Alpacas in South America: 2020 has challenged plans for travel and animal encounters, but slowly we are emerging beyond a horizon of the corona virus and what better time than now to start planning your dream animal encounters around the globe.
You can start with a visit to the South American Andean regions that are home to the beautiful, quirky and whimsical alpacas who offer delight to anyone in their presence.
In Andean mythology, legend has it that the alpaca was summoned into the physical world after a goddess fell in love with a mortal man. Her father bestowed the alpaca on the man as his responsibility to Shepard throughout challenges, and in doing so, prove his love for the goddess and his ability to protect and care for her.
However the man could not uphold this responsibility and the goddess fled home, the alpacas following her. It is believed that the man was able to prevent a few alpacas from fleeing and to this day, the alpacas wade the open planes of the Andes, waiting for the end of the world to come, to return home to their goddess.
Interested? Read ahead or skip to the heading of your choice…
Why visit alpacas in South America?
The much loved llamas and alpacas may have stolen visitors hearts with their comical and soft, endearing nature, but in the heart of Peru they symbolize something far greater.
Peruvians value Llamas and Alpacas as iconic symbols within their culture and heritage. Centuries ago, the Alpaca, as an image, had significance in rituals, celebrations and religion. The Alpaca provided a form of livelihood and hope in the sale of its fiber, sustaining populations of farmers. It was therefore seen as a gift sent from Pachamama, the Goddess of growth and fertility in Inca Mythology and revered by Andean communities.
These camelid creatures find their way onto everything – from clothes to restaurant walls to trinkets in local gift shops and have become sensationalized and adored globally. For this blog we focus on going back to the origin of the alpaca when you visit alpacas in South America.
|Origin: The family Camelidae first appeared in Americas 40–45 million years ago, splitting into South American lamini tribes. Only 2-5 million years ago the family split into Lama and Vicugna upon migrating down to South America. Domesticated descendants being the Llama and Alpaca. Native to Peru. Now found globally.|
|Breeds: Suri in Columbia and most commonly Huacaya, found predominantly in Peru.|
|Behaviour: Live in Social herds; Territorial Male, females and the young. Can be Aggressive when threatened or commanded so but mostly gentle and highly intelligent.|
|Training: Very trainable, responding to food. Have been used as guard animals.|
|Sounds: Commonly Hums ( known as ‘Orgling’).|
|Gestation Period: Average period is 11, 5 months.|
|Habitat: High Mountain altitudes in temperate conditions.|
|Diet: Consume 1, 5% of body weight in grass per day.|
|Product: Used for production of fibres/ Alpaca wool.|
|Life expectancy: 15- 20 years.|
#1 They’re ancient : domesticated more than 6000 years ago by the Incan civilization. Evolved from camels -distantly related and originate from South America
#2 The Alpaca (vicugña pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid.
#3 Alpaca presence is therapeutic – used in animal therapy practices where it has been noted that animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Due to the popularity of this practice, many organizations have adapted Alpacas into methods of addressing, managing and treating mental health.
#4 Alpaca fiber is an incredible, material with many characteristics that make it high quality such as being water-resistant
#5 The fiber is so durable and resilient that it is also fire repellent and is a beautiful hypoallergenic alternative to wool. It is due to this resilience that the alpaca’s coat is known as fiber and not wool and is seen as a luxury product.
#6 Alpaca fiber comes in 22 colors and hundreds of shades
#7 Alpacas hum when they are curious, content, worried, bored, fearful, distressed or cautious ( this sound is known as ‘ Orgling’ )
#8 Alpacas and llamas can successfully cross-breed. The offspring they create are known as Huarizo
#9 There exist two types of Alpaca: Suri and the Huacaya( more common and predominantly in Peru)
#10 They have become a trending animal to adopt, feature in design/ art/ photography and especially to visit
The global spread of Alpacas:
The uniqueness of the Alpaca fiber/ yarn led to an emergence of the Alpaca popularity on the forefront of yarn production in the 1900s.
This, regenerating in American markets in the 1920s, enriching the value of the Peruvian Alpaca and comodifying the alpaca, which changed the livelihoods of Peruvian communities and offered economic prosperity. In Peru, in the 1940’s, Don Julio Barreda, the wold’s first Alpaca breeder, purposefully began to selectively breed alpacas toward better fiber and specific color. This was done through creation of distinct herd alpacas, and culled out llama genes.
Today he is recognized industry-wide as the world’s finest alpaca breeder.Prior to 1980, only a small number of alpacas could be found in North American zoos and sanctuaries. From 1983, during temporary lifting of alpaca importation rules, at least 600 alpacas were exported to North America from Chile. A second herd arrived from Chile in 1988. In 1990, alpacas were also brought to North America from Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Importation was stopped in 1999 due to the closing of the Alpaca Registry, which ensures breed purity and high standards. DNA technology verifies lineages. As of 2018, There are now estimates of over a quarter million alpacas in the United States and thousands more across the globe as they acclimatize to farms and attract tourists who long to interact and engage with these lovable creatures.
Where to see Alpacas: Back to their South American roots
Nowadays you can encounter Alpacas in most countries however we want to focus on Alpacas natural habitat of origin. The Southern American countries where alpacas roam at high altitude Andes mountain tops of some of the most serene and breathtaking settings: Lets go back to the alpaca roots. We’ve found the best 4 countries and tour operators to visit alpacas in South America:
Discover landscapes etched with enigmatic lines, wild Amazon jungle and soaring Andes mountains.
Peru harbors secrets dating a millennium. Experience the world wonders of the Ancient Incan ruins and trails, and partake in Andean treks throughout the timeless and astonishing Mountains. Peru is home to 90% of the world’s Alpaca population and therefore is our number one place to visit to encounter alpaca in their place of origin.
Amidst the cultural and historical presence embedded in the country which boasts the early existence of one of the largest civilizations of its time ( 1400 CE) , whilst also offering geographical wonders… it is a place that simply cannot be beaten. Popularly tourists can encounter wild herds of alpaca hiking the Ausangate Trek and the ‘ Rainbow Mountain’.
#2 Western Bolivia
Visit alpacas in South America; Bolivia: Celebrated for its colorful history, fascinating customs, expansive and ever-changing wildlife and landscapes, it lies at the heart of South America creating opportunities for tourists to pave their own way forward in unique journeys with encounters at every twist and turn
. Although a large part of Bolivia is not developed, those willing to take the path less traveled will have an experience of a life time, adventures like non other and stories to take back home.
Welcomed by locals, despite much of the country being poverty stricken, it is one of the most hospitable countries. Mouthwatering Spanish cuisine to experience. Diverse encounters with wildlife.Fascinating historical background to learn about.Cultural significance with over 36 indigenous cultures.
Take part in fiestas/ festivals, celebrating the history and the arts. Beautiful scenery variety, from dense jungle to red mountains, to lakeside villages and more. Moderate temperatures year round and adventures for all. Bolivia does not disappoint.
Also interestingly their national animal is the relative of the alpaca, the Llama which goes without being said that Bolivia is home to many alpacas and llamas alike. Alpacas are bred in Bolivia for their fibers more than anything because their fiber has become so valuable.
Famed for its connection to the Darwin-studied Galapagos Islands, and described as the ‘ hidden gem of South America’, Ecuador boasts some of the most incredible wildlife diversity in the world.
Ecuador might be smaller than other South American Countries but its a destination worth exploring with its idyllic beaches, mountainous trails, indigenous markets and and cultural heritage! Have a look for yourself…
#4 Northern Chile
Chile attracts many tourists in search of cultural richness and breathtaking natural beauty. Offering up exquisite hiking trails and world wonders to witness. Patagonia homes the largest ice field in the world; Glacier Grey. The mountainous stretches of scenery and wildlife accompanied offer a photographer’s paradise. Northern Chile presents free roaming Alpacas in social herds at large. Visitors can become immersed into indigenous and German culture, reminiscent of German occupation of Chile post 1800. Indulgence into the different cuisines offered by each city and the impressive wine land country, make for quite a culinary and cultural treat.
Difference between Alpaca and llamas:
llamas and Alpacas can often be mistaken for one another due to their common ancestral line that actually makes them cousins.
They are descendants of the Camelidae family, related to the camel and other of the oldest domesticated animals found in the world. llamas were bred for their labor, used as pack animals and occasional as a source of meat. Alpacas on the other hand were bred purely for their fiber which is valued as a luxurious and high quality product.
They can also be physically distinguished from one another with Alpacas being slightly smaller and far fluffier than the llama. Their snouts and necks are also shorter and their ears are significantly different in shape too.
How to help?
Due to low wages of labor involved with alpaca farming and climate change affecting the conditions that challenge farmers and their natural resources, it is harder to maintain alpaca business.
Therefore the Nuñoa Project (Peru) was established and hopes to help Andean communities continue in their traditional practices and create a better overall quality of life for themselves, and their animals. This is with funding to continue maintaining alpaca farming, fiber production and sales which reflects in the economic health of Peru.
If you love alpacas and care about their native communities you can donate here
Interested in owning your own Alpaca? Make sure to do lots of research about their needs first. You can visit the Alpaca Owner’s Association for more information. If you are willed to have adventures with horses as well, we wrote about the Top 10 Multi-day Horseback treks.
The South American Andean region offers more than the unfolding beauty of versatile and breathtaking landscapes.
It presents opportunity to immerse oneself in local, indigenous culture, cuisine, history and traditions that invite a colorful and endearing experience with many adventures to embark on. Notably an unforgettable sight to bestow; being able to encounter wild herds of Alpacas that roam freely in their place of origin, their South American roots.
Celebrated culturally and worldwide, worshiped for centuries in Peruvian communities and still holding an integral part in the livelihoods of many South Americans.
This unfiltered and organic encounter with Andean communities and the Alpacas that make these landscapes their home, make for an unforgettable and truly special experience. After reading this I hope you want to visit alpacas in South America and witness the impressionable and timeless biodiversity and culture present.
If you are interested in other Safaris, check out our Top 10 Safari Parks in Africa!