Each year during the month of February, Easter Island lights up in celebration of its Polynesian heritage during the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival. Dancing, singing, parades, feathered costumes and body painting are just a few of the activities that take place during this annual 15-day carnival. For travelers, Tapati is an excellent time to visit the island, although many locals close shop or take time off work to take part in festivities, and reservations must be made in advance given the popularity of the festival. The next Tapati festival takes place from February 3 – 18, 2013.
The Tapati Festival began in 1963 following the passing of the Ley Pascua that gave the Rapa Nui people the right to vote in Chilean elections. It later grew into a major festival that included competitions, music and dance based on Rapa Nui cultural traditions and heritage.
In the main event of the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival, participants are divided into two teams that must compete in feats of speed, valor and strength. These include constructing and rowing rafts from the local totora reed, swimming and canoeing contests, and racing around the lake while balancing bananas on their shoulders. One of the most popular sports in the competition is the Haka Pei where contestants race downhill on toboggans made from two banana tree trunks. The winning team crowns a new queen at the end of the festivities.