News

Where to see Rock Art with Naturetrek

Obviously the focus of our holidays is the wildlife and natural history of the place you are visiting, but we sometimes like to explore other related themes...

The evolution of homo erectus has always been intertwined with the fauna and flora of the environment we have inhabited, and our ancestors documented these relationships. Fortunately, in certain parts of the world these records still survive in the various forms and guises of rock art: pictographs, painted or drawn onto rock; petrographs, etched or carved into rock; earth figures, on the stone ground surface. As well as providing an important snapshot into the lives of our forebears (in addition to the archaeological finds in most of the caves where they are found), rock art is also evidence of the natural history at that time, and provide an historical context for the wildlife we see on our trips. There are a handful of Naturetrek tours that incorporate visits to rock art sites, or at least stay close to them, so why not add some extra days onto your holiday and explore these fascinating and illuminating sites. Below is a selection of some of the best, but there are many more out there!

UK
Only discovered in 2003, the petroglyphs of Creswell Crags are the most northerly cave art in Europe, and the area is a SSI with many other significant finds which prove habitation of these caves for millennia. We are planning a new Peak District weekend for the future, so why not add on a visit to the caves and visitor centre, 30 minutes to the east of Chesterfield.

France
Southern France contains some the best examples of Palaeolithic drawings and paintings, still wonderfully preserved images with vibrant colours. Although some of the caves are closed to conserve the art, impressive replica facsimiles have been constructed, and other caves are still open to the public.

On our France - The Lot Valley holiday, we spend the week in a charming rural hotel, in the village of Cabrerets, a 5-minute drive from the caves of Pech Merle, a wonderfully preserved system with paintings over 29,000 years old. The most famous image is that of the unique spotted horse, but the chambers are also covered in other horses, mammoths, reindeer, handprints and human figures. In the case of inclement weather we will include a visit to the cave, but if not this wonderful site could not be easier to reach.

One of the most famous caves ever discovered is Lascaux, which although closed to the public, has an excellent facsimile, and is only a 30-minute drive from the base on our France - The Dordogne tour. There are several other large and notable caves which can be visited such as Rouffignac, Cougnac, Font-de-Gaume and Abri du Poisson all in the vicinity of the town of Les Ezyies, less than an hour away. If there is a particularly rainy day then a visit to one or more of these caves may be included in the itinerary.

A couple of hours to the east of our The French Pyrenees tour there is a cluster of caves in and around the Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Ariégeoises, the most renowned of which is Niaux, which has one of the numerous collections of exceptional drawings that can still be visited, with images of bison, horses and ibex. Stay in this little visited part of France and visit some of these caves either before or after your Naturetrek holiday.

Spain
In the autonomous regions of Cantabria and Asturias in northern Spain there are a host of Palaeolithic art filled caves on the coast and in the foothills of the mountains. Similar in quality to those found in southern France, but less frequently visited, these caves are well worth some time. The most famous is the cave of Altamira, 40 minutes to the west of Santander, thanks to the wonderfully well preserved paintings, the most iconic of which are the red bison. Closed to the public for conservation reasons, there is a superb museum and facsimile close to the cave.

Also close to Santander is the cave of El Pendo, and the 4 caves of Monte Castillo, two of which are open to the public: El Castillo and Las Monedas. The former is the more important, with 275 images over 40,000 years old throughout the cavern, which show the start of symbolic thought and artistic expression, as well as horses, bison, deer, aurochs, goats, and a mammoth.

There are 2 separate caves further west, on the Asturian coast, the larger being Tito Bustillo in Ribadesella, with paintings of horse, deer, and most likely a whale, and the oldest figure also dated at nearly 40,000 years old. The smaller, more remote cave of El Pindal, is on the cliffside of rugged coastline, and also affords the opportunity for birdwatching, in addition to viewing the images of horse, deer, fish, bison and mammoth.

There are seven Naturetrek tours which come into and out of Santander, and you could therefore add some extra days to your holiday to include some of the above caves: Wild Spain - La Montaña Palentina, Learn Spanish in Wild Spain! - La Montaña Palentina, Spain’s Picos de Europa Mountains, Picos & Plains - the Best of Northern Spain, Butterflies of the Picos de EuropaWolf-watching in Spain and Wolf-watching in Spain (hotel).

Portugal
In the early 1990s during a survey for a proposed dam in the Côa Valley in the north-east of Portugal, rock engravings were discovered, and further exploration by archaeologists revealed there to be thousands in the vicinity. As a result the dam project was cancelled and the area declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as this is the largest open air site of Palaeolithic art in Europe, if not the world. Depictions of equine, bovine and deer adorn hundreds of rocks littered throughout the rugged valley. Given the nature of the terrain and the importance of the art, visits to the sites open to the public have to be booked in advance, and they have recently started night visits to the site of Penascosa, which provides a completely different perspective on the art. On our Wild Portugal: Birds, Alpine Flora & Prehistoric Art holiday we include this after dark visit, as a unique and fascinating way to spend an evening.

South Africa
Southern Africa has thousands of known rock art sites left by the San or Bushmen, with an unknown quantity still to be discovered. Dated from 500 BC right up to the 19th century, these scenes depict the Bushmen way of life and beliefs, and their relationship with wildlife, and contain many stunning images of animals that are still around today. There are concentrations of sites around different parts of South Africa, with some of the best in Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park. With approximately 600 painting sites and over 35,000 individual images, the most common of which is the eland which was considered sacred by the San, this area is the most famous of all, and also hosts a wide range of endemic and threatened species of flora, which we see on The Flowers of South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains holiday.

Also particularly rich in rock paintings are the Cederberg Mountains, 3 hours north of Cape Town. We spend 2 nights in Clanwilliam, the gateway to the northern Cederbergs, on The Wild Flowers of the Cape & Namaqualand, from where there are walking trails that pass some sites. There are plenty more further up into the mountains which require some more effort to visit. Not far to the north-west of Kimberley, the capital of Northern Cape Province, is the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre, which has over 400 engravings, mostly of animals such as elephant, rhino, hippo, wildebeest and eland. On our South Africa’s Rare Mammals tour we spend 2 nights in Kimberley, and whilst a visit to the engravings is not included on the official itinerary, it would be possible to arrange if you wished.

Namibia
Namibia has a diverse amount of San paintings and engravings, with the ones easily accessible located relatively close to each other (for Africa!). On our Namibia’s Etosha Pan & Skeleton Coast tour we visit the site of Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the largest concentration of rock engravings in the whole of Africa (as well as some painting). There are images of giraffe, lion, kudu, ostrich, elephant, rhino, as well as humans and handprints, and geometric shapes. There are various other sites of San rock art in central Namibia, which although are a bit more remote, are readily accessible for those who are feeling adventurous.

Chile
The Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, is home to both petrographs and geoglyphs (type of earth figures), left by the nomadic pre-hispanic peoples that lived there. It is thought that there are still many sites to be discovered, but thankfully for us there are some fine examples close to some modern day roads. On the road between Arica, Chile’s most northerly town, and the small village of San Miguel de Azapa to the east, the hillsides are covered in geoglyphs, where the black rocks have been moved to form large geometric shapes, as well as those of humans and llamas or guanacos. On our Chilean Eclipse & Northern Highlights tour we will stop to look at these on our way to the archaeological museum in San Miguel, which houses some of the oldest and best preserved mummies in the whole world, of the Chinchorro culture, dated at 5,000BC, some 2,000 years earlier than that of the Egyptian mummies.


If you would like any more information about our tours mentioned above then please feel free to call the office and speak with one of our team on 01962 733051. Similarly if you would like a tailormade holiday with a combination of wildlife and rock art, then please ask for our dedicated Tailormade Holidays Manager, Georgie Head, or email her on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and she will happily discuss the different options with you.