Starting to get around — Pan de Azucar

It was our first weekend after moving to Copiapo and the exploring started with Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar, a beautiful national park around 2.5 hrs from Copiapo. We had good company of Paulina (our regional rep with the English teaching program) and her boyfriend, Claudio. Claudio didn’t speak English, so Paulina had to be a translator for us.

With Paulina and Claudio

The Park

The officials in the park were on a strike when we went, which was good because we saved the entrance fees of 8000 pesos. Looks like strikes are pretty common in Atacama (maybe all of Chile). There has been a strike by govt employees in Copiapo for a couple of weeks. There were almost no other tourists in the park that weekend. The landscape was amazing with barren hills, dotted with bunch of cactus plants. Despite almost no rainfall, there are plenty of varieties of cactus which is possible because of camanchaca — the mist from the sea which comes over to the land and provides moisture. The beautiful and desolate hills reminded me of Ladakh, the main difference being that this was all at sea level!

Barren hills of Pan de Azucar

There were plenty of birds near the beach including large pelicans. Seeing them dive into the ocean at a fast speed (to catch fish) reminded me of Attenborough’s documentaries.

Birds in Pan de Azucar

The sky became very clear by the night and when we turned off the lights of our cabin, it was an amazing sight. Our first look at the star-studded Atacama sky!

What we did?

After talking to a lodge over phone, we went with the plan of staying in a camp which sounded pretty cheap. However, after reaching there, we realized that it’s a bring-your-own-tent thing. The kind of stuff that’s bound to happen when your communication is handicapped! The lodge had a few cabañas (cabins) and we ended up getting one right next to the beach. It was right in front of Pan de Azucar island and we got to see an amazing sunset.

Sunset @ Pan de Azucar

On the first day, we rented mountain bikes from our lodge and randomly rode around the park. It was fun as the terrain was not flat.

We also wanted to go to the island where the local fishermen can take you but it was turning out to be too expensive given there were not other people to share the boat with. The next day, we trekked to El Mirador — a hill besides the coast. Got some awesome views of the interiors of the park, where it is not possible to go on a vehicle. Besides the birds, the only wildlife in the park are some Guanacos (small camels of South America) but we couldn’t see them.

While hiking El Mirador

Info for travellers

  • Getting there: Take a bus to Chañaral (5000 pesos from Copiapo) and rent a taxi from Chañaral to the park (15000 pesos). Pan de Azucar lodge is 26 kms from Chañaral and the Caleta is less than a km from there.
  • Accommodation: Pan de Azucar lodge has options for camping (bring your own tent) for 7500 pesos p/p and cabanas for different prices depending on number of people. We took one for 90000 pesos for 4 people.
  • Pan de Azucar island: From the Caleta, there are boats that go to the island. The entire boat is roughly 70000 pesos and can take up to 10 people.
  • Trek to El Mirador: It is a 2-hour hike from the Caleta and the trail is more or less self-explanatory. First, you have to go a little inside the park (roughly to south-east) and then hike up towards north.