Carretera Austral, Part 4: Puerto Rio Tranquilo and the Capilla de Marmol

February 8, 2016

Puerto Rio Tranquilo is a spot on the road. There isn’t much here, but this time of year the population swells dramatically as bicyclists, motorcyclists, backpackers, and families in cars pour into town, mostly to see the Capilla de Marmol, or Marble Chapel.

The town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo. The whole town.

The lake here is large and beautiful, the color hard to describe and changing constantly under sun and clouds.



It’s a short boat ride to the Capilla de Marmol



Yep. Crazy. They drive the boats right into these caves.








This is a photo of the wall of the marble. That’s not a reflection: it’s the marble striations continuing below the water. Impressive.


The actual Marble Chapel.

I stayed in Puerto Rio Tranquilo two nights. On the second evening, two women pulled into the campground: a German on a BMW F800 and a French woman on a DR650 Suzuki with Chile plates. As they set up camp I introduced myself. It didn’t take long to figure out that the woman on the BMW, Ira (who also goes by Diana, because Ira is about as common as Pat in South America and nobody can understand it), was the same woman that Judith had ridden with through Cañon del Pato in Peru. She had since met up with Celine, who arrived in Santiago with absolutely zero motorcycle experience, and after four hours of instruction bought a DR650 and hit the road. Wow.

My campsite overlooking the lake. There were some sites with better views further down, but much more wind as well.


Poor photo taken well after dark. Ira (Diana) and Celine invited me for dinner. Two meals in a week not in a mug! Woo Hoo!

The next morning I left for a short ride to Cochrane and more stunning scenery.


This will be as far south on the Carretera Austral as I go. While it’s possible to continue all the way to Villa O’Higgins, there are no more rideable passes to Argentina below here. Tomorrow morning I plan to head back toward Argentina via Paso Roballos. Depending on availability, I hope to camp at Kris Tompkins’ newest park before crossing into Argentina.

As of now, I still need to make it another 1100 miles on these tires to Punta Arenas, where I hope to find new rubber. The front tire is beginning to wear in a scallop fashion, which makes the gravel even more tricky. The rear is just wearing down, but I think (fingers crossed) it will last until Punta Arenas. The chain and sprockets are another story, and could become a problem somewhere between here and Buenos Aires. But I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now all I can do is keep adjusting and lubricating the chain, and trying to take it easy on them, which is difficult with nothing but gravel, dust and ripio.

7 thoughts on “Carretera Austral, Part 4: Puerto Rio Tranquilo and the Capilla de Marmol

  1. Enjoy following along, I recall this area through your pictures…..just majestic. Once you cross into Argentina and into the open area be mindful of the winds which can easily push you off the road or into traffic which will be light……Not sure if you are crossing just north of Cochrane or further up and east to Chili Chico……this was the only crossing open for me with the Adauna Office further in on 43…… Perito Moreno you should gas up at the service centre on your left before heading south on Ruta 40. Gas is available at Bajo Caracoles about 50 miles south on 40. From Perito Moreno the winds can be vicious……..

    All the best

    • Thanks for the tips Bob. Yes, I am planning to cross at Paso Roballos (nearer Cochrane) if all goes well (weather). Slight delay this morning as the ripio has found the weak point in my rear rack. I think I found a welder here in Cochrane but will know soon. If I do cross at Paso Roballos, Bajo Caracoles will be my next stop.
      Not looking forward to the winds, especially with the small bike, but plan to go slow.

  2. Pat, thanks for the many recent pics. The lakes and the area seem incredibly clean. Appears to be little agriculture or industry in the area. How do people support themselves? Do they survive primarily on the tourist activity?
    Safe travels to Punta Arenas!

    • Mike,
      Yes, everything in this part of Chile (and most all of Chile, actually) is very clean. Definitely a different “feel” from most of the other countries I’ve traveled through in the past six months. The lack of trash is an eye-opener after Central America, and I even spent a night in a National Park where they didn’t have trash cans and the ranger told me I had to take all of my trash with me (and everyone did!!). I also noticed in Cochrane that they have a “no plastic bags” policy at the supermarket…like Austin, you have to bring your own bags (some people bring cardboard boxes).
      I have seen no farming and very little but some ranching since hitting the Carretera Austral. Most everyone lives in small villages that seem to thrive on tourism, with the underlying basic support needs for the village. Seems like about 75 percent Chilean tourists, 15 percent Argentine, and 10 percent from everywhere else. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and friendly. The entire millions (billions?) of acres looks like a National Park, and probably gets that treatment.

  3. Pat,

    I’m curious why you don’t have a windshield on your bike. Do you ever wish you had installed one or do you get some advantage to not having one installed? I have an XT250 as well and I’m considering purchasing one but if you don’t need one, I probably don’t. I’m thinking of a small windshield extension to add on but can’t find one that will fit the XT.
    Thanks for you blog. I’m enjoying reading about your adventures everyday.

    • Hi Dominic,
      I don’t feel like a windshield is necessary. Most of the time you are doing less than 50mph, and the wind really isn’t bad. I haven’t noticed any problems or lack of comfort without it. Just my personal opinion of course. One more thing to break, and the wind in Patagonia might make the handling even worse with more of a windblock.


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