Let this picture get constructed in your mind…
…you are aboard a tiny boat amidst Patagonia’s snow-capped mountains on Lake General Carrera’s glistening, turquoise waters straddling Chile and Argentina.
…as you go, the wind slithers through your hair, and the sun smooches your countenance…
…until your eyes are treated with the bizarrely shaped marble protrudes chiseled out by the Patagonian wind and waves years ago.
…in the morning, the marble ceiling reflects a vivid blend of blue, turquoise, yellow, and white.
During sunset, the light mirrors the crystal-clear glacial water of the lake.
What a spectacular sight it would be!
The Marble Caves of Patagonia, Chile, is an Insta- worthy spot that entrances photographers, geologists, and inquisitive travelers.
It is the ultimate stunning complex cave network on planet Earth!
So, transcend into this article to know everything about this art sculpted by nature for us thousands of years ago.
Jump right in!
1. Bite-Sized Information About the Marble Caves of Patagonia
No wonder the Chilean Patagonia is gifted by nature with some striking landscapes. However, most of them remain inaccessible and unknown to the world outside.
And one such case is the Cuevas de Mármol, or the Marble Caves, located just beside the miniature village of Puerto Rio Tranquilo in Southern Chile.
They are the most stunning places that are sure to steal your heart away.
These are calcium carbonate-rich rocks that have been carved into caverns, tunnels, and enormous columns.
Interestingly these caves are actually three combined as one. So, if you take a boat trip to see them, you might be visiting;
- The cave (Cuevas de Mármol),
- The chapel (La Capilla de Mármol)
- The cathedral (La Catedral de Mármol)
Now there is no doubt that the rocks play the role of show stealers. If you just peep down, there is yet another fantastic feature that adds beauty to the rocks.
It’s the glacial meltwaters!
This is the culprit to add the aesthetic view of the rocks with varying blue hues depending on the weather, season, and water levels.
From turquoise and sapphire to seafoam greens this lake paints the swirling veins in the rocky walls around you.
But the most exciting part is that you can see the unique rock formations heading downward below the transparent waters, taking your breath away!
Just think about it. A whole world below the waters going down miles and miles- a rare treat you might not get elsewhere!
Today, this rare gem in the farthest corner of Chile has grown in popularity for tourists taking a Patagonian tour to take a break from reality and experience the magic.
2. What are the Marble Caves of Patagonia Made of?
The answer is Marble!
These non-foliated metamorphic rocks are formed due to high heat and pressure compacting sedimentary rocks. That’s the reason why the Caves have 95% calcium carbonate.
And a notable property of marble is that it can dissolve in water.
So, the caves we see today were formed when waters seeped into the minute fissures of the rocks and eroded them persistently over time.
This has enlarged them into the broad caves we see today.
Finally, waves washed away the dissolved stuff, leaving a bewildering beauty of uncountable caves, mazes, tunnels, and columns.
3. A Dip into the Marble Caves, Chile History
With so much splendor and beauty decked on the Marble Caves of Patagonia, you might as well be intrigued to know how the Caves (collectively known as the Marble Cathedral) in Chile formed.
So, here we zoom swirling into the past and look at how nature began tailoring the caves!
3.1 The Marble Caves of Patagonia Geography
A long time ago history of the Marble Caves began with the Patagonian Lake erosion of General Carrera in Chile.
This erosion curved the place’s abundant calcium carbonate deposits that date back millions of years ago.
According to history, the area around General Carrera hailed since the Jurassic Period some 200 million years ago when the Andes uplifted via tectonic activity.
As a result, the rivers that arose from the melting glaciers and eroded the mountains. This led to the secretion of calcium carbonate in the lake.
The marble deposits you see today primarily comprise recrystallized limestone.
This is nothing but a sedimentary rock that contains an enormous quantity of calcium carbonate.
Now how did the sedimentary rock bring forth calcium carbonate?
The answer is simple.
This type of rock arose from the accumulation of skeletons and shells of the marine organisms that once inhabited the depths of the shallow sea.
And as time passed, the calcium carbonate in the dead matter compacted and recrystallized to the marbles we see in the caves today!
Why are there then unique shapes to the caves?
The answer is that General Carrera Lake had a higher dissolved concentration of calcium carbonate that eroded the marble over millennia.
This created the distinct patterns and shapes you see today.
Marble Caves Facts: Did you know? The erosion of the marble is prevalent even today. You can find newer shapes and patterns appearing on the surface each year you visit it.
Ultimately, the negative side of uncontrolled erosion is that the rocks below the water surface are dwindling than those found above.
You can see it at a distance.
The top part of the caves appears gigantic, and the lower part appears thin.
It is perhaps that one day these structures might fall into the water if the bases are constantly eroded!
3.2 How did the Marble Caves in Patagonia Come Alive?
The marble rocks were formed due to metamorphism, a process that transforms pre-existing rocks under extreme pressure and heat.
The original rock that underwent this transformation was a variety of limestone deposited at the shallow sea depths that blanketed the region around 200-400 million years ago.
With time, the limestone was buried at the depths of the Earth’s surface via tectonic activity.
Here, it underwent severe pressure and heat up to 400-500°C.
As a result, the limestone recrystallized and became harder and more durable marble that was primarily composed of the mineral calcite.
Later, consecutive erosions and upliftment protruded the marble to the surface.
It was further shaped and polished by the Carrera Lake for millions of years to the stunning marble Caves.
3.3 Erosion and Weathering Perspectives of Shaping the Marble Cathedral
These two features significantly influence the caves to provide their patterns and shapes.
Also, the water in the lake shaped the caves through chemical weathering, dissolving the calcium carbonate.
As a result, the vibrant blue hues of the lake fill the colorless spaces of the caves giving it a natural charm.
4. Where are the Marble Caves in Chile?
You can find these caves perching on Patagonia on the Chilean side of Carrera Lake.
This lake is present right outside Puerto Rio Tranquilo, a small Chilean town in the Aysen region.
However, you must also note that Chile and Argentina share the Carrera Lake.
So, if you are going to the caves, you might not find it possible from the Argentina side.
Hence, you must transit the border at Chile Chico and navigate to Puerto town to reach the Marble Caves.
Feel free to check out the Marble Caves on Google Maps here to keep you on track!
5. Which is the Right Time to Enjoy the Marble Caves in Patagonia?
The best time to land at the caves is during the Patagonian summer months between December and March.
Unfortunately, February shoots up crowds to the caves.
However, March and November are also great times with fewer crowds and cooler weather.
Unfortunately, you must note that the gravel road that directs to Puerto Rio Tranquilo might shut down after summer (during off- season).
Also, fewer services are available off-season, making it impossible to make it to the caves.
I have heard that other travelers have taken a trip twice and returned without making it to the caves off-season.
So, in my opinion, try getting to the caves in December or March when the weather is good and after the crowds have dispersed.
Now, let’s talk about how to get there!
6. How to Get to the Marble Caves Chile?
The best option for an organized touring experience is to sign up with a Marble Caves Chile tour company. Most of them operate from Puerto, where you can take a boat or Kayak tour.
But honestly, the quickest and cheapest option is to choose a boat tour if you want to spend less time in the caves.
Otherwise, if you want a more intimate experience, choose a Kayak ride to the caves.
Travel Tips: Do have cash withdrawn from a bigger city before taking the kayak or the boat tour. Most tour companies might not have a credit card machine with them.
On the other hand, here are the other modes of transport to drop you there in Puerto Rio town. But the only mode to reach the caves is by boat, ferry, or kayak.
So, do follow the information and travel tip you just saw above.
This is the popular and shared transportation that most tourists opt for. You can take a bus from El Chalten in the North to Puerto Rio.
From the South, you can take a bus from Coyhaique or Villa Cerro Castillo to get to Puerto Town.
6.2 By Air
Take a flight to the Balmaceda Airport, the closest airport to Marble Caves Chile. If you are flying from overseas, first land at Santiago Airport and finally at Balmaceda Airport.
Then reach Coyhaique to take a bus that passes via Villa Cerro Castillo and Puerto Rio.
6.3 Rental Car
This is a bit pricey here, and many tourists who hired a car had to battle the unpaved Carretera Austral Road conditions.
This to avoid fraudulence and risk in terms of availability and reliability in the local car hire agencies if you are booking upon arrival.
For more information on reaching the Caves including the transportation charges feel free to check this link out!
By the way, after your visit here don’t forget to take a trip to Laguna San Rafael National Park to get some awesome experiences with the icy glaciers!
7. Can You Swim in the Marble Caves Chile?
From what I have heard tourists say, swimming is prohibited in and around the caves.
But the ideal fact is that being a glacier-fed lake, the turquoise waters are actually dangerous as they remain chilly throughout the year.
So, be careful as swimming or even falling into the waters accidentally can be life-threatening.
Craving for activities and attractions in the place? Then check here!
8. Marble Caves Patagonia Chile Facts
Did you know?
- The caves can change their color depending on the light, water level and the season making them unique for every visit. Different hues of blue including soft colors, navy and even cobalt blue to pink and white colors can be observed in the caves.
- The same water that created the caves is undoing it through constant erosion. The façade looks gigantic and weightier than the pillars supporting it.
- Trout and salmon are the fish varieties thriving around the waters of the caves apart from other plant and aquatic life.
- Marble Cathedral is considered a natural wonder for its unique fissure shapes. Its ceiling resembles to that of a church where most of the cave remains submerged underwater. You can see it clearly on a bright sunny day.
- Visitors are NOT ALLOWED to take a piece of the marble or the water from this natural monument. They can leave the caves only with photographs.
Above all, don’t forget to have your travel insurance handy with you especially if you are touring remote destinations like the Marble Caves!
9. Let Your Journey Begin!
Enjoyed learning about this remote gem in South America? Are you persuaded to pack your bags and visit this exotic natural beauty for yourself?
Then have these items in your baggage before you zoom into the caves!
And stay up to date with the latest news by visiting our website here!
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