Reasons to go
- See over 800 black, white, red and ochre handprints that the Cueva de las Manos is famous for, as well as depictions of rheas, pumas, guanacos, hunting scenes and geometric prints
- The paintings are a unique celebration of the history of indigenous South Americans and have been incredibly well preserved, thanks to favourable local conditions
- Walk through the Río de Las Pinturas canyon to reach the caves, enjoying panoramic views of the prehistoric scenery and the company of native wildlife
- All tours are guided, giving you the opportunity to learn about the nature, history and geology from (Bilingual) guides
- Plan between visits to the Posadas and Pueyrredon Lakes and the Perito Moreno National Park along the Ruta 40
About the Cueva de las Manos
The cave art is located in the Cañón de Río Pinturas, a deep gorge with a river running centrally and archaeological sites on either side. These sites evidence pre European settlements of hunters since the tenth millennium BP, meaning they are of great importance for understanding prehistoric human habitats and the earliest settlements in South America.
Detailed archaeological research of the area began in the late 1960s and has continued since. It has established that hunter ancestors used the canyon for protection and sustenance, and that the artwork represents original evidence about the hunters' culture and practices. Marking its significance, UNESCO declared World Heritage status of the caves in 1999.
Revealing the artistic traditions of the Patagonian hunters, the handprints are thought to have been created by liquid pigment being blown around a hand, whereby a hollow bone was used as a tube. This may be why most of the handprints are of left hands; the artists spraying paint with their right. As you travel the remote roads to the caves, you'll see the native animals such as guanacos and rheas depicted in the paintings, still common in the area today.
In terms of composition, the vibrant colours were achieved by use of mineral pigments and the Calafate berry as ink, mixed with some kind of binder. To preserve the paintings, both guanaco fat and urine were applied as a sealant. As to why so many hands in particular were the 'subject' of the art, the answer to this invites the visitor to ponder...
There were two things which surprised me most about visiting the Cueva de las Manos – the amount of cave painting, it's very extensive, and also the natural setting, it's stunningly beautiful.
Sally Dodge Patagonia Specialist
How to get there
Cueva de las Manos is often considered a stop-off and prehistorical highlight on the legendary Ruta 40. If you're travelling in the direction from Bariloche to El Calafate, you might visit following time at the Posadas and Pueyrredon Lakes and prior to the Perito Moreno National Park.
Estancia Cueva de las Manos is the starting point of a spectacular hike to the caves. From Posadas Lake, it's reached by 75km along Ruta 40 (dirt road) and a further 60km off route (paved road). Once at the estancia, you can trek one hour down to the canyon, cross the river and then climb to the other side. It's an adventure of a journey and may also offer encounters with the likes of guanacos and ostriches. Alternatively, you can drive instead, which involves an hour along unpaved road.
Planning your visit
Making the trip to the Cueva de Los Manos is somewhat of a detour from the Ruta 40, and the drive involves navigating a remote, gravel track no matter where you're coming from. The beauty of the surroundings and the wildlife sightings keep the anticipation high, though.
You'll have to pay an entrance fee (equivalent to approx USD $10, paid in cash only) to explore the caves, which includes the price of the mandated Spanish/English-speaking guide. Tours last for one hour and are bookable year-round. The area can also be visited all year due to its temperate weather, but if you're taking a specific hiking route to the caves this may be time-specific, and we also recommend you ensure local accommodation is open.
Even though the artwork has naturally preserved well, human vandalism (for instance, the touching of surfaces and removal of fragments) has threatened the continuity of this preservation and as such the paintings are now fenced. This is not a problem for viewing them but is important to note in terms of taking photographs.
Where to stay
There is no accommodation at the Cueva de las Manos – the original estancia has been bought by the Patagonia Park and the accommodation closed. The nearest accommodation is Hotel Kelem in Perito Moreno (2 hrs, 110 km away), Hosteria Antigua Patagonia, Los Antiguos (2.5 hrs, 170 km away), Rio Tarde Casa Patagonica, Lago Posadas (2.75 hrs, 120 km away), and Estancia La Angostura near Gobernador Gregors (3.25 hrs, 240 km away).
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Patagonia is a vast and varied region, with a wealth of things to see and do, a range of places to stay and a limited transport network.
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