Las grutas de Ongamira

Useful Information

Location: Ongamira, 25 km from Capilla del Monte, 120 km from Córdoba.
(-30.774584, -64.406051)
Open: All year daily 9-15:30.
Fee: Adults ARP 800.
Classification: SpeleologyErosional Cave
Light: n/a
Guided tours: self guided, D=1h
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Alberto Rex González, Osvaldo Menghin (1954): Archaeological excavations at the Ongamira site, Córdoba (Argentine Republic) National University of La Plata, 1954.
Address: Las grutas de Ongamira.
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1574 thousands of native people slaughtered by Spanish conquerors.
1940 archaeological excavations by Aníbal Montes and Alberto Rex González.
1950 excavations by the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata.
1954 excavations by the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata.


The Cuevas de Ongamira, also known as Las grutas de Ongamira are actually no caves. The location is an escarpment with a huge cliff full of abris, overhanging rocks and large grottoes. Those erosional caverns were formed by the nearby river who cut into the cliff. The rocky outcrops are part of the Parque Natural Ongamira. The area is home to many nesting birds and there are numerous walking routes offering great outlooks.

This place is quite famous for Argentinians. In 1574, Spanish conquerors slaughtered thousands of native people here. It was one of the greatest tragedies of the colonial era. The Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda once called this the saddest place in the world. The story goes like this:

In 1573 the Spanish farmer and miner Blas de Rosales came to this area escorting Juan Nuñez de Prado. He was commissioned by the founder of Córdoba, Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera. But the natives fiercely defended their villages and exterminated the invaders in an ambush near the Ongamira caves. Squads of arrowmen, spearmen and axmen, commanded by the chief Unca or Onga, killed the intruders. A regiment of twenty-five men under the command of Captains Antón Berrú, Miguel de Ardiles and Tristán de Tejeda was sent to retaliate. The armor and shields protected the Spanish against the attacks of the stone age weapons. On 19-DEC-1574 they defeated the warriors and killed them, destroying any hope of resistance. Thousands of women, men and children committed suicide by jumping from the cliff, not to surrender and be enslaved by the conquerors.

Since 1940 the caves were studied by the archaeologists Aníbal Montes and Alberto Rex González. The excavations were continued by the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata in the 1950s. They revealed scrapers, conanas, pestles, burials of adults and children, bead necklaces, punches, and mortars. Arrowheads were created from quartz, flint, and bone, which have a triangular shape with a straight base and convex sides. The remains were dated to be some 5000 years old. There is a museum on site where many remains are on display.

The place was a resting place for groups of nomadic hunters of guanacos and deer. It was not inhabited, but visited regularly. Most likely the hunters were following the migration of the animals during the year.