Carretera Austral

Tour Catedrales de Marmol – Patagonia’s Magical Marble Caves

Planning your Catedrales de Marmol tour and not sure where to start? You’re in the right place.

Reaching this glorious natural wonder, deep in the heart of Chile’s famous Carretera Austral, is a challenge in itself. But your hardship is worth it: a tour of Patagonia’s Marble Caves (Catedrales de Marmol) is one of the Aysén region’s highlights.

Capturing the unbelievable system of marble tunnels reflecting off impossibly blue water is a photographer’s dream. Thousands of years of erosion have created this spectacular and unique setting – it really can’t be missed.

Inaccessible by land, the only way to explore one of the most isolated natural wonders of the world is by boat or kayak. Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know about organising a tour of the Catedrales de Marmol (Marble Caves).

Speedboat pulling away from mainland in Patagonia
En route to the Marble Caves

How to Get to Puerto Río Tranquilo

Patagonia’s Catedrales de Marmol (Marble Caves) is found in the Aysén region of the Carretera Austral. They’re on the western shores of Lago General Carerra, but you’ll be basing yourself out of the small town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo.

View of Puerto Rio Tranquillo from Lago General Carrera
Sleepy Puerto Rio Tranquillo

The Catedrales de Marmol is an easy half-day tour. For travellers on a longer trip along Chile’s famous highway, be sure to make time for one of the region’s top attractions.

For those of us without a car, getting Puerto Rio Tranquilo is easier said than done – especially in the winter months. To put it into context, the closest major settlements are Coyhaique (5 hours away) and Cochrane (just a wee 4 hours away) respectively.

But upon your first sight of this natural wonder, all those hours of travel will be forgotten. We promise.

Inside the blue Marble Caves of Patagonia
Insanely beautiful Capillas de Marmol
CAR

As with all of Patagonia, the best and easiest way to navigate the Carretera Austral is by renting a car or campervan. However, for anybody without that kind of budget (including us!), hitchhiking to the small town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo is also a possibility.

HITCHHIKING

We came from chilled Puerto Guadal after spending a few nights on the phenomenal Lago General Carrera. In a serious error of judgement, we realised a little too late that there was no ATM in either Puerto Guadal or Rio Tranquilo. Rookie mistake, we know.

Somehow, we managed to hitch a lift to Cochrane, withdraw precious cash from seemingly the only bank in the region, and then get another ride all the way back to Puerto Rio Tranquilo! All in one afternoon. A rare hitchhiking success!

Marble Caves of Patagonia with bright blue lake waters
Keep an eye out for the mighty condors

However, getting a ride out of Puerto Rio Tranquilo was one of the toughest hitchhiking days we’ve ever had.

Starting at 07:30, there was already a queue of travellers trying to leave the small town. As the hours (yes, hours) wore on, people started giving up. We eventually managed to get to the front of the queue (standing opposite the petrol station).

After a full day waiting (and a flat tyre), our saviours came in the form of our Chilean pals Dani and Dario. Heed our warning – this is a tough stretch of Patagonian hitchhiking.

WEE TIP: Hitchhiking in Patagonia is a right-of-passage for many young people. Please don’t be a dick, and respect the ‘system’. Wait your turn and never skip the queue – even if the locals do.

Sun set over snowy mountain range from beach at Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Pink skies over Lago General Carrera
BUS

Another way to get to Puerto Rio Tranquilo for the Catedrales de Marmol (Marble Caves) tour is by bus. However, this is only really an option in the summer months.

If you don’t feel like trying your luck hitchhiking, we found the following buses left for both Cerro Castillo and Cochrane/Coyhaique most days.

Direction Cerro Castillo:
  • Bus 08:30 (price: $10,000 CLP)
  • Minivan 09:15 (price: $7,000 CLP)
  • Bus 12:00 (Bus Ali)
Direction Cochrane:
  • Bus 11:00 to Cochrane (price: $10,000 CLP)

This didn’t seem to be set in stone (welcome to Patagonia), but there’s a travel agent-cum-bus station next to the supermarket that you can check with. If a handy looking minivan appears, it would be worth your time to enquire.

Buses seemed to fill fast, so you may have to wait until tickets become available; sometimes not until the following day or two.

CYCLE

You can, of course, cycle to Puerto Rio Tranquilo as well, as part of a longer Carretera Austral trip. We actually met dozens of cyclists braving this brutally long journey.

A few people at our campsite told us that the stretch between Puerto Guadal and Puerto Rio Tranquilo was a tough (and steep!) one, so huge respect to all the cyclists arriving in the town. They deserve a beer. Or ten.

When is the Best Time to Visit the Catedrales de Marmol?

As we mentioned, the busier summer months (from December to March) are the easiest time to visit, both in terms of bus operations and hitchhiking success.

The boat operators will not set sail if the waters are too rough, so these summer months are also your best bet for decent conditions (although this is never guaranteed in Patagonia).

Speedboat on Lago General Carrera looking at rock formations
Up close and personal with the rock formations

Of course, the Marble Caves and the surrounding turquoise waters look best on a sunny day, early in the morning. But it’s difficult to guarantee in a region where the weather changes on an hourly basis without warning.

We got lucky with a clear, sunny morning. As soon as we started heading back to the dock, however, the heavens opened.

Be sure to bring a waterproof jacket and dry bag for your camera – regardless of any sunshine! The speedboats do little in the way of protecting you from lake splashback.

Organising Your Catedrales de Marmol Tour

So let’s get to it!

You have two Catedrales de Marmol tour options. You can choose between a boat trip (90 minutes – CH$10,000 CLP) or a half-day kayak tour (3 hours – CH$30,000).

Kayaker under marble rock formations in Patagonia
Kayaking through the rock formations

WEE TIP: As with many places along the Carretera Austral, there are no ATMs in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Please remember to stock up on cash in places like Coyhaique and Cochrane.

To organise your boat tour, head down to the dozen or so travel agency huts just off the main road and ask around. Try to organise it with a group. That way, you’ll get the best price (do NOT pay more than CH$10,000 per person), and it’s guaranteed that your tour will actually happen.

The best tours leave first thing in the morning. We arranged our tour the evening before with a company called Condor so that we had guaranteed seats on the 8am departure.

And, if you want to make the earliest tours, then you’ll need to book ahead. There are more tourists than seats available on boats.

However, we know that this won’t be an option for everybody. There are also afternoon tours, but these are definitely the second-best option. The light for any pictures is extremely harsh, and the water just isn’t quite as blue.

Other tours depart at 9am and 4pm. You can, alternatively, choose to depart from Puerto Mármol, which is a few km south. This is where your kayaking trip will begin from as well.

We heard that Puerto Mármol was quieter (and closer to the caves), but you’ll need your own transport to get there.

Catedrales de Marmol: the Tour

First thing’s first – make sure you sit near the front, on the right-hand side of your boat. Thank us later. You’ll be able to get the most from your guide there (so long as you speak Spanish), and the best views on the tour as well.

We’ve spoken about the Catedrales de Marmol tour, but there are actually a few different things you can expect to see on your trip. There’s a lot of confusion about the various attractions online, so let us explain.

Cavernas de Marmol

The first thing you’ll see on your tour is the Cavernas de Marmol. These are on the northern shore, and around a 15-minute ride from the jetty.

Marble rock formations against turquoise waters
First stop: Cavernas de Marmol

The cavernas are a series of marble caves, as you’ve probably already guessed. Your skipper will do his best to take you as far inside the caves as possible, and you’ll get a really cool view of the network of arches and tunnels within. This is all tide-dependent.

With the light blue reflections shimmering on the marble surface, the cavernas are impressive. But right around the shore, it gets even better.

Capillas de Marmol

And it gets even better with the poster-boy of Lago General Carrera – the Capillas de Marmol. These are found on the other side of the caves, on the southern side.

Entering the marble rock formations in lake
Magical Capillas de Marmol

On approach, the colour literally blew us away. It may be Instagram famous, but we’re happy to confirm that the Capillas de Marmol is definitely one of those places that look even better in real life.

6,000 years of waves have created a phenomenal work of art with the Capillas.

The thin spires, smooth walls, and deep openings reflect all of the incredible blue colours from the aqua water. The rippled marble stone glimmers with the moving waves and light dances along every layer.

The Capillas de Marmol reflecting off blue lake water
Is this real life?

Try to put down your camera for just a moment and take it in – it really does have to be seen to be believed. Thankfully, since this is the star of the show, your captain will allow plenty of time for everybody to get their pictures.

We’ve barely edited ours at all – it really is that blue.

Catedrales de Marmol

From the Capillas, you’ll continue to follow the inlet and skirt the rocky coves. You’ll probably see a few kayakers paddling nearby.

Then, as you begin to turn around, you’ll come to the giant Catedral de Marmol. This is the point when we regretted not splashing out (no pun intended) on the kayak tour.

Girl with lifejacket looking at large rock formation from boat
Checking out the Cathedral

Seeing the Catedral from a distance was pretty cool, but getting up close to this impossibly-shaped island would have been something else.

The Marble Cathedral protruding from Lago General Carrera
Catedrales de Marmol in all its glory

And then it’s over! You’ll head back for the jetty with a full SD card of shots. Listen carefully to your guide – he or she will be pointing out condor nests way, way above you. And, if you’re lucky, you may even spot one of these enormous birds as well.

We have no idea why there are so many different names for the tour. Catedrales de Marmol tour, Capillas de Marmol tour, and even the Cavernas de Marmol tour. Whichever tour you select, they’ll all be taking you to the same three places.

Where to Stay in Puerto Río Tranquilo

The majority of tourists visit sleepy Río Tranquilo in the high season. It’s reasonably well-equipped with a few hostals, hospedajes and cabañas.

But it really shines with its great selection of handy campsites and even wild camping spots for those travelling with their tent or in a campervan.

If you’re looking for free camping spots, remember to use the ever-useful iOverlander app to find the perfect spot to pitch, and thank the users while you’re there.

Couple sitting in front of campervan on beach
Camping spot, nailed!

These are the following campsites that we would recommend in Puerto Río Tranquilo:

Hosteria y Camping Bellavista our choice
  • CH$5,000 per person (camping)
  • CH$10,000 per person (double room)
  • Find out more
Camping Rio Chirifo
  • CH$6,000 CLP per tent (camping)
  • CH$10,000 CLP per person (double room)
  • Find out more
Camping Pudu
Fauna Patagonia Camping
  • CH$13,000 per person (camping + tour Catredrales de Marmol)

And there you have it – everything you need to know to plan your Marble Caves (Catedrales de Marmol) tour! We hope you enjoy this natural wonder as much as we did.

Tag us on Instagram and let us see your pictures! Give us a follow while you’re there, check out our Facebook page, and enjoy the caves as much as we did.

If you have any updates, want to tell us about your trip, or share your Rio Tranquilo hitchhiking success (fingers crossed), please be sure to leave us a comment below as well! If you’re planning to head to Cerro Castillo next, be sure to check out our Trekking Guide for the area.

Catedrales de Marmol Tour Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • hitchhike from Cochrane (free)

Total: CH$0 ($0)

Accommodation:

Campsite Bellavista

  • Camping
  • CH$5,000 (x2 nights)

Total: CH$20,000 ($24)

Attractions:
  • Catedrales de Marmol boat tour
  • CH$10,000

Total: CH$20,000 ($24)

Moving On:
  • Hitchhike to Cerro Castillo
  • CH$0

Total: $0 CLP ($0)

Total for 2D/2N: $40,000 CLP/$48

The above budget is for x2 people. Food and drink are not included.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.
*at the time of travel US$1 = CH$693. £1 = CH$880.
*currency rates change frequently in South America.

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