Let’s face it, these have been a rough couple of years for humanity. We are living through the first major pandemic in most of our collective memory, and technology seems ever more invasive in our lives. But what if we could escape for just a moment, put things back into perspective, and connect with our furthest ancestors who left their handprints, las manos, on a beautiful cave in Argentina?
Off-the-beaten-path destinations like Cueva de las Manos in Argentine Patagonia give us a chance to engage with purposeful travel. They fall into the category of immersive experiences, which often leave a positive impact in both our own lives and those of the local people who welcome us in. Read on to learn all about the history, culture, and preservation of this fascinating destination!
History of the Cueva de las Manos
Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) belongs to a collection of fascinating prehistoric rock art scattered around the world. Other notable sites can be found throughout Europe as well as in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. But these rock faces in Argentina are quite unique because of their total surface area, making it the world’s largest, and arguably, most impressive rock art gallery.
Historians can’t pinpoint the precise moment in which Argentine ancestors decided to stencil their handprints and record other images, such as the local guanaco camelid. But they do know it was sometime between 13,000 and 9,500 years into the past.
Another mystery, perhaps locked away forever, stems from who actually created this art. The most common theory? The creators were ancestors of the hunter-gatherer communities called the Tehuelche people in this area of Patagonia (now Río Pinturas). The Tehuelche were still living here when European colonizers arrived in the late 19th century.
But how about why they did it in the first place? When you take your curated travel experience to the Cueva de las Manos, the sheer abundance of these images on multiple rock overhangs leading to the main cave is sure to astound you and make you ponder this very question.
Well, historians also don’t know! But an interesting theory explains how the hands probably belonged to teenage boys going through a rite of passage because they are not quite the right size to match adults. You can formulate your own theories and speculate with your private local guide, who is sure to bring these known bits of history, and more, to life.
Cueva de las Manos, PatagoniaPreservation of Cueva de las Manos until now
Since the Cueva de las Manos became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, its preservation has become of utmost importance. Its authenticity is unquestionable and provides such a unique window into our artistic and cultural evolution. The good news is that much of its preservation and conservation occurs naturally and is facilitated through the geography of this remote location in Río Pinturas.
In Río Pinturas, humidity remains low, there is little to no water filtration in the rock faces themselves, and the rock strata are quite stable. The only true threat to its preservation is an increase in overall tourism to Patagonia resulting in graffiti and chipped painting fragments. But this should not discourage you from going, because you can participate in ethical tourism while there, and actively discourage this kind of vandalism.
How to get there
Cueva de las Manos is tucked away within the Cañón de Río Pinturas, a breathtakingly stark canyon landscape fit for Dalí’s most coveted masterpieces. Getting there is a bit tricky, but nothing an adventurer at heart can’t handle. And when you travel with a high-end and personalized travel company like Kuoda, you can rest assured that all of the nitty-gritty logistics will be taken care of.
Starting at the rustic town of Perito Moreno, or the more romantic lakeside town Los Antiguos, you will drive for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half with your private guide and driver. You can drive all the way to the Cueva’s entrance; however, we recommend hiking or horseback riding for the last few miles to really get a palpable sense of this magical landscape.
Reasons to go
In addition to all of the history and mystery shrouding the Cueva de las Manos, there are a few specific reasons why we think you should consider making the journey.
1. Take a wildlife hike through Río de las Pinturas
We’ve already mentioned the option to hike the last few miles to the actual caves and rock overhangs, but you can take your time and make a few detours through the ample network of nature trails along the way. The very same wildlife depicted in the paintings still inhabits this area. So, for any wildlife enthusiasts out there, this is your chance to spot a reclusive puma, a soaring condor, or a graceful guanaco.
2. Speculate the origin and meaning behind the hands with your private local guide
It’s in places like Cueva de las Manos, where history truly comes to life! If you are taking a family vacation especially, the stories and mystery trapped within the hundreds of stenciled hands make for an enthralling and interactive lesson. Our guides are also pretty brilliant when it comes to keeping children and even the most skeptical teenagers engaged.
3. Stay in a nearby local estancia
If you have a few extra days on your hands and would like to make the most out of your visit to Cueva de las Manos, you can also stay in a nearby estancia (ranch). These estancias play a direct hand in supporting local communities and offering an exciting look into Argentine ranch culture. They are on the basic side, but what they lack in amenities they make up for in authentic hospitality.
Enhancing your experience in Cueva las Manos with Kuoda
Visiting a site of such cultural and historical significance demands impeccable attention to detail, and preferably a private travel experience. Kuoda Travel provides you with both. You can take as much time as you need on this once-in-a-lifetime day trip into humanity’s past, and trust in your guide’s storytelling abilities to bring these pre-historic scenes to life.