Cueva de las Manos

Cave of the Hands

Useful Information

Location: Patagonia Region, Santa Cruz Province. In the Alto Valle Río Pinturas (High Valley Paintings River), north east of Santa Cruz. (47.15 S 70.67 W)
Open: NOV to APR daily 9-19, tours on the full hour.
MAY to OCT daily 10-18, tours at demand.
Fee: Adults ARP 400, Argentinian ARP 200, Argentinian Seniors ARP 50, Santa Cruz Residents free, Children (0-11) free.
Classification: ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: n/a
Dimension: L=24 m, W=14 m, H=10 m.
Guided tours: D=1 h.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Dirección de Turismo de Perito Moreno (Perito Moreno Tourism Directorate), Avenida San Martín 2005, Z9040 Perito Moreno, Tel: +54-2963-432732. E-mail:
Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Pensamiento Latinoamericano (INAPL), 3 de Febrero 1370/78 ( C1426BJN), Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Tel: +54-11-4782-7251, Tel: +54-4783-6554.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


BP 13,000 to 9,500 paintings made by Tehuelches natives.
BP 7350 14C date for archaeological remains.
1941 discovered by a monk.
1972 discovered by archaeologists.
1980 protective bars in the main sectors to prevent direct public contact with the paintings by Turismo de la Nación.
1995 The National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought participates in the management and scientific advice.
1999 inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List.


Cueva de las Manos, Argentina. Public Domain.
Cueva de las Manos, Argentina. Public Domain.

In the Alto Valle Río Pinturas (High Valley Paintings River), north east of Santa Cruz. The caves are located on private lands, visitors are only allowed due to kindness of the owners.

The Cave of the Hands, is named after the stencilled outlines of human hands in the cave, but there are also hunting scenes as well as many pictures of animals, such as the guanacos (Lama guanicoe) or lama, which are still common in the region. More than 890 paintings of human hands appear together with geometric figures and animals along the walls of the cave which is only 24 meters deep by 15 meters wide at the entrance and 10 meters high. The hands painted in live colors varying from red, violet and reddish violet, white, black, yellow, to orange ochre and a few in green. They occur as both negative and positive forms. The great majority are left hands belonging to children, youths and adults.

The Caves of the Hands was a sacred site for the Tehuelches Indians, who lived in the area long before the Europeans arrived. They used the cave during their Summer hunting season, moving back to the coast in the Autumn to avoid the harsh Patagoniaian Winters.

Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.

Since Tony wrote this description a lot has happened. Actually it was already outdated in 2002 as it was based on an older publication. The site quickly became famous and well visited during the 1980s, and the owner was simply not prepared to handle this. The site became a national treasure and a UNESCO WHL site. This requires both, making the site accessible to the public and protecting it from damages. It seems the main player in this game was the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Pensamiento Latinoamericano (National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought), a governmental organisation. They organized the handling of the visitors, made a management plan, and made basic decisions.

Today the site is gated with a permanent presence of personnel on site. Visits are possibe every day but only on guided tours by specialized guides. Walkways, railings and decks along the painting circuit allow access without damaging the paintings. Quite impressive is the fact that it is allowed to take pictures, most painted caves do not allow this. But the cave is open to the daylight and it is quite easy to make pictures without flash. There are informative signs, an interpretation center which also works as a visitor center and the new Carlos Gradín Museum with its laboratory. The development is quite impressive.

The cave contains, as name suggests, mostly hands, which were made by pressing a hand to the wall and the blowing paint with the mouth. The paint forms a circular patch while the hand covers the wall and creates a negative without paint. This technique is found all over the world, because it is so simple. Often forgotten is that there are numerous other paintings, of animals and humans.

More interesting is actually the age of the paintings. While datings between 9,000 and 3,000 years BP are quite accepted and were also made in other caves of Argentina, there are some datings around 15,000 years BP, which are highly controversioal. They actually collide with the generally accepted Clovis theory, which postulates a colonisation of the Americas across the Bering Strait and through Alaska. However, as always in science, the theory is continually adapted to the increasing number of known facts. There are other archaeological sites in South America, southern Chile and Monte Verde, which were dated up to 32,000 BP. This would suggest an earlier colonization of South America probably from Polynesia.