, the oral tradition talks about how the Hanau Momoko people, the dominated tribe and in charge of the works of sculpture and construction, rebelled against their oppressors, the Hanau E’epe, and exterminated them in the battle of the Poike. Once the impellers of the megalithic work were eliminated, the liberated tribe did not carve any more.

Other hypotheses argue that some natural cataclysm could have occurred, such as a great earthquake or tsunami that deeply affected the Rapanui society interrupting forever the making of statues.

However, it seems that the abandonment of work in Rano Raraku was not due to a single sudden and dramatic event. Rather it was the consequence of a gradual decay in the values and beliefs that affected the scarce resources available and provoked successive tribal wars that finally collapsed the system.

The heads of Easter Island

Cabezas de Isla de Pascua en la cantera del volcán Rano Raraku
Moai heads in the quarry of the Rano Raraku volcano

In addition to the statues that remain untapped in the tuff quarries, below, dozens of figures appear in the lower area of the slope. A few of them are lying down, fallen from the front and several have fractures. But the vast majority still stands in the same place where they were installed hundreds of years ago. Rano Raraku was the only place on the island that kept upright statues, after all the others were knocked down from their platforms, during inter-clan conflicts that took place almost 300 years ago.

Along the base of the outer slope, between the entrance to the crater and the end that faces the sea, there are about seventy practically finished statues. Within the crater, there are also more than 40 images that are concentrated on the southern slope that surrounds the lagoon. All of them give their back to the mountain.

The moai remain standing in pits that were previously excavated in the ground in order to finish the carving of their backs. The fact that every statue appears half-buried to a greater or lesser extent, some up to the shoulders and others even to the nose, is striking.

Todas las imágenes dan la espalda a la montaña Rano Raraku en Isla de Pascua
All images turn their backs on the mountain

This image, widely spread throughout the world, is the origin of the myth of the heads of Easter Island. Many think that the moai are only heads, but in reality they are complete statues buried by the successive layers of sediments that accumulated over time.

It is known that, when the quarry was abandoned, the ramps of earth and rock that served to help the moai stand up collapsed little by little and ended up burying the figures. But it is also believed that many were stuffed with material to cover them intentionally, perhaps to protect them from possible desecration by enemies, although it is not really known what the reason was.

That circumstance, casual or not, caused the buried part of the moai to be protected from the elements and to be preserved much better than the exposed part. Excavations in several moai revealed that the length of the head corresponded to approximately one third of the total height of the statue.

Grabados en la espalda de un moai desenterrado por Jo Anne Van Tilburg en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
Engravings on the back of a moai unearthed by the archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg

The original yellowish color of the tuff was also visible again, and interesting engravings were discovered on the back of some statues with designs similar to those found in the figures of the Ahu Nau Nau and in the famous moai Hoa Hakananai’a that is exhibited at the British Museum in London.

After examining them carefully, several differences have been observed between these figures and those found in the ahu. First, it seems that the average size of those that are here is about 6 meters, exceeding the 4 meters of the moved figures. They also have a profile and a finer and more careful finish, with more prominent and pointy noses, and none of them ever wore a pukao on their head, the red slag headdresses from Puna Pau with which the moai of the platforms were topped.

The eye socket of the figures of the quarry were not carved. Instead, a continuous smooth plane appears that descends from the eyebrow to the cheek. It seems that the carving of the basins was reserved for the moai that rose on the platforms, finishing its finish with the installation of a coral eye that transmitted to the statue the mystic power of the ancestors called mana.

Un moai desenterrado por Thor Heyerdahl muestra su verdadera longitud Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
A moai unearthed by Thor Heyerdahl shows its true magnitude.

One last important detail lies in the base of the buried moai. On some occasions statues have been found whose bases are shaped like a stake, as if they had been carved in such a way as to facilitate their penetration into the ground. This shows that the intention was for them to be “planted” there permanently, instead of being transported to the platforms.

The reason for leaving so many statues in vertical position installed in the skirts of the quarry is not known. Perhaps it was a simpler and cheaper alternative for some groups than to move the statues to the ahu, or it is possible that there were not enough material resources left in the form of ropes and logs to move them. Even so, the families continued to honor the memory of their deceased by erecting statues in their honor. Enigmatic and colossal figures that continue to amaze those who have the opportunity to contemplate them face to face.

Statues with own name

The physical appearance of the moai that came out of the Rano Raraku quarries follows a clearly defined pattern. This quite similar aesthetic makes them all look the same, but it is not like that. Precisely here, with so many figures to compare, it is observed that each moai has unique features that give it its own personality and that differentiate it from others.

Those unique details linked to their particular history, made that each statue had its own name. Some names were related to the authors of the work, but others made reference to some peculiarity of the image or the place where it was. Unfortunately, the passage of time has erased the memory of almost everyone, but still retains that of a few chosen. Let’s meet the most famous.

Tai Hare Atua, the first moai

Fotografía de Tai Hare Atua tomada durante la expedición de Katherine Routledge en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
Photograph of Tai Hare Atua taken during the expedition of Katherine Routledge

At the foot of the outer slope of Rano Raraku, a moai whose name is Tai Hare Atua is lying on the ground. It seems to be a primitive design of what was then the prevailing pattern in the rest of the figures. The hands are distinguished but other details such as the ears and arms are hardly appreciated. Its characteristic feature is that the head appears fused to the torso without a neck that unites them.

According to the tradition, Tai Hare Atua is the work of Miru A’Hotu and Tangi Teako A’Hotu, who carved this first moai when they started working in the quarries, but when they saw the poor result they left it lying.

A legend tells that some young people went to visit the house of an expert in sculpture to ask how they could give a realistic form to the moai. He invited them to eat but remained silent. When they left, he told them: “look down and you will have the answer” referring to copying the sexual member’s form. From that moment, they learned to shape the neck and other details, thus obtaining the classic image of the moai.

Piro Piro Moai

La enorme cabeza del moai Piro Piro contrasta con el tamaño de los caballos en el volcán Rano Raraku en Isla de Pascua
The huge head of the moai Piro Piro contrasts with the size of the horses

The Piro Piro Moai is one of the most famous and widespread images of the island. It is located in the first meters of the main path that runs through the quarry, as if to welcome the visitor. His name means bad smell, but not because the statue smells bad, but because it seems that his prominent nose makes a gesture of disgust before a strong aroma.

This unique statue is also distinguished because its huge head of 4 meters is projected forward of the shoulders, showing a “bad posture” as if it were a bit hunchbacked. And if is paid attention to the right part of your neck, it is still possible to read some letters of the word “Baquedano”. This desecration, in the form of ancient graffiti, was carried out by the sailors of the “General Baquedano” school-ship on one of the 20 trips made to Easter Island at the beginning of the 20th century. This inscription made the moai Piro Piro also known as Moai Baquedano.

But in addition to these peculiar details, Piro Piro stands out among the other statues for its enormous dimensions. The explorer Thor Heyerdahl dug into the floor of the moai and discovered that the buried part of the body measured almost twice the height of the visible head. Adding both sides, the total length reached 11 meters, which ranked Piro Piro how the largest standing moai ever extracted from the quarry.

This discovery relegated to the second position the Moai Paro of the ahu Te Pito Kura, which with its almost 10 meters of height still holds the record of the highest moai ever raised on a ceremonial platform.

Hinariru Moai

Moai Hinariru, una de las estampas más clásicas de Rapa Nui en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
Moai Hinariru, one of the most classic prints of Rapa Nui

About 70 meters ahead of the Piro Piro moai, continuing along the path, another of the stars of Rano Raraku emerges: the Hinariru or Hina Riru moai. His fame competes with that of Piro Piro, because the image of Hinariru, along with that of his anonymous companion, has been widely reproduced in travel guides, books and tourist promotions, becoming one of the most recognizable icons of Rapa Nui.

Hinariru remains buried up to the chest and its visible part reaches a height of 4 meters. His archetypal figure, very well preserved, presents a delicate carving and a very polished surface. The main feature of Hinariru is that his head tilts slightly to his left. A quite unusual pose, since usually the face remains straight and aligned with the central axis of the figures. This is the reason why Hinariru is also known as the “crooked neck” moai, although in the opinion of many, this position gives it a more elegant and natural appearance than the others. aspecto más elegante y natural que a los demás.

Te Tokanga, the giant moai

Vista del moai Te Tokonga, el gigante en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
View of Te Tokanga moai, the giant, on the slope of Rano Raraku

Located in the lower part of the quarry, where the rock begins to climb towards the top, there is a huge reclining statue that still remains in the niche in which it was carved. This is Te Tokanga, “the giant”, which with a length of almost 22 meters and an estimated weight of 200 tons, can not receive a more appropriate name.

Te Tokanga is the largest statue ever carved on Easter Island. It is thought that it could be destined to the Ahu Tahira in Vipanu, one of the last built platforms, located in the slope of the Rano Kau. But it never reached his final destination because this huge colossus did not even get up from his bedrock. His ambitious and optimistic sculptors realized that they could never move a statue with a weight equivalent to that of a commercial airplane, so they did not bother to finish it.

Detalle de Te Tokanga , el gigante, descansando en su lecho de roca en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
Te Tokanga, the giant, resting on his bedrock

There are theories that say that it was carved without the intention of being raised, like some of the other effigies that continue in the quarry, since more than a complete image would be an immense petroglyph or carved bas-relief, probably, in memory of a person of high rank.

The channels where the carvers standed to carry out their work can be still seen on both sides of the statue. It seems that as the experience and expertise of the sculptors increased, the size of the images grew. If the 4.5 meters measure is compared, which is the average height that has a moai, with more than the 20 meters of Te Tokanga, it is understood the level of mastery and rivalry that the ancient rapanui people arrived at. An impossible climb that led to the fall of these incredible megalithic constructions.

Moai carved on an old head

A la izquierda el moai re-tallado sobre una antigua cabeza en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
On the left, the moai re-carved on an old head

Among several moai heads that stand out in the intermediate path of the quarry, a smaller statue with a somewhat bulging belly attracts attention. At first it seems that it is a just another image more but when it is observed calmly it is discovered that a smaller and complete moai figure was carved on what was an old head of a buried body.

This new recycled image is the only one that shows its complete body, since the new base ends in the old neck of the original figure that remains underground. It is a unique case, so perhaps it was an experiment of the sculptors to take advantage of a figure discarded by its fractures.

Ko Kona He Roa Moai

A la derecha el moai Ko Kona He Roa con un barco grabado en su torso Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
On the right, the moai Ko Kona He Roa with a boat engraved on his torso

A little above the previous moai, and under the imposing figure of “The giant” there is another relevant pair of moai, but as it happens in other occasions, one of them is especially striking. It is the one on the right and his name is Ko Kona He Roa.

This statue that was sunk to the shoulders, was unearthed during the Norwegian expedition of Thor Heyerdahl, like other famous moai. When they excavated the ground they discovered a petroglyph engraved on its chest representing an old European three-masted ship with square sails. In the lower part, in what seems to be the ship’s anchor, the figure of a turtle can be seen.

This peculiar engraving that seems out of place, is related to other figures of boats found in the houses of Orongo and in the paintings of the Ana Kai Tangata cave. The researchers suggest that during a certain period of history the islanders considered the European visitors as messengers of the afterlife, arriving and disappearing in the ocean as well as the migratory birds, to which they worshiped.

In Rano Raraku, many moai statues present engravings that were made in a period after the construction phase of the statues. Some are related to the bird-man ceremony, but there are also hierarchical symbols such as reimiro, Polynesian canoes, and deities such as Make Make.

Tukuturi Moai, the kneeling moai

Vista del moai Tukuturi son Ahu Tongariki al fondo en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
The Tukuturi moai with Ahu Tongariki in the background

At the southern end of the Rano Raraku quarry, where the main path forms a curve to continue the visit, it is possible to enjoy a spectacular view of the Poike volcano with the 15 figures of the Ahu Tongariki silhouetted against the ocean. Right in this place is the Tukuturi moai, one of the most controversial and enigmatic images of Easter Island.

Its name, which is usually translated as kneeling moai, actually means “squatting moai”, being Tuturi the correct term for the word “kneeling”. This statue was discovered, once again, by the expedition of Thor Heyerdahl in 1956 and from the beginning it caused a great astonishment, especially among the own people of Easter Island, since they had never seen anything similar.

The statue is unlike any other on the island, since its appearance is much more natural and realistic. The head is rounded, with carved eyes that stare and his chin has a goatee like the kava kava moai. But what sets it apart from the rest, whose carving is interrupted at the waist, is that Tukuturi has the whole body. It is shown in a kneeling position with his legs bent back and his buttocks resting on his heels. The hands appear placed on the thighs instead of meeting on the belly, in a posture very used in Polynesia to show reverence and that can still be seen in the ancient songs of riu that are preserved on the island.

Vista lateral del moai Tukuturi donde se observan sus piernas dobladas en Rano Raraku Isla de Pascua
Side view of Tukuturi moai where his bent legs are observed

Tukuturi, which measures 3.70 meters in height, weighs about 10 tons and presents a rather rough finish, it is also the only image that looks towards the Rano Raraku, since all the others turn their backs on it.

Some scholars suggest that it is an “early” type of moai, which may date back to the 10th century. Heyerdahl related it, due to its great resemblance, to the kneeling statues of Tiahuanaco, a pre-Columbian culture that emerged on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. However, other experts maintain that it is a late figure who could refer to the cult of the Tangata Manu or bird-man that took place in the ceremonial village of Orongo.

Finally, there is no shortage of even more controversial and original hypotheses, such as what believes that Tukuturi could have been a work by the inhabitants of Tahiti that were brought to Easter Island to work at the end of the 19th century. In fact the figure of Tukuturi looks like more a tiki, a type of totem typical of Polynesia, than a moai.

As an anecdote, it should be noted that a moai similar to this one, known as “Little Tukuturi“, was found inside the crater. It barely reaches 2 meters in height and is quite eroded, but although it shares the rounded and naturalistic shapes of the largest one, it lacks legs.

The crater and the inner lagoon

Vista de la laguna en el interior del cráter de Rano Raraku en Isla de Pascua
View of the lagoon inside the crater of Rano Raraku

A little more than 100 meters from the entrance to Rano Raraku, there is a fork to the left that leads to the interior of the crater of the volcano. After about 300 meters, you come to a crack in the crater that connects the outer and inner slopes. It is a narrow corridor, created perhaps by the hand of man, where you can see the compact red ash that forms the northern part of the volcano and that contrasts clearly with the hardness of the volcanic tuff at the southern end.

At the entrance of this natural corridor there is a moai, lying face down, which tried to be moved without much success. For several centuries it remains there, knocked down and forgotten, indicating the route to its place of origin. And it is that on the inner slope of the crater have been counted more than 90 carved statues, of which some 70 remain still half-buried. Here as well as outside, all the moai turn their backs on the hillside and look towards the lagoon.

Until a few years ago you could walk along the path that climbs to the summit and admire closely the huge heads that stand out among the grass, but in order to protect the fragility of the place has been prohibited from traversing it.

The lagoon, where horses usually go to graze and drink, is one of the main wetlands of Rapa Nui. On an island where there are no rivers or streams, the interior lagoons of the craters where rain accumulated, constituted the largest available reserves of fresh water to the ancient inhabitants.

In the interior of the crater and especially in the lagoon you can see several autochthonous vegetable species that coexist with the large masses of reeds of totora. The totora has been used by the locals for centuries, and now they use it to make handicrafts and to make the traditional reed rafts that they now use during the Tapati Festival.

An ancestral triathlon unique in the world

Vaka Ama, la primera etapa del triatlón Tau'a Rapa Nui o triatlón de Isla de Pascua
Vaka Ama, the first stage of the triathlon held in the Rano Raraku lagoon

Several centuries after its incessant activity was interrupted, the Rano Raraku returns to be the main center of attention of the island during one day a year. On this occasion it is offered as a spectacular natural stadium, where the brave participants will demonstrate their skills in the Tau’a Rapa Nui, the thrilling competition that takes place during the Tapati Festival in February of each year.

This competition consists of three traditional disciplines that have come together to form a very peculiar type of triathlon. The route, which totals 3 km, begins with the first test, called “Vaka Ama“, in which participants cross paddling the crater lagoon in small rafts built in totora, a kind of water reed.

When they reach the shore, the “Aka Venga” begins, in which two banana heads weighing about 20 kg are hung on their necks, and they will have to run around the lake. Finally, they have to cross the lake again swimming with the help of a float of reed fibers called “Pora“. The winners will add some precious points that will help their candidate get the reign of the Tapati.

Tips for visiting Rano Raraku

Visitantes de Rano Raraku cerca del moai Piro Piro Isla de Pascua
Visitors of Rano Raraku near the moai Piro Piro

The visit to Rano Raraku can be done by hiring some of the excursions offered by most of the island’s tourism agencies. This archaeological site is usually included in any of the full day tours, which include a guide and transport, where other places of interest are also visited.

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The other option is to do it on your own, but for this you will have to arrive by car, since you are far enough from Hanga Roa to walk.

In any case, it is necessary to buy in advance the entrance to the Rapa Nui National Park to enter the site. Although the entry is valid for 10 days to visit the different sites of interest, the visit to Orongo and the quarry of the Rano Raraku volcano can only be done once.

More information about the Rapa Nui National Park

The ticket must be presented at the ticket office of the National Park, whose access remains open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Here several explanatory panels of the place are exhibited. On the right there are the public toilets and on the left there is a building where there are several craft shops with prices quite similar to that of Hanga Roa and a cafeteria for visitors.

It is advisable to wear comfortable clothes and sports shoes with a thick sole, since the paths of the route are steep and can be slippery especially if it has recently rained. The Rano Raraku trails allow a circuit where you can observe the moai in an organized and safe way.

It is strictly forbidden to leave the marked trails and touch the statues. It is also not allowed to go beyond the limit of the path that leads to the statues inside the crater, and even less to ascend to the top due to its danger.

Although the visit to Rano Raraku is impressive at any time, it is best done in the early morning or at sunset when the sun illuminates the faces of the statues with its warm light as it sets on the west coast.

How to get to Rano Raraku

Letrero en el desvío a Rano Raraku antes de llegar a Tongariki
Signboard on the detour to Rano Raraku before arriving at Tongariki

Those people who do not wish to hire an organized tour, can get to Rano Raraku on their own in a simple way. To arrive by car from Hanga Roa, take the Hotu Matu’a Avenue, where the airport is located, in the direction of Anakena, then turn right at the crossroads indicating the road to Rano Raraku and continue for another 14 kilometers along the road that runs along the coast, while enjoying the scenery. You will come to a detour to the left with a sign indicating the road that leads for 1.5 kilometers to the visitor center of Rano Raraku, where you can park the vehicle.

Book your car and discover the island on your own

Another quite recommendable alternative is to go by bicycle. It is possible to rent bikes in Hanga Roa where they also provide customers with maps and everything necessary for their tours.

The outward journey takes approximately 1 hour and a half doing it calmly. The coastal road offers the possibility of enjoying the sea breeze and the view of the cliffs during the whole journey, as well as stopping at other archaeological sites that are on this side of the island. You have to be careful with the horses that cross and with some sections with bad state asphalt where some bumps have formed.

Choose your bicycle and feel the sea breeze on your face

You can also make the last stage on foot, arriving before by car or bicycle to the beginning of Te Ara or Te Moai, or the path of the moai. The beginning of the road is located 4 km from the volcano, and is indicated by a sign to the left of the road a few meters from a demolished statue. From here you can follow one of the trails used by the ancient Rapanui people to lead the statues from the quarry to each ceremonial platform, making the trip even more interesting.

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