Patagonia has been inhabited for thousands of years. The last indigenous inhabitants were the Tehuelche people, most of whom have been killed in Argentina’s Campaña del Desierto (Desert Campaign) between 1787 and 1880. The native people left traces in form of tools and rock paintings. Some of the finest paintings – in all of South America – can be seen in the Cueva de las Manos near the town of Perito Moreno (not to be confused with the glacier of the same name!).
How to Get to Cueva de las Manos
From the town of Perito Moreno, you can either drive directly to the entrance of the caves or you drive to the opposite side of the canyon and walk down to the river and then up to the caves. Actually it’s not a cave but a series of overhangs in the 90 meter high cliff face overlooking the canyon of Río Pinturas. This trail is quite demanding but it’s absolutely amazing. The landscape is spectacular, the red and brown cliffs and the Patagonian flora contrast with the light green willow trees and grass in the canyon. There, you cross the river on a small and shaky suspension bridge (only one person at a time) in the shadow of the trees and the cliffs raising from the water, before you hike up to the caves.
At the Cueva de las Manos
The paintings can be seen on a guided walk along the cliff face. They’re protected by fences since some areas have been badly damaged by greedy and careless people. Some of the paintings are over 9000 years old, the youngest ones “only” 1300 years. Most are hand prints where the painters have placed their hands on the rock and then blown the color (a mixture of color extracted from fruits, earth or stones, as well as animal blood and grease) over their hand, leaving a negative of the hand. Among the more than 800 hand prints, there’s one hand with six fingers. Other paintings depict guanacos, scorpions, and human figures (and one condor, at least we think it is one).