Visiting Catedral de Mármol With Kids – New For 2024

The Catedral de Mármol, akin to wonders like Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland or the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland, stand as one of nature’s most remarkable creations. The centuries-long dance between the waters of General Carrera Lake and the calcium carbonate that forms the marble has birthed a masterpiece. If you are planning to visit Catedral de Mármol with kids, you are sure to have a family experience you will never forget.

Georgia and Eva explore one of the caves on foot.

Granted protective status in 1994, the Catedral de Mármol is a spectacle set amidst the pristine turquoise waters of Lago General Carrera, framed by snow-capped peaks. Although The Marble Cathedral is the show-stopper of any visit, there is much more to see in the surrounding area. There are several islands nearby whose shores are dotted with magnificent caves that are almost as spectacular. 

Part of our travel philosophy is to educate our children by astonishment, and Catedral de Mármol was a perfect classroom. Georgia and Eva were fascinated by the interplay of chemistry and time that sculpted these formations. Just like the vibrant murals of Buenos Aires sparked conversations about history and culture, or the handprints of Cueva de las Manos led us to imagine the lives of early humans. Here, in the heart of Patagonia’s magnificence, we delved into a science lesson as captivating as the landscape itself.

Our Map For Visiting Catedral de Mármol With Kids

A Brief History Of The Marble Caves

The Marble Caves of General Carrera Lake are a natural wonder in Chile. Formed over 6,000 years, they were shaped by chaos as the waves lapped against solid marble, creating caverns and tunnels. The lake’s slightly acidic water, mixed with carbon dioxide, eroded the marble in spectacular ways, leading to the caves’ formation.

The caves’ colors come from marble mixed with impurities like iron oxide, resulting in shades of blue, grey, and pink. These hues vary with the water’s depth and weather. The Marble Caves are a stunning example of nature’s ability to sculpt landscapes, offering a unique glimpse into geological processes.

And yes, the water really is that colour!

When is the best time to visit Catedral de Marmol With Kids?

For the best experience at Catedral de Mármol, timing is everything. Going early in the morning is often recommended by the tour guides. This way, you’ll find calmer waters, cooler temperatures, and fewer people, making for a more relaxed visit.

Georgia well wrapped up and ready for anything!

In terms of the time of year, the area is best avoided in winter. The winds are brutally cold, which also means big waves and most tours do not operate at this time.

Peak season is between December and March when the weather is more favourable, and due to the Glacial runoff, the water of Lake General Carrera is an intense shade of blue (people will never believe you have not photoshopped your photos of the trip!). However, be prepared for the crowds, as this is peak tourist season. Additionally, the water levels at this time of year are often too high for boat access into the cathedral; however, other caves may be accessible.

Even when the water is higher, some of the longer trips can go into other caves.

Spring (September to November) and Autumn (April and May) are also great options. At this time, you can usually access the cathedral by boat, but be sure to wrap up warm, as the wind can be savage.

Getting To The Marble Caves With Kids

Reaching the Marble Caves with kids is an adventure in itself, and there are two primary routes to these stunning formations.

The most common approach is to set off from close to Puerto Río Tranquilo. Many families find themselves here while journeying down the scenic Carretera Austral or as part of an organised day trip from Coyhaique. 

The other, and we think better, option is to travel from Puerto Sánchez on the opposite side of the lake and make the boat trip from there. This route offers a different perspective and, in our experience, enhances the whole adventure.

Setting off from the Puerto Sánchez side.

Taking The Trip To The Marble Cathedral From Puerto Río Tranquil

Puerto Río Tranquil is a quaint, somewhat touristy town, which is understandable as the economy here depends on people visiting the caves!

The capilla de mármol. We couldn’t help but wonder how much longer it will be standing for.

The town is one of the larger urban areas on the Carretera Austral and has plenty of accommodation if you want to stay overnight. Along one side of the main road that runs parallel to the lake is a row of restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes and a petrol station. On the opposite side, you will find several tour operators offering trips and a nice lakeside beach area perfect for a picnic.

In Puerto Rio Tranquilo, the competition to take you to the marble caves is fierce among the operators, but they all seem to have agreed to offer the same price no matter who you travel with.

There is no shortage of people selling trips.

One thing that surprised us when planning our visit was that it was impossible to book in advance online. It turns out the most effective strategy is the old-fashioned approach – simply rock up and see which tours are about to leave! The tours do not depart until the boat has at least six paying passengers, so you might be waiting for additional travellers to join. When speaking to the tour companies we were told that this can take up to an hour.

If you’re on a tighter schedule, consider opting for a private tour. This means you’ll cover the cost for all six seats, allowing you to depart immediately. It’s a convenient choice for families who value their time or seek a more personalised journey without the wait.

There are three boat trip options:

  • Short Boat Tour – approx 1.5hrs for CLP$ 20,0000 per person, which takes you to the highlights of Lake General Carrera, the Capillas de Marmol and Catedrales de Marmol
  • Long Boat Tour – approx 3.5 hrs for CLP$ 30,000 per person, which includes both Capillas de Marmol & Catedrales de Marmol as well as a shipwreck and the stunning caves around nearby islands. The longer tour also lets you disembark and explore some of the formations on foot.
  • Kayak Tour – approx 3 hours for CLP$ 50.000 per person; this trip allows you to really get up close! As the kayak is much smaller and more nimble than a boat, you can access parts of the cave that a boat cannot. However, weather conditions have to be close to ideal for the kayak tour to go ahead, and no operator would take any children under 12. Also, you only get to see the Capillas de Marmol and Catedrales de Marmol, as many of the other caves are too far away.
Kayaks can get much closer, but you don’t get to see many of the caves and they won’t take children under 12.

Having spoken to a few operators, if they are in a good mood and the wind is in the right direction, they may offer a slight discount for the children but don’t bank on it. One of the tour companies we saw advertised English-speaking guides.

There is a lot more to see beyond the cathedral and the chapel.

Surprisingly, Puerto Río Tranquilo is an exception in Patagonia’s unwritten rule against leaving bags in parked cars. It seems there’s an understanding in place to ensure the safety of vehicles and their contents. This could be attributed to the fact that any increase in car break-ins could negatively impact tourism, which is a vital part of the town’s economy.

Taking A Trip To The Marble Caves From Bahi Murta

We took a different approach. On our road trip down the Carretera Austral with our children, we stayed in the much smaller town of Bahi Murta on the glacial lake’s northern tip. Just a ten-minute detour off the main road, Bahi Murta offered a quieter, less tourist-centric atmosphere than Puerto Tranquilo. The town exuded a laid-back charm, and the locals were exceptionally friendly and welcoming.

Georgia and Eva on the beach ready to set off!

Accommodation was easy to come by, with several cosy cabanas available. The town also boasted a well-stocked supermarket and a handful of restaurants, making it a convenient and comfortable stop for families.

The leading tour company in town is Aitue Expeditions (loacted near Hostal Marianela), and they seem to have mastered the art of diversification; they also have some cabanas and run a small shop, brewery and restaurant that serves delicious food with slightly prickly service! This multifaceted approach seemed to encapsulate the resourceful and enterprising spirit we came to admire in the smaller towns of Patagonia.

Given the area’s unique geography, Aitue Expeditions only offers a longer tour of the Marble Caves. This tour sets off from the quaint port village of Puerto Sanchez, a scenic 22km drive south around the lake’s eastern shore.

Our tour was led by a guide with limited English skills. We pieced together the gist of what she was saying from our ever-improving Spanish and a helpful Colombian lady who filled in the blanks for us.

What To Expect From A Tour Of The Marble Caves

Depending on which tour you do, there are some highlights to watch out for, but before we dive into that, a crucial tip: bundle up, even in summer. The boat zips swiftly among the formations, and it’s surprisingly chilly! Equally, put on plenty of sunblock. The UV can be remarkably high on the water even on a cloudy day.

We visited in summer and it was still cold on the open water.

The marble rocks that makeup Capillas De Marmol and Catedral de Mármol are the trip’s highlights. As we mentioned above, if you visit in the summer, then the water level may be too high to go inside.

Aside from the Marble Cathedral, there are stretches of beautiful caves to explore along the side of islands close to Puerto Sanchez. Our boat managed to squeeze inside a couple of these, so we could see the intricacies of the patterns and the dappled light reflected on the ceiling.

Inside one of the marble caves.

Towards the end of the tour, our boat stopped so we could get out and walk through a section of the caves! Seeing the rock formations up close was incredible; they have a surprisingly soft, silky feeling. 

The patterns really are incredible!

Finally, there is a shipwreck to visit! I won’t spoil the story of how it got there, but the contrast of its rusting hulk against the beauty of where it lies is quite spectacular! 

Does anyone else remember the 1980s cartoon “The Smoggies?”

Have We Missed Anything About Visiting Catedral de Mármol With Kids?

Our time around Lago General Carrera was unforgettable, reaffirming our decision to savour this destination rather than just pass through. The marble caves, a long-standing item on Kirsty’s bucket list inspired by National Geographic, did not disappoint. Experiencing them in person was nothing short of an honour, a magical addition to our journey, and a vivid reminder of why we cherish these explorations. This area’s blend of natural beauty and serene towns made our days here truly special.

If you think we have missed anything, or any of the information here is now outdated please let us know in the comments below!

The Spencer Family

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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