The Marble Caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo are one of the most stunning natural landscapes you’ll find not only in Patagonia, but South America. Our Marble Caves guide will thoroughly describe how to get there.

Unfortunately, getting to the Marble Caves in Patagonia is notoriously time consuming and difficult to get to. Plus, the little information available online about getting there is somewhat outdated. Despite the best effort of bloggers, the ways in which to visit the Marble Caves are ever changing. This is because transportation companies continue to offer different services.

Marble Caves | How to Get There

We will be the first to admit that our journey in February 2020 didn’t go exactly to plan. It ended up being a little stressful for us. So from what we’ve learnt, this is our up to date guide on how to visit the Marble Caves in Patagonia. It’s through being informed and having up to date information, that planning and awareness can help reduce the potential stress of unforeseen circumstances transpiring.

It’s our aim to provide you with such information to plan your trip. Please leave us a comment if the situation on navigating this route changes.

What are the Marble Caves?

The marble caves in Patagonia are nestled along the General Carrera Lake. The caves have been carved by wind and waves for thousands of years. The sun’s reflection off the beautiful blue glacial water exacerbates the rock’s blues, whites, pinks and yellows. This creates a magnificent feast of colours.

Getting to the Marble Caves in Patagonia is challenging but worth it for these views!
Getting to the Marble Caves in Patagonia is challenging but worth it for these views!

Where are the Marble Caves Located?

The Marble Caves are located in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Chilean Patagonia. They are found along the truly outstanding stretch of road known as the Carretera Austral. Beck and I love travelling to lesser known destinations. This location is absolutely worth the time and effort in getting there.

When is the Best Time to Visit?

The best time to visit the Marble Caves is from December – March during Patagonian summer. Outside of this season, the gravel road that leads to Puerto Rio Tranquilo can close. Furthermore, from April onwards there are far fewer services running in Patagonia in general. This makes it near impossible to plan a trip to the Marbles Caves at this time. Unless you’re willing to wait days at a time to get there and out.

Booking a Boat Tour of the Marble Caves

Marble Caves boat tour: This is the easy part! Tours to the caves seem to run in 2 blocks with departures from 8:30am throughout the morning and then more sessions from 2:30pm onwards throughout mid afternoon. The bus from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo will arrive in time to do an afternoon tour, around 1:45-2:15pm. So if you are leaving the next morning, this works perfectly.

When you get off the bus, there will even be friendly people offering a group tour for $10,000CLP/person ($12USD). All the companies offer the same tour for that price. They can be found in a street of shacks facing one another down by the old port. This is where the boat tours depart. See Google Maps below.

STORY TIME: It’s possible to head straight to the port from the bus to do a tour. But we wanted to drop our bags off first. So we headed to our accommodation around 2:10pm. We thought if we checked in our bags early, we could easily make the afternoon tours. Besides, it was only a 5 minute walk away. However we couldn’t locate the owner of Bellavista Camping. Once we finally found him, it was nearly 2:30pm. It must have been a funny sight for the locals watching 2 gringo’s running to the port to make it in time for the afternoon tours. One hat was lost in the process! In hindsight though, there wasn’t a need to rush. The afternoon tours only start running from 2:30pm. So if you arrive between 2:30-3:00pm, you’ll likely just join a slightly later tour after you choose the tour company, pay, etc.

Afternoon Tour Option for the Marble Caves

Morning or afternoon tour? Although an afternoon tour is possible on the day of arrival, the waters are notoriously rougher and choppier later in the day. This is what we experienced. So if you do go in the afternoon, wrap up in warm and waterproof clothes. Admittedly, we got absolutely soaked. So be careful with your belongings as they will get wet! Certainly make sure you have at the very least a waterproof bag cover. Visit 66 Items You Must Travel With to find out which warm and waterproof clothes we recommend for a trip to Patagonia.

There can be very rough conditions in the afternoon. This may compromise your chances of getting closer to and actually into the caves. But we didn’t encounter this issue.

The other reason we chose the caves in the afternoon was that heavy rain was forecast for the next few days. Knowing we only had limited time in Puerto Rio Tranquilo – we decided to go for it! The rule of thumb being, when in Patagonia do not delay outdoor activities if the weather is good! Although, if the weather permits, a morning tour is calmer. This means boats can navigate into the caves with greater ease and you won’t get anywhere near as wet! 

There are also options to rent a kayak to explore with a guide for anywhere between $20,000-$30,000CLP ($23-34USD).

The boat tour takes you inside the Marble Caves!
The boat tour takes you inside the Marble Caves!

Getting to the Marble Caves in Patagonia

Bus: We travelled Patagonia from bottom to top. If you’re travelling the same way, this is how to get to the Marble Caves via public transport.

Car hire: This is of course unless you decide to hire a car. We found car hire would be too expensive and also difficult with crossing borders in Patagonia. Plus, much of the Carretera Austral is unpaved, leading to rough road conditions. So that’s why we decided buses were the way to go in Patagonia. But if you decide to hire a car, we recommend using RentalCars.com if booking in advance online. Otherwise, booking upon arrival at a local car hire agency may be more risky in terms of availability and reliability but may also be cheaper.

Overnight Bus from El Chaltén to Los Antiguos

Overnight bus: Those travelling Patagonia on a shorter itinerary will usually visit El Chaltén. A magnificent playground for outdoor enthusiasts. For those able to travel Patagonia longer, El Chaltén is a great launch pad for the long journey north to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Never ideal, the overnight bus is a time efficient way to cover the distance. As far as we’re aware, there are no other real options. Like all buses in Patagonia, we felt completely safe. The bus departs 9pm, arriving in Los Antiguos 7:30-8am. We paid $49USD/person for a one way ticket with Chaltén Travel in advance using Busbud.

Tickets can also be purchased from Chaltén Travel in the main bus terminal. If booking this way, we would recommend doing so at least a few days ahead of time just in case. 

Please note that for the rest of the journey, it is well known, that booking and planning in advance can be very difficult. Verging on near impossible. So flexibility with your itinerary is still required.

However, it is our aim that someone may confidently book their trip ahead of time. Even if only by a few days. To do so, please follow on.

Bus from Los Antiguos (Argentina) Crossing the Border to Chile Chico (Chile)

Step 1: What we didn’t know was that Chaltén Travel run a morning bus service from Los Antiguos to Chile Chico. This leaves at 8:30am for around $15USD/person. This is perfect, as your overnight bus from El Chaltén will arrive at Los Antiguos in time!

Even with this knowledge, we could not find the route to book on Busbud or even book in advance on the Chaltén Travel website. However, it is possible to book this ticket at the Chaltén Travel office, in the El Chaltén bus station.

So we would HIGHLY recommend booking the Los Antiguos to Chile Chico bus ticket upon arrival in El Chaltén. You should book this along with the overnight bus if you hadn’t done so already on Busbud. Please note that we tried to book the Los Antiguos to Chile Chico bus ticket the night of boarding the overnight bus in El Chaltén. It was sold out.

The above information is critical in order to plan your route to the Marble Caves. Not knowing this meant we had to cross the border between Los Antiguos and Chile Chico on foot! This was an adventure in its own right and didn’t cost a thing. But it meant arriving into Chile Chico around 11:45am. This was too late for the bus services to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. They only run in the morning. Specifically, the bus from Los Antiguos should arrive in Chile Chico around 9:30-10am. This would be in time for the buses that head to Puerto Rio Tranquilo!

What if You Miss the Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo Bus?

Don’t worry! It happened to us. Because of this, we had an unexpected night in Chile Chico. We had to wait until the next day for the bus to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. It was annoying as we were so excited to get to the Marble Caves and didn’t want to be wasting anytime. But at least it gave us a day to relax. Admittedly, Chile Chico doesn’t get much tourism except for those passing by on their way north. So accommodation was plentiful. We cannot remember where we stayed, but we had the whole hotel to ourselves. We even got to pick the room we wanted! Plus, there’s always a chance that something like this can happen when travelling a rural area with irregular transport.

Bus from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo

Step 2: All buses going from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo are privately owned mini van transportation. They are all found at the main bus station in Chile Chico. Please see Google Maps below. As far as we’re aware, these companies do not display any bus departure times or confirmed days of travel online. Call or email them directly. That’s your best chance for up to date information. 

As of March 2020, these were the 2 private mini van companies doing the daily route. They both charge $15,000CLP ($18USD).

  • Turismo Tramal: Whatsapp +56975380178, contacto@turismotramal.cl
  • Transportes Costa Carrera: Whatsapp +56987388886, transportescostacarrera@gmail.com

The Private Transportation Companies

Turismo Tramal: Unfortunately, according to Turismo Tramal, their current departure time, as of 21 March 2020, is 9am. As the bus from Los Antiguos does not arrive until approximately an hour later, you would be unable to take this bus if you wanted to leave for Puerto Rio Tranquilo the same day. However, when we visited in February 2020, there was definitely a bus departing at 11:30am with this company. So when it’s your turn getting to the Marble Caves in Patagonia, make sure to contact the company to find out the latest.

Transportes Costa Carrera: Fortunately, Transportes Costa Carrera has a 10am departure and can be reserved in advance. Now you might be thinking, will my bus from Los Antiguos make it in time? The good news is, Transportes Costa Carrera actually works with Chaltén Travel and wait until the Los Antiguos bus arrives before departing to Puerto Rio Tranquilo.

In the worst case scenario that you miss the morning bus in Chile Chico, Transportes Costa Carrera may offer another option. They offered us a transport service to Puerto Rio Tranquilo for around $130,000CLP ($155USD) split between a maximum of 4 people ($32,500CLP/$38.50USD per person). This was if we could find others interested. We decided against this because the normal bus service is much cheaper. But it can be a last resort option. Apparently, several companies in town can arrange this. But we had significant difficulty locating them.

Visiting the Marble Caves in Patagonia involves going to the Transportes Costa Carretera office at the Chile Chico bus station.
Visiting the Marble Caves in Patagonia involves going to the Transportes Costa Carretera office at the Chile Chico bus station.

Marble Caves Recap

The Marble Caves are one of the most incredible places in the world, let alone Patagonia. Despite the beauty of these caves, they are not seen by a huge amount of tourists. That’s because they are quite challenging to get to. If time is on your side, and you are armed with patience, then seeing the Marble Caves is certainly a possibility for you. We hope this how-to guide will help you plan your adventure there.

Accommodation in Puerto Rio Tranquilo

Accommodation options are limited: So you have finally figured out how to visit the Marble Caves! Online booking in Puerto Rio Tranquilo is very limited. So accommodation (mostly cabañas [cabins]) books out in advance. What remained on Booking.com was very expensive. Plus, there were no Airbnb properties here. Alternatively, you could camp. Prior booking for camping is unnecessary even in peak season.

Bellavista Camping

Stay at Bellavista Camping. To book a cabaña in advance, we Whatsapp’d Bellavista Camping (+56981528505). Please see their very reasonable options below (sorry it’s in Spanish). They take advanced bookings with a 20% deposit made by international bank transfer. Travelling with my fiancé, we went with Option No.11 – Habitación matrimonial de 1 cama de 2 plazas. This translates to a cabin with 1 bed for 2 people for $25,000CLP/night ($29USD).

The accommodation was warm and cosy, with a large kitchen area. It had admittedly fairly average Wifi. Although you will likely be here for just a night so it’s no biggy! The host is very nice. Because we had to unexpectedly stay the night in Chile Chico, he kindly moved our booking to the next night. Also, he still accepted our deposit from the night before. This was even during peak season. But it seemed there were plenty of cabins available anyway. Perhaps booking ahead is not essential.

2020 price list for cabañas at Bellavista Camping.
2020 price list for cabañas at Bellavista Camping.

Getting out of Puerto Rio Tranquilo

Bus: We were able to organise a bus to Villa Cerro Castillo from Puerto Rio Tranquilo heading to Coyhaquie departing 8am. Actually, we booked the bus the day before for $10,000CLP/person ($12USD) after doing our afternoon boat tour. We booked at the main bus station that your incoming bus from Chile Chico would have arrived at. See Google Maps below.

Unfortunately, whether departing the bus earlier at Villa Cerro Castillo compared to the final destination of Coyhaique didn’t seem to change the price. Perhaps we could have questioned more before paying!

Buying Supplies

There are a few mini markets here: There are some very small supermarkets here with just the basics. Fruit and veg left much to be desired. Actually, a bunch of the mini markets were closed when we visited. So we can’t recommend any in particular. That’s because we just popped in to the only one that seemed to be open late afternoon.

Trip Duration

2 nights, if your plans work out: As mentioned before, previously planning a trip to Puerto Rio Tranquilo could be very difficult. It may have taken several days to complete the trip.

With the information provided though, it is possible to plan in advance and complete in a shorter time frame. That would be, from start to finish, 2 nights! 1 night on a bus and 1 night in Puerto Rio Tranquilo before heading onwards and upwards the following day. We don’t like to waste anytime when travelling as we want to see as much as possible. Life’s too short anyway!

Total Costs

  • Overnight bus: $38,000CLP ($49USD/person).
  • Bus from Los Antiguos to Chile Chico: $11,500CLP ($15USD/person).
  • Mini Van Transport from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo: $15,000CLP ($18USD/person).
  • Accommodation: $25,000CLP ($29USD) for 2 people.
  • Boat tour: $10,000CLP/person ($12USD).
  • Bus to Villa Cerro Castillo: $10,000CLP/person ($12USD).
  • Groceries: $23,000CLP ($30USD) for 2 people.

= $104,500CLP/person ($135.50USD) for approximately 2 nights / 2 days

Five Travel Essentials for the Marble Caves

Bonus Tips

  • Taqsa/Marga DOES NOT run a Los Antiguos to Chile Chico bus service: We saw this as an option from some recent blogs from 2019. Also, this company advertised this route on their website. But as of February 2020, this company DOES NOT run this route anymore!
  • The Martín Pescador Store: Contrary to what we had read online, the Martín Pescador store does not currently offer any shared mini van transport to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. For the Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo transportation, you should head directly to the main bus station!
  • Visit in good weather: Try your best to do a boat tour when the sun is shining. This is because the cave’s colours reflecting the water become more vivid and intense. However, even with a slightly overcast afternoon, the colours of the cave were still spectacular!

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