The iridescent Marble Caves can be found near the border of Argentina and Chile, on General Carrera Lake in Patagonia. It is the fifth largest lake in South America. These amazing natural wonders, are a unique geological formation, featuring a number of caverns, tunnels and pillars, in monoliths of marble. It is the 3rd travel adventure in our new series A World Far And Away.
The people of Argentina refer to the body of water there as Lake Buenos Aires. Renamed General Carrera by the Chileans in 1959, in honor of one of their founding fathers, the lake itself is of glacial origin and is surrounded by the Andes mountains.
The original name for the lake was Chelenko, provided by the first inhabitants of the area.
The existence of the lake was first reported by the Argentinian geographer Carlos Moyano, during an exploratory excursion through this area of Patagonia in the 1880’s. He named it Lake Buenos Aires.
The entire lake covers a surface area of 1,850 square kilometers, of which 970 square kilometers are inside of Chile. It is identified as the largest lake in the country. Carrera Lake has a maximum depth of 586 meters.
The remaining portion of lake, some 880 square kilometers belong to Argentina. It is known as the fourth largest fresh body of water in the nation. It remains a well known destination by fishermen, for both salmon and trout.
Carrera Lake drains to the west, towards the Pacific Ocean through Chile, via the Baker river.
The weather in the area is generally cold and humid. However, due to the moderating influence of the lake, the few settlements around it enjoy a sunny micro-climate.
The 1971 and 1991 eruptions of Hudson Volcano, did however, have a severe impact on the local economy. This was especially the case, with the prevalent sheep farming, that takes place around the lake.
The marble caves, the most famous being Marble Chapel and Marble Cathedral are located near the west shore of the lake in Chile. These geologic wonders were created by wave actions of the lake, over the last 6,200 years.
Some travel enthusiasts consider these cave formations, to be among the most beautiful in the world. The iridescent color variation from deep blue to turquoise, largely depends on the weather and time of year.
Geologists attribute the incredible shades of blue exhibited by the waters of the lake in the cave, to finely ground glacial silt.
Since the amount of light and the water level of the lake are constantly changing, each experience in visiting the Marble Caves by boat, will be slightly different.
In early spring for example, the water of the lake is at its lowest point, due to the fact that the surrounding glaciers, have not yet started to melt.
Later in the year, the level of the lake inside the Marble Caves, will be 1 meter or over 3 feet higher.
The marble rocks were made over 370 million years ago, when the mineral formations of calcium carbonate were laid down.
The existence of the Marble Caves was documented for the first time, by the Italian-Argentinian explorer Clemente Onelli. In his book Climbing The Andes, he relates to their discovery in a survey down in 1896 and 1897.
The trip was being financed by the Argentine government, as part of a series of exploratory work that was being lobbied for, by the famous borders expert Francisco P. Moreno. The latter being recognized by having the now celebrated Moreno Glacier named after him, which is also located in Patagonia.
The cave formations have been declared by Chile to be Nature’s Sanctuary, which is one of the protected categories available, through their National Monuments designation.
Marble Chapel is located in one of the three islets and it stands alone like a sentinel. For many visitors it will be the first stop on their journey. Marble Cathedral and additional caverns will soon follow.
Tourists will be taken by boat, through both narrow and wide corridors of water. These will be iridescent shades of blue and turquoise. They will be treated to different themes of texture and color, including the gray, pink and white reflected from the cavern walls, as long as there is daylight.
Traditionally, access to the Marble Caves was through Argentina, from the well known Route 40. This road follows the ancient trails, used by the native Tehuelches.
From Argentina, access to the caves was from the town of Los Antiguos, which is located just 3 kilometers, less than two miles from the Chilean border.
From Los Antiguos you pass over to Chile Chico. You will then need to drive an additional 180 kilometers (112 miles) on an unpaved road that borders the southern and western part of Lake General Carrera. From this road you will reach Bahia Mansa, just a few kilometers from Puerto Tranquilo.
The Chilean side of the lake remained isolated for most of the 20th century. It was accessible only by boat or plane. Finally, in the 1990’s, the government of Chile funded the construction of the Carretera Austral (Southern Road), which opened up the region to far more tourism.
If you are coming from the south in Chile, Cochrane is 116 kilometers (72 miles) to Puerto Tranquilo. From the North through Coihaique it is 215 kilometers (134 miles).
As aforementioned, the Marble Caves can be found in Patagonia, located on the Chilean side of Lake General Carrera/Buenos Aires, depending on which side of the lake you are on.
Varies depending on the tour package that you purchase, or if you choose to just hire someone on an individual basis. It is the ride to the caves, that needs to be purchased. You can expect to pay the equivalent of $15.00 USD (United States Dollar) per person. An individual kayak can be rented for around $50.00 USD.
How To Get There
Most travelers coming from outside Chile or Argentina, will fly to Santiago, which is the capital city of the former. From Santiago one will fly 800 miles south, to regions largest city, identified as Coyhaique
From there one must either hire or drive on quite challenging roads, an additional 200 miles south.
Boat tours leave during daylight hours, from Puerto Tranquilo, Rio Ibanez. Due to the smaller size of many of the passages in the caves, you will be traveling in a small boat or kayak.
There is a car ferry that operates between Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez and Chile Chico, in the Chilean sector of the lake. This may assist you in getting around the lake. The small airport of Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez can also be used by some tourists to avoid a longer car trip.
Days and Hours of Operations
You will be able to see the Marble Caves, during daylight hours only. A tour is dependent on the weather, when the waters of the lake are mostly calm. The tours finish usually about 6:00 pm, during the main tourist season.
Accommodations and a number of restaurants, are available in the communities that surround the lake.
- Wear clothes layered, so you can adjust to your comfort level throughout your visit.
- A windbreaker is especially helpful in the caves, as it can be quite chilly at times.
- Bring more than one device for taking pictures,accidents and malfunctions do happen.
- Wear appropriate footwear, for walking and getting in and out of the boat or kayak.