The cold Humboldt Current flows up the desert coastline, bringing with it its peppy namesake penguin and abundant marine life. The worthwhile 44,000-hectare Pan de Azúcar includes white-sand beaches, sheltered coves, stony headlands and cacti-covered hills.
Pan de Azúcar is 30km north of Chañaral via a well-maintained paved road. Most people reach it by tour or transfer from Caldera/Bahía Inglesa or Copiapó.
Hired boats cruise around Isla Pan de Azúcar to view its 2000 Humboldt penguins, as well as cormorants, gulls, otters and sea lions. Pay from CH$6000 per person (with a 10-person minimum). In low season, you could end up forking out as much as CH$50,000 for the whole boat. Round-trips take 1½ hours, and run from 10am to 6pm in summer, and to 4pm in winter.
Hike the 2.5km El Mirador trail to see sea cacti, guanaco and chilla fox. Next up is Las Lomitas, an easy 4km path.
Camping is available at Playas Piqueros and Soldado, from CH$5000 per person, with toilets, water, cold showers and tables. Lovely adobe cabins at the eco-minded Pan de Azúcar Lodge are fully equipped.