Pan de Azúcar National Park: North Chile’s best kept secret

A star attraction of Chile’s ‘Little North’, this coastal desert is a haven of wildlife, cacti, and beach combers looking for a bit of peace and quiet.


With more than 100,000 acres of beaches, cactus-studded hills and magnificent Pacific views, Pan de Azúcar National Park may be one of northern Chile’s best-kept secrets.

Easily accessible from the scruffy port and mining town of Chañaral just outside the Park’s southern border, Pan de Azúcar is an ideal spot for hikers in search of pristine coastal desert landscapes, or beach bums seeking an isolated cove where they can unwind.

This section of Chile’s north once formed the country’s last frontier. Within what is now Pan de Azúcar Park, there once were a wharf, foundry and ore-shipping port, but during the late-19th century War of the Pacific most of these facilities were destroyed by bombs. A tidal wave that struck in 1922 swept away the rubble, returning the area to its original natural beauty.

Today, Pan de Azúcar boasts several natural attractions and facilities. Just inside the park’s borders, visitors will note the small off-shore island that lends the park its name, home to some of the area’s most interesting marine wildlife, including sea lions and pelicans amongst other species.

The only developed area in the park is also the best jumping off point for trips to the island. Just a short walk north up the coast from the Island, a calm cove is dotted with small, colorful fishing boats which ply the water for the fresh seafood for the clutch of simple restaurants serving the handful of cabins built here. These fisherman double as guides to the island and offer transport to and from the island, costing around US$70 (CP$35,000) round trip.

Well-marked trails lead inland, where dense sea fogs roll onto the sandy flanks of hills and provide just enough moisture to nurture an amazing diversity of cactus species. These in turn provide sustenance for the guanacos and foxes that live in the greenest portions of Pan de Azúcar.

The highest hills offer spectacular views out to sea, which are particularly lovely in the mornings when the fog hangs low like a blanket over the water. Meanwhile, the coast, protected from the development that has transformed many Chilean beaches into popular holiday resorts, has preserved most of Pan de Azúcar’s coastline for visitors looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of famous resort towns like Viña del Mar to the south, nearby Bahía Inglesa, and Iquique to the north.

Adventure, wildlife, relaxation – you can have it all at Pan de Azúcar. And most importantly you can enjoy tranquility, the rarest natural wonder of all.