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?

Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and get exclusive information about our adventures!

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.


How to get to the Marble Caves & Marble Cathedral

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!


For questions or feedback regarding the Marble Caves, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

35 people recommend this.

About the author Julie Erler rotate

Survived the swamps of Atacama.

19 Comments

  • supi julie

  • Hi Julie,

    My name is Rajiv, Living in Chile from 3 years, basically from India. Your blog is really interesting and helps with the information. I am planning to visit marble caves Patagonia and san rafael glacier in December or January. Can you please tell me which is the best time to visit and if you have any contact with the tour agencies in both places, and where to rent a car to reach that place from Balmaceda airport.

    Thanks

    • Hi Rajiv – I’m answering on behalf of Julie, if that’s fine. 🙂 December and January should both be great times to go there – we where there in November and it was a bit rainy, but very comfortable nonetheless. For Marble Caves, you won’t need an agency. Just get to Puerto Tranquilo and you’ll find several boatmen that will take you there. For the San Rafael Glacier, we went with Río Explorades – ask for Christopher, he’s amazing! Hope it helps and let us know how it went!

      • Hi Valentin, thanks for the info (even though I know not addressed to me)…just one thing, do you know how I can bus down? I’m currently in Pucón and can get easily to puerto montt/Varas but I’m not sure how to get to puerto tranquilo via bus. Thanks in advance for any clarification!

  • Hey thanks can do some more on the marble caves pulllleeeeeaaaasssseeeee I used some of the facts from this and they are really interesting and my teacher thought they were to x😛

  • Hi there – currently planning a road trip down Ruta 40 in Argentina and making a stop in Puerto Tranquillo to see Marble falls. It’s a 4 hour drive from where we are potentially staying. How long are the boat tours for Marble falls? And are there departures all day or what time would you recommend getting down there by? Great information on your blog – I’m so excited!

    • Hi Kelsey, I think it took us roughly an hour – the Marble Caves are just a 5-10 minute boat ride from Puerto Tranquillo. We arrived there shortly before sunset, which was around 5 pm if I recall correctly. They were actually already closed, but someone saw us and made an exception. So I’d advise to get there latest by 3 pm; you’ll also have more sunlight which I think is very important to see the colors more vividly. Hope it helps and enjoy your road trip!

  • Hi Valentin,
    I was drawn by the beautiful images of the Marble Caves you have from your blog and decided to go there this coming April.
    Just got a few questions below:
    1- Is it easy to ask a boatman for a ride to the Marble Caves if I don’t speak any Spanish?
    2- How much approximately does it cost to go there with a boatman?
    3- I saw tour operators who run tour to the caves make their customers put on life jackets on their boats. haha~ I am not so much a fan of life jacket but do the boatmen you saw have enough safety equipments to protect tourists from any mishaps? I don’t think it’s very dangerous to hang around the Caves but I am just asking in case~ 😛
    4- Do you know if there’s any good accommodations / restaurants near the Marble Caves area?
    Look forward to your reply. Thank you ~

    • Hey Xuly,

      Really sorry about the almost a year-late reply, not sure how I missed your questions! I’m assuming you’ve already been on the trip in April, but I’ll still try to answer your questions for other readers.
      1 – Yes, it’s the main attraction in the village and easy to arrange on the spot.
      2 – I cannot remember, but I think they had standard prices and they were very reasonable.
      3 – Our boat had a simple ring buoy. We didn’t have any life jackets, but I’m sure you can ask for one, if preferred.
      4 – There are not too many options. We stayed in the Eco Hotel El Puesto, which I truly enjoyed. For a great grilled salmon, I’d suggest Restaurant Cerveceria Rio Tranquilo, which is right across the street from the lakeside.

      I’m sure you had a fantastic trip despite my late reply!
      Happy New Year!

  • We are traveling to Chile late December 2017/early January 2018. We plan on flying in to Balmaceda one evening.
    (1) Would you suggest spending the night in Balmaceda, or going ahead and getting on the road for the 3-4 hour trek to Puerto Tranquilo? I think we might need those 3-4 hours the following day, to make the most of our time.

    We would like to tour/view the Marble Caves, as well as see San Rafael Glacier, preferably all in one day (a full day I am sure). (2) Is this even possible?

    (3) Is there anything else to do, that you would suggest, in the surrounding area(s)?

    (4). After we finish everything we should hit in this area, we plan to get to Puerto Natales, and hike the “W” in Patagonia. How would you suggest we get there? Fly out of where?

    • Hi Brian, thanks for your comment! Let me try to answer your questions.

      (1) There’s really nothing much at Balmaceda. You’d need to drive to Coyhaique to spend the night, or ideally somewhere along the way to Puerto Tranquilo. We drove straight to Puerto Tranquilo; it’s very nice there!
      (2) I don’t think it is possible, as it took us an entire day to visit the San Rafael Glacier (we left very early and it was already dark when we returned, as far as I can remember). Only getting from Puerto Tranquilo to San Rafael Glacier is quite the trip! Also, the Marble Caves are just around the corner of Puerto Tranquilo and can be easily visited in 1-2 hours.
      (3) The landscape is so beautiful, just driving along the lake and visiting some farms is amazing! Best grilled salmon I had, as well!
      (4) As far as I know, there’s no convenient way out of that area, except back via Coyhaique/Balmaceda. Probably the easiest to fly out from there again, but I’d suggest some further research – I really don’t know.

      In any way, I’m very excited for you – and let me know if I can help!

  • Hello! I’m planning a visit to Chile in mid June. Do you think it’s possible to go to the caves in that time of the year? They look really amazing!

  • I have looked all over on the computer for the Eco Hotel El Puesto and cannot find it. Can you tell me how to get in touch with them?

  • Laure De Pryck July 6, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Hi!

    I’m planning a trip in Chile with a friend of mine, we’re going in August as I’m there for work at the time. As it’s winter I think it’s not a good idea to go to Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas? But we would still like to go to the Marble Caves and then travel back up to Santiago.

    Is there a bus to go to Puerto Tranquillo? As we would like to avoid to rent a car.

    Also, do you recommend any other stops we should take on the way back? We have about two weeks.

    Thank you!

    Laure

    • Hi Laure, thanks for your comment, and what a great idea! There actually is a bus to Puerto Tranquillo, going through the National Park before. However, as far as I know, this bus runs about once a day. You’re probably much better off hitchhiking, if you feel comfortable with it. I’m unfortunately not too familiar with the road back to Santiago, but Chile us so much too offer; just like the road south to Puerto Tranquillo, I’m sure going up north has so much incredible landscapes to offer!

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *