Cuevas Gualicho

Punta Walichu - Cuevas Walichu


Useful Information

Location: 8km east of El Calafate. From El Calafate take Provincial Route 11 east, after 6km turn left at sign, follow gravel road to the end. Parking lot at the lake.
(-50.294672, -72.202293)
Open: All year Tue-Sun 10-19.
[2020]
Fee: yes.
[2020]
Classification: SpeleologyErosional Cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: n/a
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided, audioguide
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Cuevas Walichu, Punta Walichu, Tel: +54-2902-497-666, Mobile: +54-9-2966-565228, E-mail:
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.

History

1877 described by Francisco Pascasio Moreno in his travel diary.
1988 surveyed by archaeologists from the University of La Plata.
2009 declared an Archaeological Site and of Provincial and National Interest by the Chamber of Deputies of the Nation.

Description

Although generally listed as Cuevas Walichu (Walichu Caves), they are actually called Cuevas Gualicho, Gualicho is the Tehuelche word for God. Punta Walichu is the location, an escarpment at the shores of Lago Argentino, which is fed by the melting waters of Cerro Pietrobelli and Cerro Roma. The water then forms the Rio Santa Cruz which flows east to the Atlantic Ocean. The remote spot in Argentinas part of Patagonia has quite exceptional cave paintings to offer. From the parking lot along the foot of the escarpment there are numerous small caves and overhanging cliff faces. After 250m at the end of the caves is the Cave Restaurant Navio, which is a little rustic, but the food is very good.

The rocks are conglomerates and sandstones, a clastic sedimentary rock formed by the debris from the Andes. So it is actually a series erosional caves formed by the waves of the lake and most likely rather young, in geologic terms. The native inhabitants used the caves as shelter and painted on the walls. There are hand contours, similar to Cueva de los Manos, but also other paintings. Several different methods were used to create the images, including finger dragging, finger pressure, the use of tufts of hair, and hollow bones. If they actually chose to only paint in the caves is unclear, but paintings which are not protected by a cave were destroyed by weathering, if they existed. The paintings have been dated to 4000 BC.

The site was first described by Francisco Pascasio Moreno in his travel diary. He came to this place and discovered paintings, he thought must be made by man. He made sketches of the geometrical figures he found, mostly U or L like patterns. He also named the place Punta Walichu. Francisco Pascasio Moreno (31-MAY-1852 – 22-NOV-1919) was a prominent explorer and academic in Argentina. He is often called Perito Moreno, perito means specialist or expert.

Quite exceptional is a panel with anthropozoomorphs, anthropomorphs, and animal footprints. In other words there are figures which resemble humans or human-like figures with animal parts.

The place is developed as a tourist site, with information plates and trails. On walls which were free of paintings, replicas of other sites in the area were made. The originals are either not open to the public or in very remote locations. The paintings were made by the Aónikenk, as they called themselves, or Tehuelche, as they were called. Actually the Aónikenk were the southernmost people of at least four, which were called Tehuelche. There is also an area with reconstructions of typical items they used. There is the replica of a Chenke or Tehuelche Tomb and a Kaú Toldo, a tent-like hut. The reconstructions were made by Doña Dora Machado, a Tehuelche descendant.

There is a map to the site, the stops are numbered and there is an audioguide in Spanish, English, or French. You can hear or download the audioguide from their website, or borrow an mp3 player on site. We recommend to download the audioguide to your smartphone and take earphones with you.