The red carpet awaits
The red carpet awaits
Victory!
Victory!

Getting across the border into Bolivia was easy enough.  We walked to the border just after sunrise and waited around for about half an hour while the authorities on the Argentine side dealt with some families that were crossing with children.  Once we were stamped out off Argentina we walked 50 yards across the bridge and presented ourselves at Bolivian immigration.  There was no queue when we arrived and they gladly accepted our $135 visa fee and, in return, put some shiny stickers in our passports.  Nationals of most countries (including places like Yemen) don’t need to pay for visas to Bolivia, however, US policies towards tourists have led Bolivian towards a policy of reciprocity.

Our first Bolivian bus.  Villazón to Tupiza.
Our first Bolivian bus. Villazón to Tupiza.

The Bolivian border town of Villazón was not nearly as seedy as we were led to believe.  The town was actually quite clean, had a nice square and lively commercial activity.  Our first goal was to withdraw some Bolivianos from the town’s one and only ATM.  I requested 2,500 Bs from the machine (about $300) and after the usual whirling noises it dispensed my card and a receipt but no cash.  Doh!

There were some bank employees standing around waiting for the bank to open and they advised Amy that she should be able to withdraw 1,000 Bs from the machine without a problem.  There was some talk of the machine only being able to dispense ten bills at a time.  She gave it a try and the same thing played out – no cash.  By this point the bank was open so we went in and Amy spoke to the supposed manager of the bank.  In a very couldn’t-care-less manner he told her that they knew the ATM was broken yet there was no sign on the machine.  Perfect.

Tupiza's central plaza
Tupiza’s central plaza

Time for the backup plan.  Good old US dollars.  We hit up a couple of cambios (currency exchange shops) before we found one that would accept the two wrinkled $20 bills that I had handy.  They gave me a half-decent rate and we had enough money to get out of Villazón on the bus.

Awesomely bad decorations at a just plain bad tourist restaurant in Tupiza.  Yup, that is a flamingo made of cactus wood.
Awesomely bad decorations at a just plain bad tourist restaurant in Tupiza. Yup, that is a flamingo made of cactus wood.

The drive to Tupiza is only about 60 miles but it takes about three hours thanks to the crappy roads.  Frustratingly we drove alongside of a beautiful paved highway most of the way but none of the bridges were complete.  We are definitely in Bolivia now!  The scenery was interesting through and we made it to Tupiza on time.

The main drag of Tupiza
The main drag of Tupiza

After getting to Tupiza we spent the better part of a day working on the money situation.  The first step was to get in touch with our banks about the ATM withdrawals in Villazón.  Sure enough, both has been debted from our account so we were (and still are) around $440 in the hole.  Both of our banks have opened investigations into the matter so hopefully we will see the money back one day.

Tupiza doesn’t have a single ATM machine that accepts foreign cards.  Tourists have three options: 1) exchange dollars, 2) have a local bank pull a cash advance against your VISA or MC or 3) cash travelers checks.  We explored all three options and eventually decided on the cash advance.  Cashing the travelers checks turned out to be an incredible ripoff at 18% away from official rate.  We had plenty of US dollars but we wanted to hold those for emergencies.

Processing the cash advance also turned out to be a pain.  Despite placing travel notices on our accounts the cash advance transactions were denied at the bank.  After a handful of expensive phone calls back to the states (there are no pay phones through which you can call collect!) we had the issues sorted out with the bank.  When it was all said and done, we got some cash from bank within about 5% of the official rate including all the fees.  It took a day and a lot of running back and forth between phone centers, our hotel, and the bank but we got it all sorted out.  Not a smooth start to our time in Bolivia, fortunately things got much better.

WARNING TO OTHER TRAVELERS:  When the guidebook says to bring cash, it means it!  Brings lots of crisp and new US notes to avoid hassles at dinky border towns.

Boliviano Blues
Our first Bolivian bus.  Villazón to Tupiza.
Our first Bolivian bus. Villazón to Tupiza.
I sure hope this thing fits!
I sure hope this thing fits!
Tupiza's central plaza
Tupiza’s central plaza
Awesomely bad decorations at a just plain bad tourist restaurant in Tupiza.  Yup, that is a flamingo made of cactus wood.
Awesomely bad decorations at a just plain bad tourist restaurant in Tupiza. Yup, that is a flamingo made of cactus wood.
Breakfast at Hotel Mitru
Breakfast at Hotel Mitru
The main drag of Tupiza
The main drag of Tupiza
Not a bad place to relax before the four-day trip into the wild.
Not a bad place to relax before the four-day trip into the wild.
Victory!
Victory!
My first fried chicken in Bolivia.  They love it!
My first fried chicken in Bolivia. They love it!

Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Apina Tupuna Guesthouse

Easter Island has a reputation for being a very expensive travel destination and in some ways this is well-deserved.  With round-trip ticket prices from the mainland reaching towards $1000, getting there is certainly expensive.  If you can get past the transportation costs (book with miles!) then, with a little effort, the island can be surprisingly affordable.  About the same as mainland Chile.

Guesthouse kitchen
Guesthouse kitchen

Accommodation options on Rapa Nui range from high-end resorts all the way down to camping.  Though guesthouse prices are much higher than they were a few years back (when a friend of mine visited) we were still able to find a double room with shared bath at a conveniently located guesthouse for 22,000 CLP per night (about 44 USD).  This included breakfast and access to a shared kitchen.

Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers.  Our first meal on Easter Island.
Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers. Our first meal on Easter Island.

Prepared food is perhaps the biggest budget killer.  At the cheap take-away places in Hanga Roa you are looking at $10 or more for a meal and at the proper restaurants upwards of $20 or more.  A far more economical option is to prepare your own food.  The grocery store prices are certainly higher than the mainland but it is still much cheaper than eating out.

Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors
Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors

Before we left the mainland we stocked up on some staples (rice, lentils, split peas).  During our first afternoon on the island we scoured the minimarkets and found nothing but extremely expensive and bad-looking produce.  We learned later that the produce sold in the minimarkets all comes from the mainland on Wednesday’s LAN flight and we were shopping on a Tuesday.  Week-old vegetables aren’t that appetizing!  A far better option was found the next morning at the town feria were locally-grown produce is sold.  Lower prices and higher quality but you have to get there early to get the best veggies.

Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad.  Made with local produce.
Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad. Made with local produce.

Using what was at hand, Amy came up with some delicious meals for us to enjoy and I did my best as sous chef and dishwasher.  We had everything from pasta salad to mango-avocado salsa served over rice to curried split peas and rice with chard.  We cooked once a day and stretched each dish into two meals.  Our total spend on food for our six-night stay for two people was under $45!

Empanada dog.  Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour.  He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.
Empanada dog. Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour. He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.

The other costs that visitors face on the island are entry fees and transportation.  The good news is that most of the ahu scattered around the island are completely free to visit.  There is a rather steep entry fee to the island’s two park sites (Orongo and Rano Raraku) but you only pay the 30,000 CLP (60 USD) fee once to enter both sites.  On arrival at the airport we were happy to find that the park rangers were pre-selling tickets for 25,000 CLP.  If visiting Easter, keep an eye out for the desk just before the baggage claim area.

The main drag in Hanga Roa
The main drag in Hanga Roa

As for transportation, there are a number of options.  Of course you can walk to many of the sights that surround Hanga Roa without much problem.  The farther flung sights at the east end of the island are best reached by guided tour or vehicle rental.  With two people, renting a car for the day was a much better deal and we could dodge the tour groups.  Hitching might also be an option (numerous locals offered us rides) to drive down costs even further.

Easter Island is a destination that can be made affordable with a little effort.  Getting to the island can be accomplished with a strategic credit card sign-up bonus or two.  Sightseeing on foot and cooking helps the traveler realize even more savings.  Of course food shopping, cooking, and walking around take some time so I would highly recommend a 5+ day visit.  It is an island paradise, so what’s the rush?

Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau
Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau

Budget Summary:

  • Accommodations: $273.68 (six nights)
  • Entrance Fees: $105.26
  • Food: $44.74
  • Car Rental (with fuel): $58.95
  • Internet access: $5.05
  • Total spent for six days on Easter Island: $487.69 ($40.64 per person, per day)

Another travel blogger has posted his budget for a recent trip to Rapa Nui.  Check it out here.

Easter Island – Island Life
Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Our room at Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Our room at Apina Tupuna Guesthouse
Guesthouse kitchen
Guesthouse kitchen
Guesthouse common room
Guesthouse common room
Front lawn of our guest house.  A large visitor offshore that day!
Front lawn of our guest house. A large visitor offshore that day!
Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors
Locals shop for their produce early at the market and the truck vendors
Breakfast was included
Breakfast was included
Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers.  Our first meal on Easter Island.
Peanut butter sandwiches, green apples and crackers. Our first meal on Easter Island.
Tomato and avocado sandwiches ad guava juice.
Tomato and avocado sandwiches ad guava juice.
Curried split peas and green beans with rice and wine from the mainland (alcohol is expensive)
Curried split peas and green beans with rice and wine from the mainland (alcohol is expensive)
Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad.  Made with local produce.
Rice with mango-avocado salsa served with a lentil and green bean salad. Made with local produce.
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy's favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy’s favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Strange flowers!
Strange flowers!
The daily flight from Santiago
The daily flight from Santiago
The weekly cargo ship from Chile
The weekly cargo ship from Chile
Occasionally cruise ships visit the island.  This is Royal Princess headed for Australia.
Occasionally cruise ships visit the island. This is Royal Princess headed for Australia.
Empanada dog.  Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour.  He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.
Empanada dog. Always in front of the empada shop next to the harbour. He enjoys the shade of the nearby moai.
Local game of fútbal
Local game of fútbal
Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau
Hanga Roa seen from Puna Pau
The bay at Hanga Roa
The bay at Hanga Roa
The main drag in Hanga Roa
The main drag in Hanga Roa
Setting of the full moon.
Setting of the full moon.


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