When you go to the south of Chile, you are in Patagonia. Albeit my expectations of a rather laid back and long journey somewhere in the south of some bizarrely long drawn-out country, I was extremely excited about going there. In fact, the one thing I was really looking forward to was the weather – basically, loads of sunshine. I thought I would be able to somehow chill on top of the car we were going to rent and sunbath while driving further south. And yes, sunbathing was definitely – if not my only – priority.
When we arrived in Balmaceda, second plane stop from Santiago de Chile down to Puerto Montt in Patagonia, it was ridiculously windy and cold and almost felt as if someone kept slapping me around the face. My eager anticipation to a sunny and hassle-free car drive around Chile was shattered into splinters the moment we got there.
After making peace with the windy south and slowly beginning to get accustomed to the fact that I was in serious need to adjust my number one holiday plan (i.e. getting a bloody tan), I started to look around and actually (willingly) began to really embrace the untouched and natural beauty set out right in front of me.
After about four hours of driving further south, I stepped out of the car for the first time. At this point, I could not help but take deep long breaths over and over again.
My weird breathing exercise in the middle of Patagonia was quite strange as I was not entirely sure why I kept doing it – especially since I don’t suffer from the weakest respiratory system nor am I some super busy urban muppet, who barely gets a chance to see the light of day in order to enjoy a good whiff of airiness. As our trip through Patagonia went on, I began to realize why I had fallen so strangely but deeply in love with its air. It was due to the lingering, to me totally unknown, scent of what I could best describe as the smell of a sweet horse, perhaps a candy horse or something. It was not until later on when one of our guides (we met him on our tour to the San Rafael Glacier) finally illuminated me on the actual cause of this distinctive Patagonian smell. The real source – being cypress wood – was certainly not as romantic as the candy horse.
Anyway, our drive from Balmaceda mostly happened on a gravel road, which led us to a little village called Puerto Tranquilo. We actually rushed it all the way from Balmaceda to Puerto Tranquilo as we were particularly keen on visiting the Marble Caves in Lago General Carrera on that same day. We had a pretty tight schedule so things had to happen very fast. The only really touristy information we had about those Marble Caves (“Capilla de Mármol“) advised us on going while it’s sunny. However, as we did not make it to Puerto Tranquilo until around 8 p.m., things did not look so bright and shiny after all.
Nonetheless, as we approached Puerto Tranquilo, we immediately looked for a boatman to take us to the Marble Caves. Bearing in mind that Puerto Tranquilo is a touristy place, conveniently located by Lago General Carrera, we did not think we would experience any issues finding someone to give us a ride there. Although touristy and all, most of the visitors we could find there were Chileans. And since most Chileans prefer to stay and live it up north, where it’s mostly sunny and warm, you’ll probably only ever get to experience a rather light version of tourism. So apparently, all local boat companies were already closed. Luckily for us however, some old Chilean boatman (I am pretty sure he was called Jesus) suddenly appeared out of nowhere. After we managed to explain to him that we wanted to go to the caves ‘ahora’, he quickly went to get some extra petrol for his motorboat to give us an exclusive late evening tour across a very tranquil lake (which by the way is not a given just because it’s right by a place called Puerto Tranquilo) – all the way to the most stunning marble caverns at the end of the world. And thanks to Jesus and his speedy efforts, we fortunately made it in time – the sun was still strong enough to reflect off the Patagonian Andes right onto Patagonia’s chiseled treasure.
Did you enjoy our Marble Caves so far?
Perhaps some playful words could remotely describe its natural and breath-taking beauty, yet living in an instagram era makes it perfectly all right to let our Don’t Complain Travel images speak for themselves. Take a look at the hypnotizing underworld of these stunning marble caverns and marble cathedral.
Formed by 6’000-plus years of waves washing up against calcium carbonate, the smooth, twirling blues of the Marble Caves’ walls are a reflection of Lake General Carrera’s azure waters, which change in intensity and shade, depending on water levels and time of year.
The Marble Caves and Marble Cathedral are best reached via Puerto Tranquilo, Chile. From Santiago de Chile, I would recommend to fly to Balmaceda (nearest airport to Coyhaique) and continue from there by car. Since the Carretera Austral (Route 7) is the only street that runs from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural Patagonia, it can’t be missed. After a roughly four hour ride on mostly gravel road, you’ll have arrived in the little town of Puerto Tranquilo. It’s easiest to organize a boat trip or rent a kayak from there. Alternatively, you could continue a few kilometers south: you’ll find a little path leading directly down to the Marble Caves. However, since it’s best experienced from the water, I would still vouch for the Puerto Tranquilo option.
If you are visiting the Marble Caves near Puerto Tranquilo, do not miss the chance for the day trip of a lifetime at the mighty San Rafael Glacier!
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