Pan De Azúcar: a hidden gem off the beaten path
When winter in the southern hemisphere is settling over Chile and some regions are covered with rain and snow, we are given the perfect opportunity to turn towards the north of the country and discover new horizons. And because the north of Chile is much more than just San Pedro de Atacama, we offer you incredible options that aren’t your typical tourist destinations! In this new blog post, discover one of our favorite secret destinations in Chile, to travel like a local. Head to the deserts of north to encounter the beautiful and unusual Pan de Azucar National Park!
Between desert and ocean
The attraction of Pan de Azúcar Park lies mainly in its great diversity. It harmoniously blends desert and ocean, cacti and pelicans. This large park of more than 100 acres, filled with contrasts, is perfectly preserved and infrequently visited, especially in winter. It is the ideal destination to escape the tourist traps and live an off-the-beaten-track experience in Chile.
In Pan de Azucar Park, the wildlife is so close that you could almost touch it (though it’s best not to). Guanacos graze peacefully, desert foxes sneak between tents at night, raptors land on huts, pelicans skim the water near the coast, penguins waddle on the small sugar loaf island, and sea lions bask on the rocks. Here, you will feel privileged and isolated from the rest of the world. A few days at Pan de Azucar will allow you to reconnect with nature and animals, a unique wild immersion experience.
The unmissable sites of Pan de Azucar Park
Sugar Loaf National Park may be a completely off the beaten path stopover, but you would be doing yourself a disservice to skip some of these unmissable places of interest. Put on your hiking boots and head to the exceptional trails that traverse the park. You will discover many views of the ocean and the island as well as stumble upon cacti or guanacos…choose what suits your interests!
Discover our favorite sites in Pan de Azúcar Park:
The Sendero Mirador
The Mirador Trail is the most famous trail in the park, but also the most accessible. Enjoy a tranquil 45-minute climb along a perfectly landscaped path, with a smattering of picnic areas on the way. It is the favorite walking trail for families and moderate athletes.
The hiking trail winds among cacti and guanacos (which are easier to find in the morning, so get up early!) to reach the famous viewpoint. As a beautiful reward, you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the park and the island.
The Sendero Las Lomitas
Now head to the Las Lomitas trail. This is the longest trail in the park, especially if you don’t have a 4×4 to arrive at the trailhead. Plan on 12.5 miles of walking round trip from the lowest car park. The hiking trail climbs slightly at the beginning but the rest is flatter, so the 12.5 miles are finished without much difficulty.
If you have a 4×4, ask for the key at the CONAF office located on the beach to cross the barrier and reach the second parking lot. The road is difficult at first, with a lot of gravel to pass, but then it improves. From the second car park count on 6 miles of walking round trip.
The trail climbs into the Pan de Azucar desert. Turn around to admire the view of the surrounding mountains whose geological history can be read in the strata and colors that comprise them. At the summit you will discover the impressive view of the cliffs.
Be careful though, the mist (or “camanchaca,” as they say here) is often present at the top and can be very thick!
The Sendero Quebrada del Castillo
This short trail of a couple miles sinks into the gorges of the park. The trail is guaranteed to make you feel like you are in the Wild West!
The beginning of the path is a little monotonous until you reach the entrance into the gorges where you can spot more cacti and guanacos. It is also the best hike to discover the copiapoa cacti, emblematic of the region.
The Caleta Pan de Azúcar
Don’t miss the small seafood restaurants in Caleta Pan de Azucar, the only village in the park. A handful of fishermen’s huts offer tourists fish and seafood dishes as well as empanadas. We recommend the fish soup…it is a real treat!
In the village you can also find fishermen willing to take you on a boat tour around the island, as the are only ones allowed to go near it. This is the best way to observe marine wildlife and, in season, get closer to Humboldt penguins.
La Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca is probably the most beautiful beach in Pan de Azucar Park, and it is also a beach famous for surfing! Don’t expect to find a surf school in the area, but if you can bring your board, you can enjoy unparalleled solitude riding the waves. No more waiting for priority on the waves, it is total freedom!
How to get to Pan de Azucar
The easiest way to arrive is to rent a car from Copiapó. It is about a 2-hour drive from the city to reach the entrance of the park via Chañaral.
Having a car also allows you to move freely on the only road that crosses the park and to get to the start of the hikes and to the campsites or cabañas. Without a car, you can count on the “solidarity of the desert” and hitchhike, but in the middle of winter there are few cars to hitch a ride with.
You can reach the park by taking a bus to Chañaral from Copiapó or even San Pedro de Atacama. From Chañaral, there are still almost 20 miles left to get to the beach where the main accommodations are located.
Take a taxi and book a time with the driver for the return trip, or walk the streets of Chañaral to find the numerous agencies that offer public transportation or even guided tours of the park.
Keep in mind that Pan de Azucar National Park is an ideal stop during a road trip of adventure and freedom in the North of Chile. It’s an unforgettable experience in immense landscapes, which I highly recommend!
Where to stay at Pan de Azucar
The welcome isolation of the park that makes it so attractive also means that lodging is rare.
If you prefer staying in cabañas, head to the Pan de Azucar Lodge, the only cabin accommodation in the park. The huts are fairly primitive, but they do have hot water and electricity. Go buy an octopus or fish in the village and grill it on the barbecue!
If you prefer camping, turn to the lodge campsite, which is high quality, or head to the Los Yecos campsite, which is cheaper but more rustic. All campsites face the sea, are protected from the wind, and have quinchos (barbecue pits).
As in all parks managed by CONAF, camping outside of designated areas is prohibited. Even if you feel tempted to pitch a tent on the long, spotless beaches, you will have to be satisfied with the spaces provided for this purpose.
At Travel Coach Chile we love to offer a visit to this park in our itineraries! It’s perfect for a moment of disconnection and discovering the Chilean fauna and flora…all of our travelers have loved it!