How to Get to the Marble Caves, Patagonia
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The Marble Caves, Patagonia are a gorgeous sight to see in Chile. However, it is quite difficult to get there and for that reason, not many people actually go...but we did!
So, if you also want to visit this famous natural wonder for yourself, this blog has everything you need to know about how to get to the Marble Caves in Patagonia, Chile!
How to Get to the Marble Caves, Patagonia
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 next destination along this route would be the Marble Caves, Patagonia.
Getting to the Marble Caves in Chile 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.
Topics included in this blog:
- Getting from El Chalten to the Marble Caves
- Getting from Coyhaique to the Marble Caves
- Getting from Santiago to the Marble Caves
- Puerto Rio Tranquillo to the Marble Caves (by boat or kayak)
Getting to the Marble Caves from El Chalten
Many people traveling Patagonia from South to North will try to reach the Marble Caves in Chile from the popular tourist town of El Chalten.
You can either make this journey in your own rental car (a very enjoyable way to travel in Patagonia) or by public bus with possible a little bit of hitchhiking.
Public bus and hitchhiking is what we did.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, it wasn’t easy, but with the right information, it is doable. So…here it goes, a step by step guide to getting to the Marble Caves from El Chalten:
Step 1: Bus from El Chalten 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 the city of Los Antigos, Argentina.
There are a few different companies that do this route. You can either go directly to the bus station and speak to the different agencies to find out prices and departure times.
At the bus depot, it is possible to find a deal or negotiate a discount especially if you will pay with cash.
However, this can be time-consuming and tricky – especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
You can book your bus online instead which is an easier alternative.
No matter how you choose to book your bus to Los Antigos, be sure to book it at least a day or two in advance! Buses WILL book up and you don’t want to miss out!
We always use the website Bus Bud for booking buses online. It is super easy to use and their support staff are very helpful if there is ever a problem!
Step 2: Los Antigos to Chile Chico, Chile (Shuttle bus or hitchhike)
The small Chilean 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 tiny 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 it is only about an hour with the border crossing.
For us there was no bus was running on the day we arrived in Los Antigos. Our only option was to hitchhike 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!
Hitchhiking 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.
*Note: Some travellers have reported there being very few cars going this route making hitchhiking nearly impossible. Although this isn’t what happened to us, an alternative option is to: 1) take a taxi to the Argentinian border, 2) walk the 5 kilometers to the Chilean border, and then 3) get a taxi to Chile Chico (border officials can call one for you.)
Step 3: Spend a night in Chile Chico
Finally, we arrived in Chile Chico. This would be our resting spot for the next day while we sorted out a few things for our trip. There are no ATMs in Puerto Rio Tranquilo (and barely anyone takes card) so we needed to take out lots of cash in Chile Chico and plan 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. They also had a little restaurant and cooked us the most lovely dinner!
If you reach Chile Chico early enough in the day you might e able to catch the shuttle to Puerto Rio Tranquilo straight away. For us, after an already long journey, we opted to spend one night in Chile Chico enjoying the quaint town and getting ourselves organized.
To me, this is the most enjoyable option.
After a good night’s rest, we left on the first bus the next morning.
Step 4: Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo (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 viewpoints 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 of days before finding a ride.
We did not have this kind of patience so we coughed up the money and were off!
Once in the town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo, you can book a book tour or rent a kayak to reach the Marble Caves (more on that at the bottom of this blog!)
Getting to the Marble Caves from Coyhaique
This route is considerably easier than the one above from El Chalten.
The Marble Caves are located about 220 kilometers south of the small city of Coyhaique. The Carretera Austral connects them so it is a scenic, but slow drive of about 4 hours.
There are three different ways you can reach Puerto Rio Tranquilo (or the Marble Caves) from Coyhaique:
Option 1: Take the bus
There are daily buses running from Coyhaique to a town called Cochrane which stops at Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
Buses depart at 6:30 am and 9:30 am and take about 5 hours. Expect to pay around $20 USD (or 15,000 Chilean pesos).
You need to buy the bus ticket to Cochrane, and then just get off at the Puerto Rio Tranquilo stop. It may be wise to tell the bus driver this before departing so he or she can tell you when you’ve arrived.
Be sure to book the bus in advance and double-check departure times. In bad weather/road conditions it is possible that the bus could get canceled.
Option 2: Drive yourself in a Rental Car
If you’re already traveling around Patagonia in a rental car, then this is an easy one for you – just drive there!
But, even if you don’t already have a rental car, you could consider renting one for a day (or two) and making a short trip to the Marble Caves and then return back to Coyhaique.
This is a great option if you’re not planning on traveling further south from Puerto Rio Tranquilo. Or even if you are, getting a bus from Coyaique to Argentina will be much easier than making the stopover in Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
Option 3: Go on an organized tour
This is the easiest option by far.
Instead of spending a night in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, you can actually take an organized tour from Coyhaique to the Marble Caves and back again in just one day!
This way, you can enjoy the Marble Caves without having the make the huge detour! Plus, the tour includes the boat ride so there is no need to organize that once you arrive in Puerto Rio Tranquilo either!
You must book this particular tour in advance online in to secure your booking.
Getting to the Marble Caves from Santiago
If you are in Santiago and REALLY want to visit the Marble Caves, it is possible. Just be warned, it isn’t easy and involves a flight!
Regardless, it is possible to do, and here are the steps:
Step 1: Fly to Balmaceda
First of all, you’re going to need to book a flight from Santiago to Balmaceda. Luckily, these domestic flights are frequent, fairly short, and cheap!
Step 2: Bus or Drive to Puerto Rio Tranquilo
The easiest way is to rent a car at the Balmaceda airport and drive yourself to Puerto Rio Tranquilo (about a 3.5 hour drive.)
Alternatively, you could get a bus from Cruce Balmeceda (near the border.) Buses are limited though to at most once a day and information to book online is very scarce.
Getting to the Marble Caves from Puerto Rio Tranquilo
Puerto Rio Tranquilo is the town that is home to the Marble Caves, Patagonia. But, you’re still not there yet.
The Marble Caves are in the water, meaning you need a boat or a kayak to actually get to them.
From Puerto Rio Tranquilo, there are dozens of tour companies to choose from to get out to the Marble Caves.
Getting to the Marble Caves by Boat
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. This is the option we went with.
There are two options for booking a boat tour: 1. rent the entire boat for around 40,000 to 50,000CLP ($64-80 USD) or 2. buy an individual ticket for 10,000CLP and join onto another group.
For us, there were 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 water’s 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.
The Marble Caves 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.
Kayaking to the Marble Caves
If you are a true adventurer, you can actually kayak out to the Marble Caves yourself! The same tour companies that take you out on a boat, will also rent out kayaks.
Renting a kayak for a couple of hours will cost you about 35,000 CLP.
The Marble Caves in 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.
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January 16, 2020