Our Journey to the Marble Caves, Patagonia
December 13, 2016
After spending the best part of a week viewing some of the largest glaciers in the world and conquering some amazing treks, we set our sites on a less traveled path – the Carretera Austral. This stretch of mainly dirt road runs through some of the most beautiful parts of Patagonia. The mountains are covered with untouched green forest from the winters rain and the rivers are the color of an emerald – it is a “must-visit” location for any nature lover. Our major destination along this route would be the Marble Caves, Patagonia.
Getting from El Chalten wasn’t exactly an easy task so I have outlined our journey in detail below to make sure everyone who wants to see the amazing Marble Caves, Patagonia can get there without any troubles.
Step 1: Getting to Los Antigos, Argentina
Our first step to get going on this route meant we needed to say goodbye to El Chalten and Argentina (for now) and head to Chile.
We first caught a 12 hour night bus directly from El Chalten to Los Antigos, Argentina. There are a few different companies who do this rote, but just ask around at the bus station and ask if there is a promotion if you buy more than one ticket and pay with cash. In our experience 10-20% discounts are normally offered when you ask. Prices vary depending on days of the week and times of the year.
Step 2: Los Antigos to Chile Chico
The small town of Chile Chico was going to be our first stop. There isn’t much in terms of things to see and do in Chile Chico, it is a small town mostly popular for transit to start the Carretera Austral. That being said, it can be a little tricky to get there as buses will only run from the neighboring town Los Antigos in Argentina if there are enough people to make the journey worthy.
The bus from Los Antigos to Chile Chico costs 150AR or 10,000CLP (about $16 USD) and is only about an hour with the border crossing. Note, the lady selling the bus tickets tried to charge us 5,000CLP more, luckily we spoke to some other travelers before purchasing and found out the real price.
For us there was no bus was running on the day we arrived in Los Antigos. Our only option was to hitch hike over the border (taxis will not cross the border due to high border crossing fees)! After about an hour we managed to get the ride we needed over the border and the best thing is…it was free! Hitch hiking is very common in Argentina and Chile and is usually very safe. It is also a great way to practice your Spanish and speak to locals. I would recommend trying to hitchhike even if there is a bus available as it will save you some money.
Step 3: Relaxing in Chile Chico
Finally we arrived in Chile Chico. This would be our resting spot for the next two days while we sorted a few bank issues out (there are no atms in Puerto Rio Tranquilo so take out lots of cash in Chile Chico) and planned our next few stopovers. We stayed at a small family run hotel which cost 28,000clp (about $45 USD) per night for a private room, this was surprisingly much cheaper than staying at the hostel in town. The owners of the hotel had a restaurant in the lobby and normally no public access to the kitchen, but they said since it wasn’t busy they would let us use the kitchen when they weren’t which was nice of them and saved us a few dollars.
Step 4: Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquillo (home of the Marble Caves)
After Chile Chico it was time to see the Marble Caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo – but first, a short bus ride along gravel road weaving through mountains and valleys. This was our first taste of the Carretera Austral and it did not disappoint!
We were lucky enough to have a bus driver who let us stop at all the view points along the way to take in the amazing lakes and views of the mountains along the way. This bus ride takes about 3 hours and costs 20,000CLP per person ($32 USD). Many people were hitchhiking this part as the bus is really expensive. Hitchhiking is a good option for people who have time and patience to spare – this route is not very busy with passing traffic so sometimes it can take a couple days before finding a ride. We did not have this kind of patience so we coughed up the money and were off!
Step 5: Getting a boat to the Marble Caves, Patagonia
Puerto Rio Tranquilo is another small town and it is home to the Marble Caves, Patagonia. These caves have been carved out by erosion for hundreds of years and are a must-see if your down this way. Tours to the caves are run by almost every travel company in the town and the tour lasts about 2 hours on a small boat (or there is an option to rent a kayak to see the caves yourself).
As for the boat, there are two options: 1. rent the entire boat for around 40,000 to 50,000CLP ($64-80 USD) or 2. buy an individual ticket for 9,000CLP and join onto another group. For us there was not enough people at our hostel who were going to the caves that day so we opted for the individual ticket option.
Just head to the many shops along the waters edge and you will, without a doubt, find a company to take you to the marble caves. Most companies have a morning and afternoon boat but some have many throughout the day so just ask around.
Rio Tranquilo also offers Glacier trekking tours which are a lot cheaper than others around Patagonia. These same tour shops at the water offer the glacier tours.
Note: There are NO atms in Puerto Rio Tranquilo and most of the tours only accept cash. Bring plenty of cash with you especially if you plan on staying for a few days.
The Marble Caves, Patagonia truly are beautiful and the amazing blue green colors of the lake make it an awesome place to take some amazing shots. The waters around the caves are sheltered from the wind by the surrounding mountains so the trip is really smooth and enjoyable.
The Marble Caves, Patagonia were a unique experience and a photographer’s dream! Follow our journey as we move up Route 7 through the Carretera Austral as we visit more amazing places and meet even more amazing people.