Argentina’s Cueva de las Manos (the Cave of Hands)

Stenciled hands in various shades of oranges and red paint on a cave wall.

Ancient handprints at the Cueva de las Manos. Photo © Lisa Weichel, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Beyond Baja Caracoles, rugged RN 40 traverses the northern steppe until the point where, over millions of years, the Río Pinturas has cut a deep, scenic canyon. In the process, erosion has left countless aleros, stony overhangs often mistakenly called cuevas (caves). One of these is the Cueva de las Manos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where stencils of hundreds of human hands, guanacos, and abstract forms cover the walls in orange, red, and yellow tones.

Dating from around 7370 b.c., the oldest paintings represent hunter-gatherers from immediate postglacial times, but the more abstract designs, which are fewer, are more recent.

Dating from around 7370 b.c., the oldest paintings represent hunter-gatherers from immediate postglacial times, but the more abstract designs, which are fewer, are more recent. Oddly enough, nearly all the hands from which the site takes its name are left hands.

Along with Parque Nacional Perito Moreno, this is one of La Cuarenta’s finest detours, with two main access points. From Bajo Caracoles in the south, gravel RP 41 goes directly to the site, where the municipality of Perito Moreno operates a small confitería and a rocky campground, and charges US$4 admission to the caves. Metal bars now block close access to the paintings, to discourage vandalism and prevent repeated touching that could damage the paintings, but they do not obscure the view.

Another access point is the Pinturas drainage itself, with two separate alternatives (both of which also offer accommodations). From Estancia Casa de Piedra, 45 kilometers north of Bajo Caracoles, there’s a 12-kilometer access road, at the end of which it’s a three-kilometer hike to the paintings; from Estancia Cueva de las Manos, another 23 kilometers north and seven kilometers east, another 15-kilometer access road permits a close approach. By either the northern or southern route, mountain bikers can avoid backtracking to RN 40 by hauling their bikes over the river (there’s a footbridge) and out the other direction.

On the east side of RN 40, ideal for cyclists, the bucolic Estancia Casa de Piedra (tel. 02963/43-2199) allows camping for $6 pp, plus US$2 for showers; it also rents basic but passable rooms for US$131–139 s or d with shared baths. It’s not always dependably staffed, however.

Estancia Cueva de las Manos (tel. 011/5237-4043 in Buenos Aires) has four modern carpeted rooms with private baths (US$90 s, US$100 d, with breakfast) as well as fine hostel accommodations (US$26 pp, without breakfast). Restaurant lunches and dinners cost about US$18, and afternoon tea is US$8. It’s open November–March and sometimes for Semana Santa. Staff will also arrange other excursions in the area.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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