The Marble Caves (also called the Capillas de Mármol) is one of the best-hidden gems in Chile’s Patagonia region.
If you are planning a trip down the scenic Carretera Austral Highway in southern Chile, the Marble Caves is a must!
These beautiful caves are located in the middle of General Carrera Lake and can be only accessed by boat or kayak.
In our guide below we cover how to get to the Marble Caves, best tour options, cost, when NOT to go and other helpful tips!
Here is all you need to know for visiting Marble Caves in Patagonia, Chile:
- What Are The Marble Caves
- Where Are The Marble Caves Located
- How To Visit The Marble Caves
- What To Expect
- Best Time To Go
- Where To Stay
What Are The Marble Caves
Chile’s Marble Caves is one of the most extraordinary places to visit in South America.
The magnificent Marble Caves have formed over the last 6000+ years as the water melted from the nearby glaciers filling up General Carrera Lake and washing up against these solid rocks slowly carving out intricate caverns, columns, and tunnel systems.
Over thousands of years, this mineral-rich glacier water also changed the color and shape of the Marble Cave formations to beautiful hues of blues, greens, blacks, and yellows.
Instead of mining these unique marble rocks the surrounding area protects them while permitting visitors to come and tour the Marble Caves.
Where Are The Marble Caves Located
With colorful swirling patterns and turquoise blue water, Marble Caves attract visitors from all over the world – despite the remote location and difficulty in accessing them.
Marble Caves are located on General Carrera Lake in southern Chile. General Carrera Lake is the biggest lake in Chile and it spans across from Chile into Argentina. But the Marble Caves are located and accessible from the Chile side so you’ll need to travel into Chile through Chile Chico city if you plan to visit these cave formations from Argentina.
We visited Marble Caves during our 15-month long Pan-American road trip from the US. Having a personal car definitely made it easier for us to visit this location since it is pretty remote and far away from any major cities. But if you’re already planning a trip down to Patagonia, the Marble Caves is one of those bucket list spots that are well worth a trip.
The closest town to the Marble Caves is Puerto Rio Tranquilo in southern Chile. Puerto Rio Tranquilo town itself is very small and the majority of the businesses here cater to Marble Cave visitors. You’ve got a few restaurants, hostels, a gas station but that’s about it.
How To Visit The Marble Caves
To visit the Marble Caves you will need to sign up with a local tour company. Most of the tour companies operate from Puerto Rio Tranquilo town in Chile and you have the option to take a boat tour or a kayak tour.
Taking a boat tour is the cheapest and quickest option of the two so this is what we chose during our visit.
When we arrived at Puerto Rio Tranquilo we noticed that the majority of the tour companies were lined up along the lakefront next to each other. All of the guides charged the same price for a boat tour and operated every day (as long as the weather is good).
After chatting with a few of the tour companies we arranged a Marble Cave boat tour for the next morning for 10,000 Chilean Pesos ($13 USD) per person.
Do note that the tour operators don’t have credit card machines so the tour companies prefer payment in cash – which we didn’t have and made things a bit more difficult. Try to get cash from a bigger city before traveling to Puerto Rio Tranquilo to avoid any issues with payment.
If you’d rather visit the Marble Caves on a kayak tour, 99% Aventura is one of the most popular companies for kayaking expeditions. This tour is around 3 hours long and costs 40,000 Chilean Pesos ($52) per person. If you’re interested in a kayak tour, you can fill out a Marble Cave kayak tour reservation form on their website here.
What To Expect
Our boat tour of the Marble Caves lasted almost two hours including transfer time to the caves and back.
We met our guide right outside of the tour office and he led us down to the boat dock where we boarded the boat. The boat itself was pretty small and we had to share our tour with another family but the boat wasn’t overly packed like some other tours that we’ve taken in South America.
Within a short boat ride, we reached the first Marble Cave system which was pretty surreal to see in person. I had seen a few beautiful photos of the Marble Caves online but in person, the caves looked equally mesmerizing.
There were multiple beautiful rock formations that we visited on our tour called the Marble Caves, the Chapel and the Cathedral. Our boat captain took us inside a few of the caves so we could get a closer look while the captain explained a bit about the Marble Caves in Spanish (most of which I missed since my Spanish is not that great).
We had plenty of photo opportunities at most of the locations despite the rocking boat. Just make sure to have your phone or camera ready since you’ll be visiting multiple locations and the captain won’t linger around too long.
Depending on the weather, the Marble Cave boat tour can get pretty choppy and cold especially when winds start picking up. Make sure to bundle up and wear plenty of layers so you feel comfortable and warm during this tour.
You also get quite a lot of water splashed onto you during the faster transfer portion to and from the Marble Caves. We wore water-resistant jackets with hoodies to protect ourselves from getting wet and brought a bag to store our camera gear during the boat ride.
The glacier water in General Carrera lake always stays super cold throughout the year so you won’t need to wear a bathing suit on the Marble Cave tour as swimming or falling into the water can be pretty dangerous.
Best Time To Go
Chile’s Marble Caves are located on a lake and tours to these caves often depend on the weather. If the winds are expected to pick up too much, sometimes all of the tours get canceled for safety reasons.
The best time for either a boat or a kayak tour of the Marble Caves is early in the morning. In the morning the weather in the Patagonia region is much calmer so you can enjoy the boat ride without worrying about the weather too much. Plus in the morning you can get some really awesome photos with the sun rising above General Carrera Lake illuminating these caves.
I highly recommend arranging a tour as early as possible, preferably before noon. Try to avoid afternoons and evenings when winds in this area pick up quite a bit making the boat ride to Marble Caves super rocky.
Preferably you also want to visit these caves on a sunny day especially if you want to get any cool photos of the turquoise lake.
The General Carrera Lake water comes from nearby glaciers that bring lots of mineral sediments into this lake. On a bright day when sunlight reflects off from the water, the minerals in this lake change color making it look super blue.
Where To Stay
Truthfully Puerto Rio Tranquillo is one of the smallest fishing towns that we visited in South America and although it does have a few cabin style hotels and hostels, overall this town is very small and your lodging options are pretty limited. If you can find a hotel with working WiFi, consider yourself lucky.
We were traveling in our custom-built campervan so we just camped right on the lakefront for free but we did check out some of the nearby hostels for WiFi, bathrooms, and food.
Cabañas Valle Exploradores is one of the most popular hotels in Puerto Rio Tranquillo town with bungalow-style cabins that are located just a few blocks away from the lake and Marble Cave tour companies.
If you’re looking for something a bit more picturesque and unique, an hour south from Puerto Rio Tranquilo is Pared Sur Camp, an awesome eco-style hotel that we stumbled upon while driving down the Carretera Austral Highway.
Pared Sur Eco-Camp offers a few different types of lodging rooms but my favorites were their eco-domes situated right on General Carrera Lake offering amazing views from the room.
Plus this hotel has these really awesome wooden hot tubs overlooking the lake that are super cute and relaxing especially for a romantic getaway.
Looking for other cool things to do near the Marble Caves in Chile? Here are a few other blog posts covering awesome things to do in the area:
- 10 Unreal Places To Visit Along Carretera Austral Highway In Chile
- The Ultimate Guide To Patagonia National Park In Chile
- All You Need To Know For Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier In Argentina
- The Ultimate Guide To Visiting Pumalín National Park In Chile
- Top Hikes To Do Around Villarrica And Pucón, Chile
For more travel inspiration check out our Pan-American road trip guide that covers tips and everything you need to know for traveling South America in a campervan!
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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