The Marble Caves are one of the most stunning natural attractions in the world. Located in Puerto Rio Tranquilo in the Patagonia area of Chile, the Marble Caves are becoming increasingly well known. But, reaching the Marble Caves in Patagonia isn’t easy. You’ll require time, patience and some know-how. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting the hard-to-reach Marble Caves in Chile.
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Marble Caves, Patagonia, Chile
The Marble Caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Chile, are one of the most stunning natural landscapes you’ll find in Patagonia and in all of South America. Despite the beauty of these caves, they’re not seen by a huge number of tourists. That’s because they’re quite challenging to get to!
If time is on your side and you are armed with patience, then seeing the Marble Caves in Chile should be high on your bucket list. Indeed, we hope this guide will help you plan your adventure there! Of course, please leave us a comment if there are any updates about how to get to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Private companies are constantly changing transportation options to and from Puerto Rio Tranquilo. That means the situation regarding the best way to get there is always changing.
Anyway, before we dive into the nitty-gritty details about how to get to Puerto Rio Tranquilo to see the Marbles Caves, we’ll answer some commonly asked questions about this natural wonder in Chile.
FYI – the Marbles Caves are also known as the Marble Caves of Patagonia, Chile Chico Marble Caves, Marble Caves of Chile Chico and the Marble Caverns of Carrera Lake.
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What Are the Marble Caves in Chile?
The Marble Caves are a series of beautiful caves dotted along the shore of the General Carrera Lake in Chile. 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.
Where Are the Marble Caves in Chile?
The Marble Caves are located in Puerto Rio Tranquilo in the Chile part of 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 certainly off the beaten track. It’s absolutely worth the time and effort in getting to Puerto Rio Tranquilo in Chile to explore the Marble Caves.
To help get your bearings, feel free to check out this Marble Caves Chile map.
When Is the Best Time to Go?
The best time to visit the Marble Caves in Chile is from December to March during Patagonian summer. Outside of this season, the gravel road that leads to Puerto Rio Tranquilo can close. Also, from April to November, 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. That’s unless you’re willing to wait days at a time to get to and from Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
Now we’ve covered what the Marble Caves are, where they are and when to visit, let’s talk about how to get there!
How to Visit the Marble Caves in Chile, Patagonia
There are a few different options for visiting the Marble Caves in Chile. Let’s look at the options below.
UPDATE: Please read through the comments at the end for the latest details on the border crossing, current transport options and costs. Please leave us a comment to help us and your fellow travellers keep up to date with the latest information about visiting the Marble Caves. The information below can become outdated quickly.
Most people will use buses to get to Puerto Rio Tranquilo to see the Marble Caves. In this guide, we’ll detail our journey (and the common journey) for people travelling north to Puerto Rio Tranquilo from El Chalten. We’ll also cover information about buses travelling southwards to Peurto Rio Tranquilo, usually from Coyhaique or Villa Cerro Castillo.
The closest airport to Marble Caves in Chile is Balmaceda Airport. You can’t fly directly there from overseas. If travelling from overseas, you’ll need to fly to Santiago Airport initially and then to Blamaceda Airport. From Balmacede Airport, you should then head to Coyhaique. From Coyhaique, you’ll get a bus going to Cochrane, which passes through Villa Cerro Castillo and Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
Skyscanner is our go-to website for booking flights. If you’re looking to find the cheapest flights, we recommend getting the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search. It allows you to scan all airlines and platforms to find the cheapest airfares.
To find out more about booking the cheapest flights, read our Skyscanner review.
Of course, you may not need to get buses or fly if you decide to hire a car. Personally, we found car hire too expensive. Additionally, much of the Carretera Austral is unpaved, so you’ll need to be brave enough to drive on rough road conditions. That’s why we decided buses were the way to go in Patagonia.
If you decide to hire a car, we recommend booking in advance online uding Discover Cars. Otherwise, booking upon arrival at a local car hire agency may be riskier in terms of availability and reliability.
If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.
What to Expect With Getting to the Marbles Caves in Chile
Unfortunately, getting to the Marble Caves in Chile is notoriously time-consuming and difficult to get to. In addition, the little information available online about getting there is usually outdated. Despite the best effort of bloggers and travel companies, the best way to visit the Marble Caves is ever-changing. This is because private transportation companies continue to offer different services.
We’ll be the first to admit that our journey in February 2020 didn’t go exactly to plan. Certainly, from our mistakes, we can advise on the best way to get to the Marble Caves in Chile. Although, as mentioned before, let us know if transport options to the Marble Caves in Chile have changed and we’ll update this guide!
Getting to Puerto Rio Tranquilo From El Chalten
Commonly, travellers will make their way south to north in Patagonia. If so, you’ll likely be travelling to Puerto Rio Tranquilo from El Chalten. Personally, that’s what Beck and I did. By telling you about our experience, we hope the journey to the Marble Caves in Chile is simple and straightforward for you.
Overnight Bus from El Chalten to Los Antiguos
Those travelling in Patagonia on a shorter itinerary will usually visit El Chalten. It’s a magnificent playground for outdoor enthusiasts. For those able to travel in Patagonia for longer, El Chalten is a great launch pad for the long journey north to Puerto Rio Tranquilo to visit the Marble Caves.
Although never ideal, the overnight bus is a time-efficient way to cover the distance. As far as we’re aware, there are no daytime options. Like all buses in Patagonia, we felt completely safe throughout the journey. The bus usually departs around 9pm, arriving in Los Antiguos at about 7:30–8am. We paid $49USD/person for a one-way ticket with Chaltén Travel in advance using Busbud.
Busbud is one of the best online bus booking platforms. Wherever you’re travelling, you can easily compare bus tickets from different companies and book the best option for your trip. We highly recommend using Busbud to find the cheapest bus fares.
Tickets can also be purchased from Chaltén Travel at 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 beyond Los Antiguos, it’s well-known, that booking and planning in advance is difficult. So flexibility with your itinerary is certainly ideal.
Bus from Los Antiguos (Argentina) Crossing the Border to Chile Chico (Chile)
What we didn’t know was that Chaltén Travel usually runs a morning bus service from Los Antiguos to Chile Chico. This usually leaves at around 8:30am for around $15USD/person. This is perfect, as your overnight bus from El Chalten will arrive at Los Antiguos at around 7:30–8am!
Personally, we couldn’t find this bus route on Busbud nor could we even book in advance on the Chaltén Travel website. But, it’s possible to book this bus (from Los Antiguos to Chile Chico) at the Chaltén Travel office at the El Chaltén bus station.
We 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 in Chile. 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 in Chile Chico at around 11:45am. This was too late for the bus services to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. They only run in the early and mid-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.
FYI – if you do end up needing to cross the border by foot, the border crossing is usually open from 8am–8pm.
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 any time. Of course, there’s always a chance that something like this can happen when travelling in a rural area with irregular transport. 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 can’t remember where we stayed, but we had the whole hotel to ourselves! We even got to pick the room we wanted.
Bus from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo
All buses going from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo are privately owned. These minivans are all found at the main bus station in Chile Chico. As far as we’re aware, these companies do not display any bus departure times or confirmed days of travel online. You’ll have to call or email them directly. That’s your best chance for the latest information about timetables, departure time and availability.
Currently, there seem to be two private minivan companies doing the daily route to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. They both charge $15,000CLP per person ($18USD) for the bus from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
- Turismo Tramal: Whatsapp +56975380178, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Transportes Costa Carrera: Whatsapp +56987388886, email@example.com
The Private Transportation Companies
Turismo Tramal: unfortunately, according to Turismo Tramal, their current departure time is 9am. As the bus from Los Antiguos doesn’t arrive until approx. an hour later, you would be unable to take this bus if you wanted to leave for Puerto Rio Tranquilo the same day. But, when we visited in February 2020, there was definitely a bus departing at 11:30am with this company. So when it’s your turn to get to the Marble Caves in Chile, 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 waits 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 private transport service to Puerto Rio Tranquilo for around $130,000CLP ($155USD) split between a maximum of four people ($32,500CLP/$38.50USD per person). This could work if you find others interested or are travelling with a group.
Personally, we decided against this because the normal bus service is much cheaper. But, it’s a decent last-resort option. Apparently, several companies in town can arrange this. But, we had difficulty locating them.
Bus From Coyhaique to Puerto Rio Tranquilo
If you’re travelling through Patagonia from top to bottom, then you may be needing to get to Puerto Rio Tranquilo from Coyhaique. There are daily buses from Coyhaique to Cochrane, which stop at Villa Cerro Castillo and Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Usually, buses depart at around 6:30am and 9:30am and take about five hours. Expect to pay around $15,000CLP per person ($20USD).
Keep in mind that you’ll need to buy the bus ticket to Cochrane; but, you’ll get off at Puerto Rio Tranquilo. We recommend booking this bus in advance. Please note that in bad weather or if there are poor road conditions, the bus may be cancelled.
Now you know how to get there, let’s talk about the extraordinary boat tour. Indeed, you’ll need to take a boat tour to explore the marvellous Marble Caves in Chile.
Booking a Boat Tour of the Marble Caves
Certainly, getting to Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Chile, to see the Marble Caves isn’t straightforward. But, booking a Marble Caves boat tour is actually the easy part! Boat trips to the caves seem to run in two 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, at around 1:45–2:15pm. The earliest bus from Coyhaique should also arrive in time for the afternoon tour. So, if you’re leaving Puerto Rio Tranquilo the next morning, this works perfectly.
When you get off the bus, there’ll be local people offering a group tour for around $20,000CLP/person ($24USD). All the companies offer the same tour for around that price (as of 2023). The offices of these companies are found in a street of shacks facing one another down by the old port. This is where the boat tours depart.
It’s even possible to head straight to the port from the bus (arriving from Chile Chico or Coyhaique) to do a Marble Caves tour. Personally, we wanted to drop our bags off first. So, we headed to our accommodation, checked in our bags and headed back to the old port. The afternoon tours start running at around 2:30pm.
Morning or Afternoon Tour Option For the Marble Caves?
Although an afternoon tour of the Marble Caves in Chile is possible on the day of arrival, the waters are notoriously rougher and choppier later in the day. This is certainly 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.
As mentioned, there can be very rough conditions in the afternoon. This may compromise your chances of being allowed to get closer to and inside the caves.
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, the water during a morning tour is usually calmer. This means boats can navigate into the caves with greater ease and you won’t get anywhere near as wet!
Kayaking tour: there are also options to rent a kayak to explore with a guide for anywhere between $35,000–$45,000CLP per person ($43–56USD).
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Puerto Rio Tranquilo
So, you have finally figured out how to visit the Marble Caves in Chilean part of Patagonia! Keep in mind that accommodation options in Puerto Rio Tranquilo are fairly limited. This means it’s not uncommon for accommodation to book out in advance. Below, we’ll review the best accommodation options in Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
Budget – Los Alamos
Mid-range – Adventure Travel B&B
Bellavista Camping: A Great Budget Option
Another option is to stay at Bellavista Camping. To book a cabin in advance, we contacted Bellavista Camping via Whatsapp (+56981528505). They take advanced bookings with a 20% deposit made by international bank transfer. Personally, Beck and I booked a cabin with one bed for two people. In 2023, the cost is around $45,000CLP/night ($56USD).
The accommodation was warm and cosy with a large kitchen area. It had admittedly fairly average Wifi. Although you’ll likely be here for just a night or two 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 for Bellavista Camping isn’t essential.
Bellavista Camping also offers kayaking tours, usually for a cheaper rate too. We’ve heard they charge around $35,000 per person ($43USD) for a kayaking tour.
FYI – there are quite a few campsites in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Prior booking for camping is usually unnecessary even in peak season. That’s certainly one benefit of camping!
Departing Puerto Rio Tranquilo
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 Marble Caves boat tour. We booked at the main bus station in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Unfortunately, whether departing the bus earlier at Villa Cerro Castillo compared to the final destination of Coyhaique didn’t seem to change the price.
If you’re heading south, your next destination is likely to be El Chalten in Argentina. In that case, you’ll need to get yourself from Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Chile Chico. You’ll then cross the border to Los Antiguos and then get the bus to El Chlaten. Basically, you’ll need to follow our Getting to Puerto Rio Tranquilo From El Chalten in reverse. Good luck – it’s quite the journey!
Marble Caves Chile Facts
Below, we’ll talk about some fun facts about the Marble Caves in Patagonia, Chile.
- Change in colour: depending on the depth of the water and weather conditions, the Marbles Caves in Chile appear to change colour!
- The caves aren’t mostly made of marble: the Marble Caves in Chile are about 95% calcium carbonate from the General Carrera Lake.
- Marble Caves Chile history: the caves formed about 6,200 years ago.
FAQs About the Marble Caves in Chile
Below, we’ll answer some of the other most frequently asked questions about the Marble Caves in Chile.
Are the Marble Caves Worth Visiting?
Yes, visiting the Marbles Caves is one of the best things you can do in the Chile part of Patagonia.
What Are the Marble Caves Known For?
The Marble Caves are known for having extraordinary rock and cliff formations. Some of the most famous landforms at the Marble Caves in Chile are known as the Chapel and the Marble Cathedral.
How Were the Marble Caves of Chile Formed?
Large deposits of marble have been carved by wind and waves for thousands of years, creating the caves we see today.
Can You Swim in the Marble Caves in Chile?
No, as far as we’re aware, you can’t swim at the Marble Caves in Chile, Patagonia.
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Travel Essentials For Visiting the Marble Caves in Chile
As mentioned, if you’re doing an afternoon tour of the Marble Caves in Chile, make sure to pack plenty of waterproof gear. This might include a waterproof jacket, waterproof bag cover or waterproof over trousers. Otherwise, here are some other general travel essentials for your South America trip.
Anker Portable Power Bank
Keep your phone, laptop and other accessories charged while you’re on the go with the Anker Portable Power Bank. We wouldn’t travel without this high-quality portable charger.
Sea to Summit DryLite Towel
The Sea to Summit DryLite Towel is the best quick-dry microfibre towel. This compact, lightweight and super-absorbent towel is perfect for travel.
EPICKA Universal Travel Adapter
Having an EPICKA Universal Travel Adapter is one of the best accessories to travel with, especially if you’re travelling to multiple continents during your trip.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
If you’re looking for the most budget-friendly yet high-quality noise-cancelling headphones for travel, then look no further than the Anker Soundcore Space Q45.
To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite travel gear, camera gear and hiking gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.
- Taqsa/Marga doesn’t run a Los Antiguos to Chile Chico bus service: as of February 2020, this company doesn’t seem to run this route anymore!
- The Martín Pescador Store: contrary to what you’ll read online, the Martín Pescador Store doesn’t currently offer any shared minivan 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. But, even with a slightly overcast afternoon, the colours of the cave are still spectacular!
- There are a few mini-markets in Puerto Rio Tranquilo: there are some very small supermarkets with just the basics. Don’t expect any luxury items!
- The ports can close if winds are too strong: it may be worth having a couple of days up your sleeve in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. That’s just in case the ports are closed and you have to wait a day or two to do a Marble Caves boat tour.
If you enjoyed reading our Marble Caves guide, have a read of one of our other Patagonia guides.