Saturday, March 20, 2021

Photo Saturday: The Marble Caves

 Yup. Missed that "Friday" thing once again!

Back to Patagonia... Moving on from Patagonia National Park, we drove north up the Carretera Austral to Puerto Rio Tranquillo, where the Marble Caves (Cuevas de Marmol) are found on the shores of Lago General Carrera. We arrived at lunchtime after about 2 1/2 hours on the gravel of the Carretera, just in time to gobble our lunch and catch a tour.

The caves are truly marble, in its natural state, of course. As marble (metamorphosed limestone) is slightly soluble in water, wave action along the lakeshore for some 6000 years has carved out low caverns into which you can take a boat. It is possible to rent kayaks in the town for a multi-hour expedition, but as we didn't have time, we took the commercial tour in a small open boat. Sadly, the guide's constant stream of interpretation and information was all in rapid Spanish with no pauses, so I was able to catch only a bit of it myself, and couldn't pass any along to my companions!

All photos, with the exception of the two from the walk up the road, are by Dave Dempsey.

As we approached we saw a bevy of kayakers exploring the caves. They have an advantage, being smaller and more mobile than the power boats.

The lake is fed by the vast glacier fields of Patagonia, giving it the distinctive blue-green color that always indicates glacial silt. The silt may contribute to the erosion of the caves, though I believe they are mostly created by dissolution. 

They drive the crowded launches into several of the caverns as far as possible--not very far. The exhaust fumes made this part of the experience a little less wonderful than it could have been.

They call it the Cathedral, but I kept wondering if that was more like the back of the throat...

What follows is a selection of photos to show the beauty of the rock and the water. We weren't able to be there at the prime photo time (early morning), but it was still worth the price of admission.

If we'd had kayaks, we'd have been right in through there.

One sea stack had the most amazingly striped caves, and the best reflected light.

The tour place was at the bottom of a very steep, rugged dirt road (well, of course. Remember, the "main highway" at this point is also dirt). When it came time to get up the steepest bit, we decided the car had a better chance if some of us walked.

The photo doesn't do justice to the quality of the road!

But walking up the hill did allow us to enjoy the beauty of the lake and the sky.

The whole stop took less than two hours--the tour is an hour--leaving us time to stop in the town for groceries. We had heard from other travelers that we could find peanut butter in the stores of Rio Tranquillo, as well as another shot at some fresh stuff. Our last shopping had been in Chile Chico (at the border) 3 days before, and in that case we had missed the weekly delivery of produce.
Peanut butter AND some fresh stuff, and even a pastry or two... maybe even more exciting than the caves. Pictured: Tom Dempsey. I'm mostly hidden behind him.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.


  1. So, did you have any opportunity to pay by card, or was it all cash? Did you load up on the local currency "in town"? Now, as for the marble, that is quite the sight! Thanks for the glimpse.

    1. It was pretty much a cash economy out in those places. We ended up spending our last cent of Chilean currency the night before we left the country. Some lodgings took credit, I think, but mostly they wanted cash. Gas we could get with credit.

  2. Those caves are marvellous. I don't remember coming across them when I was researching a Chile/Argentina tour (which never happened). Which means - if I ever do it, I can add it to the list!
    I had technical thoughts about the shape of the structures resembling potassium mines and the honeycomb model being the strongest type of structure. I wonder if the pressure from the rocks above mean the pillars are denser, and actually resist erosion more? (It's my mind, ignore it)
    And when are you going to have a story set among them? Or can I steal it!

    1. I'm pretty sure there's room enough for more than one story, so have at it! And as for your geologic questions... I don't have answers, but I do know geologists :) My off-the-cuff guess for the pillars is intrusions of some more resistant rock, but that's just the easiest answer.

  3. Those are amazing pictures. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks! Dave was a wonderful photographer, with the patience to edit until the picture was right.

  4. Hi Rebecca - it was obviously a memorable trip ... incredible opportunity to have had - I'm not sure I'd be happy about going into the caves like that - but I'm definitely not good in confined spaces. Though the temptation of seeing ... would make me take the trip ... stunning part of the world ... wonderfully stunning photos by the excellent photographer - Dave ... thank you - Hilary

    1. Not very far into the caves, so it didn't feel confined the way it does when darkness closes in. But I'm okay in slot canyons and caves, so it's hard to tell!


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