Visiting the Capillas De Marmol
Marble has been the material of choice for many masterpieces around the world, from Michelangelo’s David to the domes of the Taj Majal, but in the south of Chile there is a masterpiece who has formed over thousands of years without the help of human hands. It is the Capillas De Marmol, the natural “cathedrals” made entirely of marble whose dimpled walls and glittering turquoise waters make for a more than worthy detour off Chile’s scenic Carretera Austral.
The caves, located in the sleepy fishing/lake town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo and about 4 hours south of Coyhaique are camouflaged under rocky mountain terrain from any other angle but that of a boat. Those visiting the town are easily mesmerized by the snow-capped Andean mountain range rising out of the blue-black water of lake General Carrera. The tour operators are recognized by their tiny wooden stalls on the lakes edge, often just big enough for two people who, in low season, are more often found chatting over a cup of coffee in a nearby café than guarding the tour shack’s window.
Exploring Patagonia’s Marble Caves by Boat
Feel free to shop around – tours most often happen in small motor boats, big enough for up to eight but will take solo travelers as well, and last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. For a more active and up-close tour, opt for kayaks. The tour will begin with a little history of the caves, and after suiting up in the bright orange life vests, your guide (who might be a local fisherman as well) will rev up the little motor boat and forge ahead, following the coast line to a lip that marks the entrance to the cove.
The caves appear suddenly, their grey-white arches dotting several miles of coast line. Tour boats cut the motor as they get close and drift between the entrances, getting close enough to hear the echoes of lake water and see the intricate swirled patterns of the marble formations. From here, explore the coastal caves until you arrive at an outcropping of larger, mushroom shaped formations topped with greenery and constructed of marble arches that serve as the tours crowning jewel, los Capillas de marmol; The marble cathedrals. The formations seems to double in size with the waters transparency, the white, grey and blue walls extending like roots below the water’s surface; permanent icebergs anchored into the mountain side. The water surrounding changes color depending on the temperature and time, ranging from the blue-black tone of the lake to a milky turquoise, speckled with opalescent fragments of marble debris that reflect the sun. Tourists are allowed to dismount and explore the caves by foot, exploring the smooth, cool walls and catching glimpses of turquoise water through tunnels and naturally-formed windows.
From Coyhaique (the capital of the Aysen region), drive 4-5 hours South until you arrive in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. The easiest way to visit the Capillas de Marmol is by renting a car, but private round-trip tours are also available via tour agencies in Coyhaique and daily buses from Coyhaique stop in Puerto Rio Tranquilo on their way to Cochrane (6 hrs). Daily buses can also be taken from Chile Chico.
US $15 (CLP 7,000) per person. Private tours cost around US$75 (CLP 35,000). Round-trip packages booked in Cochrane start at US $75 (CLP 35,000).
What to bring
A rain jacket is handy for choppy waters and changing weather, decent footwear for walking around the caves, and a camera with a waterproof bag ensures that everything stays safe and dry. It’s best to pay in cash as ATM’s are far and few between.
Arrange a tour the evening before, spend the night in town and take the sunrise tour for beautiful light, calmer waters and less crowds. For tour operators, look in town or get in touch with ExploraSur, El Puesto, or Casa Tourism Rural.
[/vc_willow_service_block][vc_separator color=”grey”][vc_tweetmeme type=”horizontal”][vc_facebook type=”standard”]