Rano Kau is a World Heritage Site located on the south western peninsula of Easter Island, off the coast of Chile. It is an extinct volcano crater, more than a kilometre (half a mile) in diameter, some of whose rocks are as young as 210 000 years. Cloaked within a wetland of reeds, the crater lake has it very own microclimate. Encased in a natural amphitheatre, it is one of only three natural bodies of fresh water on the islands and was used centuries ago by native residents to sustain life. Four kilometres (three miles) from the Hanga Roa city centre, the stone village and ritual hub of Orongo, a dedicated World Heritage Site, lies in the bowl of the Rano Kau crater.
The village’s unique architecture consists of low-slung stone structures covered in earth. Orongo once served as the centre of an island-wide bird religion and is home to Birdman rock carvings, etched on boulders near the Rano Kau crater. Birdman, or Tangata manu, was an island ritual where local males would take part in an intense race over land, mountain and sea to acquire a sooty tern’s egg. The contestants would chant the names of various bird gods along the way.
After exploring the attractions of the village, end your tour with the panoramic sights from Rano Kau’s viewpoint, from where the crater appears as a witch’s cauldron and the views of the azure coast and the sheer cliff drop below are unprecedented.