Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile

First Sunrise

Tongariki, where 15 moai stand facing the rising sun, is the largest platform and most notable site on the island. All sites where the moai are standing have been restored as all the moai were toppled centuries before. Still, it’s an impressive site and worth the early rise to see the sun’s rays between the statues. We visited the site three times for sunrise and once in the afternoon.

Woke to bursts of rain during the night. The rain was forecasted overnight but was supposed to clear by day break. Early morning I peeked out the door. It was still pitch black but I could see stars. There was hope for a good sunrise.

Sunrise is late here in mid-March – not until around 8:15. The electricity went out just as we were leaving the house at 7:15, making the dark night even darker. There were a few cars on the road, most likely heading to Tongariki for sunrise as we were, one of the must dos on a visit to Easter Island.

Along the coast voluminous dark shadows loomed over the sea as it started to get light. The large blobs on the horizon worried me as they could potentially spoil sunrise.

There were just a few cars on the road but when we arrived at Tongariki the parking lot was filling quickly. The site opens before 8:00. A subdued assembly of tourists was spread out in the large grassy area in front of the 15 moai on the largest platform in Polynesia. From time to time you would see a camera flash but mostly people were just hanging out in the darkness, staring out at the moai and waiting for the show.

The moments before sunrise can often have some of the deepest colors. This morning was rather drab and I didn’t think it would amount to much, but just before sunrise the clouds nearest to where the sun was coming up started to turn a brilliant orange-red.

Rounded cumulous clouds started building to south. Hints of color began to appear in every direction. Before long there was a great pink streak across the sky. Not such a blah sunrise after all.

If you want to catch the sun rising between the moai, time of year and where you stand makes a big difference. In mid-March the sun rises behind the left side of the platform and would be moving further left away from the moai heading towards winter solstice in June. To see the rising sun more in the middle of the platform you should time your visit closer to summer solstice in December.

The back of the platform is nicely lit at this hour and has some interesting angles for photography.

Early morning is also a good time to check out the petroglyphs at the back of the site near the wall as the ground level carvings are more easily seen before the sun gets too high.

The Traveler, located near the entrance, is a moai that did a tour in Japan in 1982 and was successfully returned to the island.

Most everyone disperses from the site shortly after sunrise. If you don’t make it for sunrise it’s really better to visit this platform in the late afternoon when the sun isn’t directly behind the moai.

March 19

On our second sunrise visit to Ahu Tongariki there were more people than there were two days earlier, including a couple of tour groups. This time I tried standing further back from the moai to be able to see the sea at base of the statues and maybe catch the sun’s rays between them.

Certainly this sunrise was not as dramatic as two days earlier, but it’s a delightful time of day to be out. The only time it is really cool.

Be sure to check out the backs of the moai before leaving sunrise. They glow orange with the first rays of light.

March 21

On our third sunrise visit there were even more people than at the first two. It was still not crowded per se but there were too many people standing on rocks, some of which were interfering with the silhouettes of the moai against the lit sky.

Like the other two mornings there was not much color until the sun was up.

I had higher hopes on the drive out to the site as there were low stratus clouds over the sea which can light up beautifully if other factors are right. While they did light up some it wasn’t as bright as the first morning.

Ahu Tongariki Afternoon Visit

Don’t let a sunrise visit be your only visit to Tonganriki. The faces and other details of these impressive moai are much more visible in the afternoon light, preferably as late as possible. The site closes at 6 with 5:30 the last entry.

When we arrived just at 5:30 the site was nearly empty except for one young couple with a tripod trying to get a photo or video of them lip locked in front of the majestic row.

March 16-21, 2018

See the Easter Island page for an outline of all the posts in this series and our complete day by day itinerary.