Visiting Marble Caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Here is our guide to Marble Caves also known as Capilla de Marmol near small village Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Chile. It is a gorgeous natural sight to visit when traveling and road tripping Carretera Austral.
When traveling for a couple of months already, we more and more appreciate having a base in a small town or a tiny village where we can get off the bus in the 'center', find an accommodation five minutes away, later go shopping to a grocery store which is even closer and in the evening leisurely set off for a walk with amazing views with almost no effort.
That was exactly the case of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, a small village on Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia.
But Puerto Rio Tranquilo is not a notable place only for its tranquil atmosphere, a picturesque setting on a bank of General Carrera Lake (the biggest lake in Chile) or for nearby Exploradores Glacier, and although all the reasons mentioned above increased the popularity of this small settlement, Rio Tranquilo hides one more natural attraction which definitely put the place on an every traveler bucket list.
About 30 minutes boat trip from Rio Tranquilo can be found Marble Caves, famous cave formations, which are also known as Capilla de Marmol (marble chapel) and if you have a feeling that you've seen everything from Patagonian Andes, the caves will change your mind once again.
Patagonia is a land of many glaciers (some of them are really unique ones such as Hanging Glacier in Queulat National Park) national parks (even those less known like amazing Pumalin National Park) or fabulous blue lakes (one of the most beautiful lakes we saw was Lagoon Cerro Castillo), but we dare to claim that there is no such a place like Marble Caves, or at least it hasn't been explored yet, or it is not that easily accessible like caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo in Aysen region.
Only recently Marble Caves received well-deserved attention (especially because of popular pictures on Instagram), and if we say that the caves are easily accessible, it is still only for those traveling along Carretera Austral, it is for sure not a destination you decide to visit out of the blue.
HOW TO VISIT MARBLE CAVES
To visit Marble Caves, you need to arrive in Puerto Rio Tranquilo first.
When road tripping Carretera Austral from north to south, there's a big chance that you will either want to cross borders to Argentina in Chile Chico (when traveling by car) or in Villa O'Higgins (when traveling by public transport or on a bike), and the good news is that Puerto Rio Tranquilo is on the way.
We saw a few tours coming from Coyhaique, but honestly, we wouldn't bother to visit the caves on a one day trip because you would spend about 9 hours on a bus, and the actual visit of caves take only two hours total.
When you arrive in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, you will immediately see several travel agencies along the main road selling a boat tour to Marble Caves. You don't need to book it a long time in advance. We arrived from Villa Cerro Castillo at 2:30 PM and at 3 PM were already sitting in the boat heading to the caves.
We believe that all tours offer a very similar service and experience, so the only thing you should consider is to sign up with an agent who has for the time you chose at least some people (usually boat leaves when they have 6 people), so you won't need to wait for the boat to fill up.
THE WAY WE DID IT
As we knew the bus should pass Villa Cerro Castillo between 11 AM and 12 PM, we decide to try our luck with hitchhiking first as we had to check out at 10 AM and had nothing to do anyway. It was quite a surprise to see another ten hitchhikers on the road already.
All cars passing by were full, so we were glad when the first van heading to Puerto Rio Tranquilo arrived at 10:30 AM and we gladly paid CLP 10 000 to get there. The road between those villages is very scenic, with mountains, rivers, forests, and swamps around.
At the moment, there is ongoing construction on the road which is still unpaved.
Our Tip: If short on time, consider renting a car when traveling to Patagonia.
We arrived in Puerto Rio Tranquilo and were about to start looking for accommodation when a guy on a green bike asked us if we don't want to join a boat tour to the Marble Caves which starts in 30 minutes.
We did not want to rush it, but the weather was great, so we decided to give it a try. We could leave our stuff in the office Martin quickly packed our camera and valuables in waterproof dry bag (we recommend you to do the same), and I ran to the grocery store to buy at least something to eat.
Then, we went to the pier with another seven people who shared the boat with us. Despite sunny weather, the lake was wavy, and from time to time we received a splash of cold water.
Finally, we reached the Marble Caves and could admire the perfect structure and vivid colors. Boat driver exactly knows places for the best views and photos.
When our time was up, we had to head back, but now General Carrera Lake was so rough that the ride took us almost an hour as we had to sail slowly close to the shore. After the tour, we found a hospedaje for a night and cooked meal. At first, we were considering to visit Exploradores Glacier as well, but prices increased a lot in the past few years, and we decided to leave the next day instead.
Our next destination was Cochrane and hiking in Patagonia National Park.
Our tip: In case you've just arrived in Coyhaique, but traveling independently to Puerto Rio Tranquilo seems too complicated, especially if you do not have own car, there is an option to take two-day one-night tour. It is also good option if you do not plan on traveling more south.
ENTRANCE FEE TO MARBLE CAVES
The classic boat trip which lasts approximately two hours costs CLP 10 000 per person.
What is included?
Transport to and from Marble Caves (you must walk to and from the pier on own), life jacket and Spanish speaking guide. We don't think an English speaking guide is necessary here as the explanation about the creation of Marble Caves was short and easily understandable even for us, beginners.
HOW WERE THE MARBLE CAVES FORMED
The Marble Caves have been formed over 6000 years by the action of flowing water and strong waves.
In the beginning, there was only a massive marble peninsula, but during the time walls of the peninsula were drilled and the water pressure created various shapes such as caves or other formations known such as a chapel or cathedral.
Although the Marble Caves is a fabulous nature's miracle, what makes it truly spectacular is their symbiosis with the water and the sun. General Carrera Lake is fed by several rivers coming from nearby glaciers and the small glacial particles in combination with sunlight cause a distinct blue color.
WHEN TO VISIT MARBLE CAVES
There is no best or worse time of the year to visit the Marble Caves as each season has its specifics and your experience will be different according to it - in the spring the water level is lower as the glaciers usually melt later, while during the winter you might need more time to reach the caves because of small icebergs on the lake. Marble Caves are the best when it is sunny because the light in combination with turquoise water creates a remarkable spectacle.
Apparently, the sun affects the overall experience a lot.
When doing our research about Marble Caves, we read articles from people who were quite disappointed and claimed that Marble Caves belong among the most underwhelming sights they visited in Patagonia, but all of those reviews were written when the sun was hidden behind clouds or rained.
The biggest chance to enjoy sunny weather is during the summer, from November to late February, but remember there's no guarantee as the weather in Patagonia is unpredictable and changeable.
You can visit Marble Caves in the morning or later in the afternoon as well, but if possible, choose one of the morning slots because during this time General Carrera Lake is usually calm (again exceptions happen here), while in the afternoon a strong wind picks up, and the water starts to be very choppy.
BOAT RIDE TO THE MARBLE CAVES
The only way how to visit the Marble Caves is on a boat.
The ride takes almost 30 minutes, but the waters of General Carrera Lake is very cold and can get rough in the afternoon. For that reason, pack a waterproof jacket, but the best is to wear rain poncho otherwise you will get wet as we did during our tour (luckily, it was sunny, so we were not freezing cold).
The whole tour was two hours long.
You can also get to the Marble Caves on a kayak if you are a fit person. The tour cost CLP 35 000 for a couple of hours with a guide.
It is always better to invest in a guide here for your safety just in case of strong winds and currents.
FACILITIES IN PUERTO RIO TRANQUILO
Puerto Rio Tranquilo is a small village, but you still can find here accommodation and well-stocked grocery store (with lack of fruits and vegetables though) or several restaurants and tour operators. It reminded us a bit of Villa O'Higgins, a village at the end of Carretera Austral where we were crossing borders to Argentina.
There is a gas station and no ATM, but some of the properties accept credit card.
WHAT TO PACK
Here are 5 essentials things you should pack for a boat trip to Marble Caves.
Bandana | You can use it as head protection against the sun.
Rain Poncho | Bring it even on a sunny day. We did the boat trip in the afternoon and the lake was choppy and everyone got really wet. The tour operator might have some, but I wouldn't count on it that they have rain ponchos for everyone.
Sunscreen | We used SPF 50+ every day in South America.
We've written an in-depth Patagonia packing list where you will find more information and packing tips.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO RIO TRANQUILO
Several hotels, hostels or campgrounds can be reserved in advance in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. In the village, there are also several local homestays, but unfortunately they work on first come first served basis.
Budget: Cabanas Don Hugo - Best value for the money, affordable cozy accommodation in the center of Puerto Rio Tranquilo features a fireplace, fully equipped kitchen, and comfortable beds.
Mid-range: Cabanas la Estrella - Rustic apartment, wood heater, and good Wi-Fi.
Luxury: Cabanas Valle Exploradores - New bungalows with free wi-fi and free on-site parking are right in the center of the village. The hotel is well-equipped, you can even use the kitchen to prepare your own food here.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
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