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This Is What Easter Island Looks Like Post-Pandemic

This Is What Easter Island Looks Like Post-Pandemic
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Summary

  • Easter Island became more self-sufficient during the pandemic, relying on each other and the land rather than tourism and outside resources.
  • Residents recognized the importance of preserving their archaeological heritage, including the deteriorating moai statues, regardless of tourists’ impact.
  • Flights to Easter Island remain limited, emphasizing the need for balance and the potential for the island to restore its culture without relying heavily on tourism.



Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as locals refer to their homeland, decided in 2020 to shut down the island to visitors. Given that 75% of the economy was tourist-based, this meant that the money that residents were accustomed to making was gone without warning. But with extremely limited hospital space, leaders of Easter Island knew they needed to isolate themselves to come out of the pandemic as unscathed as possible.


Completely stopping tourism and even most of the supply deliveries from mainland Chile meant that residents of Easter Island had to not only rely on one another but rely on the land in a way that had not been done in generations. This meant growing food and catching fish from the ocean. It meant helping out those in the community who were struggling. For the first time in over 70 years, when the first plane came to Easter Island, residents were completely shut off from the outside world.

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In August 2022, tourists were allowed to come to the island again and stay in the top-rated hotels located there. They got to see what remote Easter Island was like following two years of pandemic isolation. What has been seen is that residents of Easter Island thrived in ways they did not know possible during the pandemic and have made Easter Island better for it.


Easter Island Became More Self-Sufficient Thanks To Umanga

Easter Island learned to rely on themselves more and the outside world less during and after the pandemic

Moai in the Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island, Chile

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Moai in the Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island, Chile


When the people of Easter Island were asked to close down main tourist areas as well as the island itself during COVID, they knew life was going to get hard. Just how hard it was for some residents could not have been imagined.


But when people came together and helped their neighbors via the spirit of umanga, or the joy of working together for a common goal, life became bearable. The community also became more self-sufficient as a result.


By overcoming the massive unemployment on the island and through residents relying on one another — not to mention the government subsidies that allowed them to grow different crops in 1,300 gardens around the island — the Rapa Nui people recognized that they were losing the ability to be self-sufficient.


Not only were they relying on the Chilean government for supplies, but they also relied heavily on tourists coming to the island.


It became very clear, very quickly during the pandemic that the residents of the island had “gone the wrong direction” over the years. Becoming more self-sufficient was something the government required to be done as soon as possible.

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“We were wrong, we were going in the wrong direction and the pandemic made us realize that,” Mayor Edmonds Paoa explained. “We came to the conclusion that tourism had blinded us. We were being a bit hypocritical by telling what the island was about without actually living it ourselves.”


Because of this, sustainability has become the bar to be achieved on Easter Island. Something that can already be seen by crops that are being served in the restaurants around the island, rather than requiring supplies from Chile to make a menu for tourists to enjoy.


Excess crops are also being given to charities around the island to help residents who need some assistance as they get back on their feet.

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Preservation Of Archeological Heritage Became Important To Residents Of Easter Island

Residents want to protect the moai, regardless of how it affects tourists

Sunrise over Easter Island
Photo by Antonio Sánchez on Unsplash

Sunrise over Easter Island


The Rapa Nui people have always been very protective of one of the cultural treasures of Chile, and that is the moai on the island. While some are prominently featured in documentaries or tourism pamphlets, what people may not know about the moai is that there are nearly 900 statues that are found all around Easter Island.


Many of the moai have been a part of the culture since 1400 AD. While some were destroyed centuries ago as a result of tribal warfare, with the help of some restoration, the moai have been fairly well-preserved. Or so it was believed.


However, as a result of climate change, causing more hurricanes, flooding, and sea level changes, the moai are deteriorating at a rapid pace. A huge fire on Easter Island in 2021 exacerbated the issue and more than ever, the Rapa Nui people wanted to preserve their archeological heritage.


Unfortunately, there is no plan in place to do so. This is because “there is a lack of consensus among the Rapa Nui about how to preserve the moai.”

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This situation is frustrating for Pedro Edmunds Paoa, the mayor of Easter Island. Especially with more of the moai being destroyed as the years go by. Edmonds Paoa believes that the tourists who come to the island should not be taken into consideration when it comes to saving the moai, calling the worth of the moai “incalculable.”


“From now on the tourist must become a friend of the place, whereas before they were visiting foreigners,” Edmonds Paoa explained. As such if it means putting “glass domes” over the moai to preserve them for future generations of the Rapa Nui people, then Edmond Paoa believes it needs to be done.

Flights Are Still Limited To Easter Island

Flights will continue to be limited to Easter Island indefinitely

Moai on Easter Island in Rapa Nui, Chile
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Moai on Easter Island in Rapa Nui, Chile


Before the pandemic, there were 10 weekly flights to Easter Island. Additionally, there were charter planes and cruise ships that brought in tourists as well.


Those flights helped more than 150,000 visitors come to the island yearly and gave the island over $120 million in tourism dollars, according to El Pais. This was good from the standpoint of lining the pockets of the residents. But when it came to preserving the culture of Easter Island, it was destroying it.


Because of this, something to know before going to Easter Island is that there are now only two weekly flights to Easter Island. While there may be more in the future, island leaders believe that there needs to be balance. It is highly unlikely that the number of people that come to Easter Island in the upcoming years will ever reach pre-pandemic levels.


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However, because the Rapa Nui people have learned to rely on themselves more over the last couple of years and less on outside resources, they may not need as many tourists to come to the island. This may help to restore some of the culture lost over the years and bring the people of Easter Island closer to their ancestors than many have ever been before.



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