Not many places on earth quite live up to the marvel that is the Marble Caves, Chile. Located in Chilean Patagonia, this off-the-beaten-track destination in a firm favourite along the iconic Austral Highway road trip. Thanks to thousands of years of glacial, meltwater erosion we are now able to admire the beautiful striations and patterns on this marble in one of the purest glacial lakes in the world. In this short guide find out everything you need to know about visiting the Marble Caves Patagonia Chile and prepare for an experience of a lifetime.
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BEST TIME TO VISIT THE MARBLE CAVES CHILE
The Aysen Region of Northern Patagonia has a harsh, cold climate. Winters are snowy and frigid and summers are cool. The area also receives a lot of rainfall all year round so make sure to come prepared with warm clothes and waterproofs. Chilean summer (December- February) is the best time to visit but it’s also the most crowded, especially February. November and March are also great months to visit with fewer crowds but cooler weather. Winters are brutal and even though the area around General Carrera lake sees little snow, tours to the marble caves no longer operate.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Marble Caves in Chile are located about 5 km south of the village of Puerto Rio Tranquillo along the Austral Highway in Chile’s Aysen Region. They are located 217km south of Coyhaique and the trip takes about 5 hours. The sealed road stops a little past Villa Cerro Castillo and turns into a gravel road which takes you all the way to Puerto Rio Tranquillo. If you’re coming from the south it’s also about a 5 hour trip from Cochrane.
The Caves themselves are located on the General Carrera Lake, Chile’s largest lake which it shares with Argentina. They are only accessible from the Chilean side so if you’re in Argentina you’ll have to cross the border at Chile Chico and continue to Puerto Rio Tranquillo to see them.
Car– The best way to get to Puerto Rio Tranquillo is by car. You can rent a car at Balmaceda airport or in Coyhaique at the start of your trip or even in Puerto Montt if you’re doing the whole Austral Highway road trip. Rental is easy just make sure to book in advance as cars in this area sell out quickly.
Bus– Daily buses leave Coyhaique and Cochrane and travel south and north along the Carretera Austral stopping in Puerto Rio Tranquillo. Services are limited so try to buy your ticket at least the day before, especially when travelling during the high season.
HOW TO SEE THE MARBLE CAVES, PATAGONIA
The only way to see the Marble Caves is on a tour as you’ll have to get out onto General Carrera lake to see them properly. There are two main tour options; boat and kayak and all tours can be booked on arrival. You’ll find all the tour agencies on the main road by the lake and you can enquire directly with them about tours and costs.
Boat tour– The are two different boat tours to choose from, the simple 1.5-hour tour which takes you to the main caves or the more comprehensive 3-hour tour which also includes going across the lake to Puerto Sanchez. Boats depart from Puerto Rio Tranquillo and tours can go up to three times a day depending on demand.
We were told that it’s better to do a tour in the morning as mornings tend to be calmer with less wind which can make conditions choppier and colder on the water. The standard boat tour costs $10,000 CLP ($13) per person.
Kayak – if you’re feeling up for a bit of adventure all while seeing the Marble Caves, Chile I’d highly recommend going for the kayak option. The kayak tour starts with a transfer (included) 5km south to Bahia Mansa. Here you’ll get set up and briefed by your guide and you’ll set off together towards the caves. Its a bit of a paddle but totally worth it as you can get much closer to the caves than the boat does. The kayak tour costs $40,000 ($52) per person but it’s completely worth it the extra spend.
WHAT TO SEE
The Marble Caves, Patagonia have been formed over more than 6000 years and are the result of erosion from waves generated by strong winds on General Carrera Lake. Meltwater from nearby glaciers fills up the lake and over time this water carved out caves, caverns and tunnel systems in the rock on the lake.
Over the years the marble on the sides of these islets has been smoothed down by the mineral-rich water exposing unique patterns of yellow, brown, grey and green striations.
During the kayaking tour, you get to see a number of geological features which are located quite close together. The first sight you come across is the Capilla del Marmol,(Marble Chapel) a free-standing rock islet. You can quite easily kayak around it, getting close to notice the unique rock patterns.
Just next door you’ll come to the Catedral del Marmol (Marble Cathedral), this is a much larger rock formation and easily the one with the most vivid patterns and colours. You’ll notice several caverns and caves here, the entrances to which are perfectly smooth with linear markings throughout. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to paddle inside the Marble Cathedral for preservation reasons.
Finally, the kayaking tour ends with the Tunel de Marmol (Marble Tunnel). Located right next to the Marble Cathedral, this location, as the name may suggest has a small tunnel which you can paddle through and really get close to the marble. Here you can notice the greys and the browns and their patterns within the rock.
If you’ve opted for the longer boat tour there are a few other sights to see on the other side of the lake near Puerto Sanchez.
Make sure not to miss the Ventisquero Colgante Glacier in Queulat National Park, another of Patagonia’s gems. Find out how to visit here.
WHERE TO STAY
The best place to stay when visiting the Marble Caves is in or around Puerto Rio Tranquillo, however, this is a small fishing village and your options are pretty limited. Some places offer wifi but not all and most guesthouses offer run-of-the-mill rooms with shared bathrooms. Here are my favourite options in the area:
Pared Sur Camp– This unique eco-lodge located right on General Carrera lake offers a number of different and incredibly unique accommodation options, Patagonia glamping-style. The best option at Pared Sur Camp by far is opting for the eco-domes right by the lake for unique yet comfortable accommodation with simply outstanding views to match. Did I mention there’s also a hot tub right on the lake too? Book your stay here.
Mallin Colorado Ecolodge– For the log cabin of your dreams, the Mallin Colorado Ecolodge is located right on General Carrera lake with dreamy views you can’t escape from. Each room oozes that ski-chalet cosiness where you can relax with a steaming mug of hot chocolate looking at the turquoise lake beyond. In the lobby, you’ll find a warming fireplace and they also have a good onsite restaurant. Check our rates and book here.
If you’re interested in camping, there are a number of campsites in Puerto Rio Tranquillo, the best being Camping Rio Chirifo. They have some great spots for pitching that are protected from the wind and surrounded by fruit trees in the summer- we gorged on cherries and redcurrants throughout our stay. It also has wifi in the communal mess-tent.
There are also a few good value Airbnb options in the Marble Caves Patagonia area too. Find them here.
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING
↠ Not all phone companies cover the area. The only company that has service in Puerto Rio Tranquillo is Entel. If you are travelling here and to other areas of Patagonia I highly recommend getting an Entel SIM over other companies.
↠ Try to time your visit for when the weather is good. The landscape and colours of the lake change dramatically when it’s sunny versus when its cloudy and raining. Not to mention kayaking or being on a boat for a few hours in the rain and wind might be a bit miserable.
↠ Try to do your tour in the morning. Tours are offered throughout the day, however, on most days the wind picks up in the afternoon making the lake choppier. For a less windy and wild ride try to book your tour for as early as you can in the morning.
↠ Bring lots of layers. The weather in Patagonia is everchanging so it’s best to bring many layers for the trip as it does get cold. While it doesn’t happen often you might get some spray or rain on the boat or kayak. To protect your phone and camera gear you might want to bring a waterproof bag. Even though we had our own, Tribu Patagonia did actually offer us a phone and camera dry bag.
Do you have any comments or questions about visiting the Marble Caves Patagonia? Leave them in the comments below– I’d be happy to help you out!
Related post you might like for other cool things to do in Patagonia:
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