The park is located 30 km north of Chañaral and 180 km north of Copiapó. It was founded in 1985 and has an extension of 437.54 km² (including 1.1 km² of insular terrain). It is importance derives from the relative diversity of species.
Isla Pan de Azúcar is located 24 km farther. Humboldt penguins breed on this island. The island can be reached by boat from the mainland but passengers are not allowed to leave the boat.
Caleta Pan de Azúcar (Pan de Azúcar Cove) is a small fisher settlement who cater now to the local tourism. Formerly copper was worked here and freighted by boat. Divers can still explore parts of the wharf, the loading crane and other things below the water. From here the look-out point of Mirador 8 km farther can be reached. On the mountain slopes nearby an extraordinary fauna can be observed which stays alive thanks to the coastal mist.
From the cove northward there is a gravel road which connects to the Pan-American Highway. Along the way there are numerous interesting geological formations.
Pan de Azúcar NP is divided into two ecosystems: the coastal desert of Taltal and the steppe desert of the Sierra Vicuña Mackenna. The absence of rain is compensated by coastal mist, which is known locally as Camanchaca.
There are more than 20 cactus species in the area, mainly of the genus Copiapoa which can be also be observed in the cactarium located in the environmental office of CONAF in front of Los Piqueros Beach 4.96 miles from the park entrance. It is open for visits from Monday to Sunday from 8:30 to 12:30 and from 14:00 to 18:00.
The guanaco is the main mammal found in the park. Other mammals include culpeo fox, chilla fox and European hare. The shoreline area is home to marine mammals, such as the marine otter and the South American sea lion. Among the birds are the Humboldt penguin and Peruvian pelican. Also reptile species of the genera Tropidurus and Callopistes inhabit the park.