Let’s talk about camels. Not the ones with humps on their backs, but their Peruvian cousins. You’ve probably heard of llamas and alpacas, common throughout Peru, and they are domesticated versions of vicuñas (vi-koo-nyas) and guanacos (gwa-nah-kos). These animals of the Andean landscapes are all known by the family name, Camelid, of which also includes camels. These beautiful animals are an integral part of Peruvian culture and Peru is the best place to see them. However, can you tell them apart?
Llamas, Alpacas, Vicunas. What’s the difference?
Widely used as a pack animal by those living in the Andean countryside. Their wool is not as refined alpaca fleece and their heads aren’t quite as furry. Llamas are more independent and typically less jumpy than their smaller cousins. Because they tend to be more aggressive, they are sometimes used as guard animals for alpacas, sheep, and other livestock.
Two ways to tell a llama from an alpaca are their banana-shaped ears and larger bodies, weighing up to 400 lbs.
For more than 5,000 years alpacas have been bred for their wool, renowned for its quality and softness. They have also been bred for their meat, so alpaca-based dishes can be found throughout Peru. Being herd animals, they are comfortable in a community.
Their short ears, flatter snouts and smaller frames distinguish them from llamas.
Vicuñas are the national animal of Peru and appear on the Peruvian coat-of-arms. They can be found throughout Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, where their population is highest. Their wool is extremely fine and expensive, owing to the fact they can only be shorn once every three years. Only royalty are permitted to wear clothes made of vicuña wool.
Now you know about Camelids!
Llamas and alpacas are incredibly dignified, elegant, and graceful. The fleece of the alpaca is most delicate and can be found in many forms in Peru – scarves, sweaters, jackets, even socks! It is not itchy as sheep wool is very soft and warm. Of course it is meant to keep alpacas warm in the high altitude regions of the Andes!
If you are interested in seeing these creatures then head to the Cusco Region and the central Andes, where they walk amongst the countryside and the towns.