Unless you decide to participate in an organized tour or hire a driver, you will need to rent a vehicle when visiting Easter Island — but doing so is somewhat different than the typical process of renting a car.
What You Need to Know About Renting a Vehicle and Driving on Easter Island
For starters, forget about renting a car from a major company. You will not find Hertz, Avis, National, Europcar, Sixt, or any other rental car companies with offices located elsewhere in the world. You will only find independent rental car companies on Easter Island.
The two largest rental car companies on Easter Island through which you can reserve a vehicle to rent via the Internet prior to arrival is Insular Rent a Car — which is located in the building on the left in the photograph shown above — and Oceanic Rent a Car. They are located right next door to each other on the main street in Hanga Roa; and both offer complimentary transportation between their facilities and the airport.
Other rental car companies are also in town; but do not be surprised if the owner or proprietor of your lodging offers to rent a vehicle to you — and it could be his or her own personal vehicle. This may mean that you are not insured in case damage occurs on the vehicle while it is in your possession.
I rented from Oceanic Rent a Car primarily because the rate to rent a vehicle was slightly less expensive than Insular Rent a Car.
Not much time elapsed when I was handed the keys to a Suzuki Jimny — but first, we both walked around to inspect the vehicle.
I wonder how people will know that I rented this Suzuki Jimny from Oceanic Rent a Car. I think that the company should do more to promote and market its brand. Maybe another sticker with the company logo on it should be applied to this vehicle.
During the inspection, I started to point out the defects and anomalies which dotted this vehicle — but then I quickly realized that pointing out what is not damaged would have been quicker…
…and the agent of Oceanic Rent a Car was rather cavalier — no, not Chevrolet Cavalier — about the damage. I had the feeling that I would not have anything about which to worry once I return this vehicle; so I was not concerned.
Besides, all I really cared about was that the vehicle was in good working order so that I may explore Easter Island at my own pace.
The interior of the vehicle was not exactly in better condition: dirt all over the floor; what appeared to be a hole burned into the driver’s seat by a cigarette; and — surprise — a cigarette lighter as three of many examples of what would normally be considered a problem when renting a vehicle. Again, I was not going for looks or atmosphere here.
This Suzuki Jimny was equipped with a manual transmission and some standard features one would find in a typical rental car — such as a climate control system and a stereo radio to which you can plug in your own portable electronic device.
The five-speed manual transmission was a little wonky to operate when I used the stick shift in conjunction with the clutch; but I became used to it quickly enough. This vehicle had definitely seen better days and was well-used — but again, that was fine.
I was glad that this vehicle was equipped with a rear window wiper and fluid, as I needed that whenever this vehicle kicked up the dust on some of the dirt roads around Easter Island.
I have not experienced one example on Easter Island with which needing to switch to four-wheel drive capabilities was necessary; but that it is there in case the vehicle gets stuck in the mud is comforting.
The leg room for passengers seated in the rear seats of this Suzuki Jimny was not exactly generous — which could have been further exacerbated by driving on the rough paved roads and dirt roads, as the suspension system in this vehicle was on the bouncy side. The seats do fold down if more space is needed for luggage — and if you are traveling with a family, you will need it.
Driving Around Easter Island
Only a few main roads exist on Easter Island; and although most of them are paved, I did encounter plenty of dirt roads and gravel roads.
Some of those dirt roads have deep potholes in them — sometimes filled with muddy water — but unlike the gravel and rutted roads in Iceland, most of the holes and ruts in the roads on Easter Island are easy enough to avoid.
The signage is clear as well. Keep in mind that the speed limit is in kilometers; and on this road next to the control tower of the airport and near a school, the speed limit is 30 kilometers per hour, which is less than 19 miles per hour. The fastest speed limit sign I saw was 50 kilometers per hour, which is approximately 31 miles per hour. That is okay, as the road conditions basically precluded driving faster than that anyway.
None of the roads on Easter Island are wider than two lanes anyway — and although the scenery is not always spectacular, you might not want to drive too fast and appreciate it.
Although they do have their spurts of traffic — perhaps a line of six vehicles or so — more often than not, the roads were empty and quiet.
Driving in Hanga Roa
Hanga Roa is the only municipality on Easter Island. Due to its concentration of pedestrian traffic and limited parking, the speed limit in town is 20 kilometers per hour, which is not even 12.5 miles per hour. Again, you will not want to go faster than that anyway — especially on the brick streets…
…and you will rarely find street signs in Hanga Roa. If you want to know what street you are on, you need to look down at the curb near a corner at an intersection, on which the name of the street is painted in dark letters on a yellow background. The logo on the left is the Rotary International logo; and on the right are the words “Municipalidad de Isla de Pascua” wrapped around the official seal of Easter Island.
Saving Money on Renting a Vehicle
Most of the lodging options and the airport are located within walking distance in or near Hanga Roa on the southwestern part of Easter Island; and some of the lodging options offer complimentary transportation service to or from the airport.
The proprietor of the bungalow at which I stayed for four days picked me up at the airport and took me on a tour through town on the way to the bungalow. My stay on Easter Island was four days long. Because complimentary transportation was offered and that some of the sights of interest on Easter Island are also within walking distance of Hanga Roa, I did not rent the Suzuki Jimny until the next day, which saved me $73.49 — while simultaneously getting my exercise from walking — because I rented the vehicle for three out of the four days instead of for all four days.
The cost of renting the Suzuki Jimny was 50,000.00 Chilean pesos per day, which is approximately equivalent to $73.49 in United States dollars per day. I used my credit card to reserve the vehicle, which includes insurance for rental cars as a benefit.
The person who owned the bungalow in which I stayed offered to rent to me his vehicle for 40,000.00 Chilean pesos per day. That is less expensive, but then I would not have been insured in case of an accident — plus, I am not thrilled about renting someone’s personal vehicle. The chances of getting into an accident are low primarily because there is not much real estate to the island, the speed limits are low, and the roads are not the best — but it can still happen.
If you do decide to rent a vehicle from the owner or proprietor of the lodging option at which you have chosen to stay, remember that you can bargain the rental rate. The worst that will happen is that you will be refused — but if your offer is accepted, you will save more money.
The majority of vehicles for rent are equipped with manual transmission; and you will likely pay extra for the few vehicles for rent which are equipped with automatic transmission.
Only two fuel stations are on Easter Island; and both are located within a mile of each other north of the airport. Because the farthest you can drive between each end of Easter Island is slightly greater than 20 kilometers, you will have plenty of fuel. I only had to fill up the gasoline tank prior to returning the vehicle. Gasoline was approximately $5.50 per gallon and you will likely use approximately half of the small tank, so you will not exactly go broke on fuel.
Renting a vehicle from Oceanic Rent a Car was easy to do, and dropping it back off was just as easy. The vehicle was then used to transport me to the airport, where I was dropped off at the terminal. Renting the vehicle for three days cost me a total of 150,000.00 Chilean pesos, which is equivalent to $220.47 in United States dollars.
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.