Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chile, South America

Chile //

Easter Island and the Juan Fernández Archipelago

Chile’s two remote island territories, enchanting Easter Island and the virtually unknown Juan Fernández Archipelago, are collectively referred to as the Islas Esporádicas (“Far Flung Isles”). Both are national parks and have been singled out by UNESCO for special protection. Neither is easy to get to, and most travellers never do, but those who make the journeys will find their efforts and expenditure richly rewarded with a set of tantalizingly enigmatic statues and one of the world’s most precarious ecosystems, respectively.

Lost in the vastness of the ocean, tiny Easter Island (or, in Spanish, Isla de Pascua) remains a world unto itself, its closest inhabited neighbour being Pitcairn Island, 2250km northwest. Spanning just 23km at its longest stretch, the island is triangular, with low-lying extinct volcanoes rising out of each corner. Scattered between these points are dozens of moai, the intriguing monolithic stone statues that have made the island universally famous.

Much closer to the mainland, at a mere 675km west of Valparaíso, but still relatively unknown, the Juan Fernández Archipelago is, ironically, far more difficult to reach. With their sharp, jagged peaks, coated in lush, deep-green foliage, the islands boast a topography that is among the most spectacular in Chile.

The archipelago’s largest and only permanently inhabited island – Isla Robinson Crusoe – started out as a pirates’ refuge. In 1709 it was brought to public attention when Scottish seaman Alexander Selkirk was rescued from its shores after being marooned there for more than four years – a story was used as the basis for The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Today the Juan Fernández Archipelago, badly affected by a tsunami triggered by the 2010 earthquake, remains an adventurous destination, well off the beaten track.

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