Being a volcanic island there are lots of caves, especially lava tubes, some of which have their entrance underwater or on cliff faces.
Caves have been used at various times in the past as living shelters and defensive positions in times of conflict. If you look carefully at the photo below you will see that a natural cave entrance has been modified to make it narrower. This helped protect the cave from the wind and rain but the narrow entrance also made it easier to defend from attackers.
When Europeans first visited Easter Island the islanders would flee to their hidden caves for safety leaving a smaller number to deal with the visitors. Every family group had a cave that they could retreat to and also store precious possessions. The entrances were generally well hidden so they could not be found easily. Some of the entrances were on rugged and dangerous cliff faces where the island plunges into the sea.
The caves that are most accessible and therefor most visited by tourists are Ana Kai Tangata, Ana Kakenga, Ana Te Pora, and Ana Te Pahu. While each cave is different and has something unique to offer, I personally found Ana Te Pahu to be the most interesting. I have listed the caves below in order of my personal preference.
Ana Te Pahu
This is the longest of the 4 main caves that most tourists visit with a total length of about 1km. The sinkhole entrance makes a spectacular entry point to the cave with banana trees and taro that have been planted in the area exposed to daylight forming a lush green backdrop to the cave entrance. You will need a torch if you want to explore the cave fully but natural light will allow you to explore the front of the cave where there are walls built for defensive purposes and stone platforms for beds.
The entrance to Ana Kakenga is down a very tight hole in the ground which requires a bit of care to navigate. Once underground the cave ceiling starts out very low so you need to crouch and watch you don’t hit your head but the cave increases in height the further you enter until you can stand erect. The floor is very rough and a torch/flashlight is required.
When you are well into the cave it branches out in a Y-shape with two exits about 30m above the ocean on the vertical cliff. These two openings are the source of the nick-name “Two Windows” as they are like two windows to the expansive ocean view you encounter.
Ana Kai Tangata
The large mouth of Ana Kai Tangata opens directly onto the ocean at sea level. Large ocean swells break on the shore but it is quite safe in the cave most of the time. There is a narrow path leading down the side of the cliff that provides access to the cave. This cave is best known for the cave paintings found on the ceiling. Being very close to Hanga Roa it is possible to walk here from the town.
Ana Te Pora
This is the cave shown in the photo at the top of the page. When walking toward the cave from the road, bypass the entrance hole in the ground you come to first and continue to the main entrance near the cliffs as the access is much easier. If you are short on time then skip this cave as it doesn’t have anything different to the other caves.