Hanga Roa is the only town on Easter Island, and virtually all of the island's 3,800 residents live here. In spite of LAN Airlines increasing its flights to seven per week, bringing in more and more tourists, Hanga Roa still holds on to its quintessentially laid-back ambience. Many of the town's roads outside of the main commercial area are unpaved, and laws prohibiting ownership by nonislanders means the town has grown organically and has thus far avoided encroachment by high-rise resorts and chain stores. It's not a terribly sophisticated place, but then that is part of its appeal. Nearly all of Hanga Roa's residents earn a living from tourism, and the "downtown" area is replete with simple hotels and guesthouses, shops, tour companies, and restaurants. You don't need a car to see Hanga Roa, just your feet, and part of the enjoyment of visiting is simply strolling around and taking in the town's mellow charm.
While here, you'll want to visit the Museo Antopológico Sebastián Englert in the Tahai Sector (tel. 32/255-1020; www.museorapanui.cl; Tues-Fri 9:30am-12:30pm and 2-5:30pm, Sat-Sun 9:30am-12:30pm; admission $2/£1.30), and the Biblioteca William Mulloy (Tues-Sat 9:30am-12:30pm). The museum focuses more on ethnology than archaeology, but there is a tiny display of artifact replicas. The museum's bookstore and the excellent Mulloy library are stocked with diverse literature and photo books about Easter Island. They occasionally hold free lectures in both English and Spanish on recent archaeological research and theories. Also worth visiting, especially during Mass on Sundays (in both Rapu Nui and Spanish) is the Iglesia Hanga Roa, located at Te Pito o Te Henua and Tu'u Koihu streets. Inside are intricate wood carvings that illustrate the adaptation of Rapa Nui culture to Catholicism, while outside to the right are the tombs dating back to the mid-1800s of several important Catholic priests who lived on the island.
The best displays of moais lie scattered around the island, but there are two broken moai at Ahu Tautira overlooking the Caleta Hanga Roa harbor, where there are several of the best cafes and restaurants and both dive shops. If you look around under the dive boats, you can usually spot a green sea turtle floundering about.
For a better archaeological excursion near town, visit one of the island's best reconstructions of an ahu (ceremonial altar) at Ahu Tahai, past the island's colorful cemetery and near the museum. There are actually three ahus here: The first is Ahu Vai Uri, with five reconstructed moai, followed by the solitary Tahai moai, and the Ahu Ko Te Riko, with its topknot and coral and obsidian eyes. The moais front a grassy expanse with stone walls and a canoe ramp; here you'll also see the oval foundations of a hare paenga, or "boathouse," so-called for the traditional home's resemblance to a capsized boat. There is no better place to watch a sunset than at Tahai, so bring your camera and join your tourist brethren for a superb photo session.
There are fine beaches at Anakena and Ovahe, but Playa Pea near the harbor has a rock pool for swimming.