Lago General Carrera, Chile & Argentina

Lake Locations:

Argentina - Patagonia - Santa Cruz - Chile - South -

Also known as:  General Carrera Lake, Lago Buenos Aires

Indisputably one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders, the Marble Cathedral of Lago General Carrera is one that most people will never see. This large turquoise lake is in the Patagonia region of Chile and crosses the border into Argentina where it is known as Lake Buenos Aires. The second-largest lake in South America, General Carrera is dammed only by ancient gravel moraines left from the earlier glacial epoch. Shining majestically below Chile’s Northern Ice Field, the lake carries a variety of blue and turquoise hues caused by the ‘glacial flour’ – rock dust – scoured from the underlying rocks as the glaciers slowly expand and recede.

An entire peninsula on the western shore is pure marble; eons of water erosion at the base of the cliffs created the Marble Cathedral. The marble caverns are accessible by small boat and a prized destination of photographers who marvel at the breathtaking array of colors and shadows created by ever-changing sunlight and water levels. The Capilla de Marmol as it is known locally is likely one of Patagonia’s best-known destinations, but the difficulty in getting there assures that visitors will never encounter crowds. Adventurous visitors to Lago General Carrera either arrange transportation with their hosts at local fishing resorts or try their luck driving the poor roads over 150 miles from the nearest large city. At times the road is little more than a rude path, more suited for horseback or serious hikers. Small boat tours of the Marble Cathedral are arranged from the small village of Rio Tranquilo. The marble caverns of Lago General Carrera have been named an official nature sanctuary by the Chilean government

The huge lake is 457,145 acres and spans the border between Chile and Argentina. Its only outflow creates Bertrand Lake which becomes the headwaters of Patagonia’s Baker River, eventually emptying into the Pacific Ocean. Several villages and towns are perched along its shorelines, the home of less than 500 people. Traveling here amid the glaciers and mountains is difficult by road, but a car ferry plies the water between Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez and Chile Chico on the Chilean south shore. The winds blow nearly constantly across the lake, creating waves up to six feet high; only large boats can navigate the open water safely. In some places, the wind actually blows water into the air. Chilean Route 7, also known as the Carretera Austral, is the main-and in most places-only road on the western shore by which to reach the other towns. A small number of fly fishing resorts provide conventional lodgings, and some towns have a small hotel to welcome visitors.

Lago General Carrera is noted for fly-fishing for trout. Both the large lake itself and smaller surrounding lakes and streams welcome fishermen who practice ‘catch-and-release’ almost exclusively. The western shoreline is also the best point for accessing the Northern Ice Field glaciers, a hike for the hardy and well-prepared. Those less prepared for major exertion are better suited to remain near the fishing resorts, where some have spa treatments, golf courses and arranged sightseeing tours in addition to fine food and every modern amenity. Two of the best examples of the oldest style of rock art in South America are the Patagonian Art Style examples found near the Ibanez River, towards the north bank of Lago General Carrera, and in the Pedregoso River Cave, located south of the lake and the town of Chile Chico. Estimated to be over 10,000 years old, the rock paintings represent such things as prehistoric human’s chief prey, the guanaco, and ‘hand’ symbols.

The eastern shoreline is more easily accessed across the Argentine Steppe (shrubland ecoregion), where sheep ranches and fruit orchards take advantage of the more moderate micro-climate created by the huge lake. Visitors are more likely to see the unique wildlife of the area from the eastern shore, where small herds of guanaco (a camelid similar to a llama) and South Andean deer can be seen, along with a wide variety of birds and waterfowl.

Near the western shore of Lago general Carrera, the Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni covers almost 400,000 acres and includes two lakes, Lago Jeinimeni and Lago Verde. Impressive cliffs, waterfalls and small glaciers provide habitat for huemul deer, pumas and condors. Access is via an unpaved road, which branches south off the road to Los Antiguos and crosses five rivers, four of which have to be forded. Along the road to the park, there is a small lake, Laguna de los Flamencos, where large numbers of flamingos can be seen. The reserve exhibits examples of several types of climate and geology and is a fine trek for wildlife viewing.

Of current major concern among environmentalists is the proposed plan to install huge hydroelectric dams along the Baker River and the Pascua River. Five huge dams would provide power from Patagonia to Santiago; environmentalists are concerned that the the dams will drown thousands of acres of natural habitat for already-threatened wildlife, and that the altering of glacial flows and the attendant 1500 miles of power lines to be installed will damage both Lago General Carrera and the surrounding glaciers and steppes. Such actions would forever change the natural landscape and negatively impact the lives of the native peoples in the area. Environmentalists hope that the Chilean Government will entertain plans for a different power source so as not to damage this fragile landscape.

A trip to Lago General Carrera requires careful planning. Visitors can arrange lodgings at one of the fly-fishing resorts in the area or plan an extended stay at one of the small locally-operated hotels. Occasionally, private rentals are available, usually for longer time periods. Resorts vary in focus, with some catering to photographers and others to hikers and climbers. Ex-patriots from the United States have already discovered the real estate opportunities near the lake with several building new homes overlooking Lago General Carrera and the nearby glacier. Time is of the essence in order to see the area in all of its unspoiled glory before dams cover much of the nearby lands. So bring your maps and hiking boots and by all means a camera. Visit this unspoiled natural wonder before progress changes it forever.

Things to do at Lago General Carrera

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Fish species found at Lago General Carrera

  • Trout

Lago General Carrera Photo Gallery

Lago General Carrera Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 457,145 acres

Shoreline Length: 295 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 712 feet

Maximum Depth: 1,936 feet

Drainage Area: 7,722 sq. miles

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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