A little ways off the beaten path, but totally worth the side trip, is the pueblito of Puerto Rio Tranquilo. This tiny town on the Northwest coast of Lago General Carrera may be one of Patagonia’s hidden gems. Though not exactly completely unknown, most travelers seem to skip this spot for various reasons and head either further south or into Argentina. In my opinion though, it is well worth a visit.
As a town, Rio Tranquilo is not much more than a 4×4 section of streets, 2 minimarkets, 1 sports field (with a bush in the middle), and about a half a dozen tour agencies operating out of trailers or sheds right on the lakefront. The lake that it sits on is a gorgeous turquoise of cold, glacier water that is brushed by swirling wind and lined with Patagonian mountains. Lago General Carrera as it is called on the Chilean side, is located on the border between Chile and Argentina where it is called Lago Buenos Aires. It is the second largest lake in South America behind Lake Titicaca. This beautiful lake also hosts the reason for our coming to Puerto Rio Tranquilo: marble caves.
Those little tour agencies operating out of tin cans can organize tours to a series of marble caves about 15 minutes away by small boat. The caves look much more impressive in person than they do in the photos, especially when the water brings out the colors because of the sunlight. There were about 9 of us on this rocky boat trying to take as many photos of the marble caves as our boat driver slowly maneuvered past them. Though he did not tell us a ton of information about the caves, he did explain to us that they were formed because of the combination of the type of rock, the consistent pounding of waves, and the lack of wind on this side of the lake. Our driver also pointed out the shape of what looked like a St. Bernard’s head at the end of the peninsula. Next, we made our way to some more formations and towards the most famous formations; the Catedral & Capilla de Marmol (Cathedral & Chapel of Marble).
I think it is best if I let the photos do the talking. I would rather show you 34 pictures than type 34,000 words. Check out the photos!
Another reason to go to Puerto Rio Tranquilo is to walk on one of Patagonia’s many glaciers! Though we did not plan to or even know about this opportunity before we came to Rio Tranquilo, we were able to work out a deal with one of the tour agencies to have one full day of adventure; starting with the Marble caves in the morning followed by ice trekking on Glaciar Exlporador in the afternoon. We compared all the agencies to find out which one offered the best price, allowed for the most time walking on the actual glacier, and had certified guides. Since it was out both Anna’s and my first time walking on a glacier, we wanted to go with someone who knew what they were doing and could teach us about the moving ice block we would be walking on. After a 3 hour van ride, we were ready to start our hike. We needed to walk for about 1 hour over rocks and through forest before reaching the “dirty ice”, a mixture of rock, dirt, and glacier. Our guide, who was a man of few words, explained to us that what we were actually walking one was part of the glacier. We could not believe it. It just looked like dirt. However, as we walked further and further towards the distant glacier-covered peaks, one of which is the tallest peak in all of Patagonia, we could see the ground slowly change into the type of ice we were more familiar with. For being our first time walking on a glacier, we did not know what to expect. A glacier is an always moving, always changing frozen feature and we needed to wear crampons (the spikes on the bottom of your shoes). After we were strapped in, we walked around the ice exploring the caves, canyons, hills, and crevasses while taking photos after nearly every step. Though Glaciar Explorador may not be as famous (yet) as some of the other glaciers in Patagonia, it was still an amazing experience. It was one long day going from the boat ride to the marble caves then to the ice walking on an actual glacier. Unfortunately, I was only able to take 600+ photos, but I will surely always remember this amazing opportunity in the tiny town a little ways off the beaten path.
Tips for Puerto Rio Tranquilo:
- All tour agencies are lined up on the street closest to the lake. The green trailer is the oldest of these operators.
- It is also possible to kayak across the windy lake to the marble caves.
- Though we did not have an opportunity to check them out for ourselves, the marble caves near Puerto Sanchez are supposedly equal or better than the ones in Rio Tranquilo.
- You may be able to work out a special price with the tour agency if you want to do both the marble caves and glacier.
- If hiking on the glacier, ask to see the guides certifications.