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Last updated on July 12th, 2018 at 05:36 pm

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Cave of the Hands

The History of Cueva de las Manos

Cueva de las Manos is a Unesco World Heritage Site and impressive archaeological wonder in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina.

The interior of the cave is detailed with unique rock art dating back to 7370 BC. It is believed that cave dwellers, who may have been the ancestors of the historic hunter-gatherer communities of Patagonia, stenciled imagery onto the walls. Within the near-vertical walls, you can find imprints of human hands, drawings of guanacos (an animal related to the camel), depictions of hunting scenes, geometric shapes and more. These images are easy to spot, as there are as many as 800 drawings on the walls of this cave, with over 90% of the images being hands. Interesting enough, most of the handprints are of left hands, indicating that the artists were probably stenciling and spraying paint with their right hands. 

Cueva de las Manos

When was Cueva de las Manos discovered?

It is difficult to say exactly when Cueva de las Manos was first discovered. First discovered by a monk in 1941, the cave was further explored by researcher Rex Gonzalez in 1949, although it wasn’t until the late 1960s that archeologists began to study the site in detail. One researcher whose contribution was mentioned by UNESCO was Carlos J. Gradin.

Why was the cave of the hands made?

We don’t know for certain why the Cave of the Hands was made, but its presence is quite significant to archaeological research. The artistic compositions represent original evidence about the Patagonian hunters’ behavior and hunting techniques. The scenes depicted here have been a focus for archaeologists for more than 25 years, as they share a snapshot of the culture of the earliest human societies in South America.

How were the handprints made?

The art is said to be hand stenciled using bone-made pipes to help define the silhouettes.

Cueva de las Manos

The Cueva de las Manos Location

Las Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) is nestled in the valley of the Pinturas River, a remote spot of Argentine Patagonia. Its location is so isolated that you can only access Las Cueva de las Manos via long gravel dirt roads, making the journey a bit difficult. However, it is incredibly worth it, as you are lead to some of the earliest known forms of human art! The Cueva de las Manos location is perfect for any adventure traveler.

When to visit Cueva de las Manos

Las Cueva de las Manos can be visited year-round due to its agreeable and temperate weather. However, some treks around the area may be closed or inaccessible depending on when you choose to visit. December to February is considered Argentina’s summer season and is packed with tourists.

Therefore, we recommend that travelers head to Las Cueva de las Manos anytime from September to February, which includes part of the spring season. During the spring season, the weather is a bit cooler and there are fewer tourist crowds!

If you visit during February you will be able to see the Cueva de las Manos Festival (started in 1979), which is quite the spectacle. Initially, the festival was to be named “Coiron Festival” but then “Cueva de las Manos” was chosen to honor the archaeological site that is very close to the city.

Note** If you want to visit during the months September to November (spring season), make sure that there are local accommodations open. Travel Consultants can help you determine what accommodations are available and are a great resource to use when planning to visit a remote location! 

How to get to Cueva de las Manos

The Cave of the Hands is in Francisco P. Moreno National Park in Southern Patagonia. If you’re familiar with the location of Perito Moreno, Las Cueva de las Manos is approximately 100 miles south of Perito Moreno, a trip that takes 3.5 hours. We suggest organizing this excursion with a travel agent so that as you arrive you can learn about the history of the caves from an experienced guide.

Once you’ve figured out how you will get there, you can set up some extra excursions around the area such as horseback riding or 4×4 jeep expeditions. 

Cueva de las Manos Facts

Looking for some more information on Cueva de las Manos? Check out some of our favorite Cueva de las Manos Facts below!

  • One of the sides of the cave has collapsed making it so the cave is open. This means you won’t experience claustrophobia!
  • There are two roads to reach the cave. Both roads are unpaved.
  • There are plenty of guanaco and ostrich sighting opportunities!
  • Hiking routes to the caves are available during specific times of the year. 
  • English-speaking guides are available at Las Cueva de las Manos! 
  • Don’t worry about not being able to see the paintings; they are clearly visible on the walls of the canyon. 
  • Thinking about the Cave of Hands for kids? It’s a perfect spot to bring your kids! They can learn a bit about Patagonian history as they admire the colorful paintings.

Where to Stay Cueva de las Manos (Hotels Near Las Cueva de las Manos)

Stay at Estancia Cueva de las Manos! This is arguably one of the best places to stay when visiting the Cave of the Hands. The minimalist ambiance of the estancia is part of its charm. You won’t find TVs or telephones here. Instead, you’ll have a staff that does everything to make its guests feel at home. The best part? The estancia is very close and guided excursions can be easily arranged while staying here. 

Excursions to Add to Your Trip From Cueva de las Manos

Easily accessible from El Calafate, a trip to Las Cueva de las Manos can easily be combined with a tour of Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. Plenty of local guides are able to arrange a day trip to Las Cueva de las Manos from the Perito Moreno Glacier. 

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