Luxury travel to an unexpected place

I’m absolutely obsessed with Easter Island. I desperately tried to go earlier this year and pitched several story ideas, mostly about a particular researcher who is completing the most comprehensive mapping project of the statues and other archaeological sites to date (to be finished in summer 2008). He also has a radical new theory about how the place was destroyed: by rats, not humans, which is quite exciting if you’ve read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse. Here’s the story I ended up writing for The Scientist.

Now I’m trying to make it to the island again. There’s been some pretty hot stuff — enough for a story? — going on as far as luxury travel to Easter (an unlikely destination for high-end travelers, you would think). A couple weekends ago, the first luxury hotel opened on the island, with 30 rooms in rustic-lodge style, a swimming pool, spa, and restaurant. A fancy French restaurant, La Taverne du Pecheur, also opened recently.

A few years ago, only hardy backpackers made their way to Easter Island. But now there’s a crop of luxury tours that cater to the sophisticated traveler. One tour, for instance, offers a week-long expedition led by Dr. Jo Tilburg, a UCLA professor who has spent the last 20 years excavating archaeological sites on the island. However, there’s more to do on the island than just gawking at the iconic statues. Scuba diving has recently gotten quite popular, as well as horsebacking (there’s a big population of wild horses; these, of course, are not to be ridden on!). Then there’s the miles of white beaches, even talks of a casino, though the locals are very much against that.

Someone take me there!