Cueva de las Manos, Argentina

The Cueva de las Manos is known for its millennia-old cave paintings. Countless hands, as well as people and animals, are depicted on the walls of the cave and have captivated researchers and visitors since the 1960s.

The Cueva de las Manos ("Cave of the Hands") is located in the solitude of the Argentine province of Santa Cruz in southern Argentina about 160km south of Perito Moreno. Since the 1960s, the spectacular petroglyphs have captivated researchers and visitors. In 1999, the Cueva de las Manos was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


What is the best way to get to Cueva de las Manos?

The cave is located in the valley of the Pinturas River, a rather remote area of Patagonia, which can best be reached via the gravel road RP 41. This branches off Ruta 40 about 3km north of Bajo Caracoles. Pinturas Canyon is just under 50km to the northeast.

The cave with the unique millennial works of art is over 20m deep and 10m high. Towards the back, the floor becomes steeper and steeper until the ceiling is only 2m above the heads of the visitors. Due to the protected location, the rock paintings have been very well preserved in their original colors until today.

Countless left hands

Rock paintings in the Cueva de las Manos, the "Cave of the Hands", Argentina - © mauriciogallego / Fotolia
© mauriciogallego / Fotolia

The Cueva de las Manos gained worldwide fame for its unique murals. As the name suggests, its walls are covered all over with paintings and drawings of hands.

Presumably, the artists who created these impressive images were all right-handed, because on the walls are almost only left hands depicted. On the floor were found several pipes made of bone, with which the paint was probably sprayed over their own hand as a stencil.

From these ancient tools, it was calculated that the images must be 9,000 to 13,000 years old. This makes them the oldest man-made works in South America. Around 700 A.D. the caves were inhabited for the last time, probably by ancestors of the Patagonian people, also called Firelanders.

Why these illustrations?

The meaning of these countless hand images in red, white, black and yellow is unclear. One theory is a rite of passage for a boy to become a man, since the size of the hands roughly suggests that of a male teenager.

Besides hands, there are also images of people and hunting scenes, llamas, nandus, a flightless ratite, felines and other animals, as well as geometric shapes and zig-zag patterns.


Guided tours of the Cueva de las Manos

Guided tours of the Cueva de las Manos are offered every hour or so; you are not allowed to explore the underground works of art on your own.

From the impressive cave paintings you also have a breathtaking view over the canyon that the Pinturas River has cut into the stony landscape over thousands of years. Since the region around Cueva de las Manos is also an important paleontological and historical site, it was protected by the creation of Perito Moreno National Park.

More petroglyphs have been discovered in the canyons, rivers, valleys and lakes. Fossil finds indicate a primeval sea. Perito Moreno is now known as the archaeological capital of the province of Santa Cruz.