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Llamas of Machu Picchu

12 Feb
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The Llamas of Machu Picchu

Wednesday February 12, 2020 - Posted by Inca Trail Team

One of Peru’s nicknames is the Land of the Llamas. Who doesn’t love llamas? Llamas are representative of Peruvian culture and when you travel in Peru, you will have many opportunities to see and take photos of this lovely animal. One of those places is the Inca citadel Machu Picchu.

The fluffy and amusing llamas are known as serene, friendly and curious animals. read about the Llamas of Machu Picchu.

Llamas express emotions through their enormous eyes and comical gestures. They are social and enjoy being in a group of their kind. They are known to engage with each other – which can be observed through playful behavior such as ‘hugging’ (with their necks) and ‘wrestling’.

Llama selfies?

The Llamas of Machu Picchu

When walking around Machu Picchu, you may be tempted to take many photos and Insta stories of the llamas that live there. Is taking a llama selfie a good idea? Yes, you can take selfies. Llamas are very photogenic. Just do it with caution. Llamas tolerate people to get close and observe them, however, do it with care. If llamas feel threatened, they might spit to defend themselves. Just make sure to handle them with love and patience; llamas are very social creatures and can make good pets.

Best time to see the llamas

Are you interested in enjoying Machu Picchu in the presence of these mysterious and cute animals? If so, we recommend you sleep in Aguas Calientes the day before your Machu Picchu Tour *. The best way to spend some time with the llamas is to enter the citadel as early as possible. Finding the llamas will be easy they will be wandering around and eating grass. Exact numbers are missing, but sources say that there are approximately 25 llamas living at Machu Picchu. The llamas belong to the Peruvian state. The llamas living at Machu Picchu are used to contact with foreign visitors. Sometimes it even seems that they’re posing with or for you!

* many alternative Machu Picchu Treks (such as the Salkantay Trek) end in Aguas Calientes; only the classic 4 day Inca Trail does not but if you hike the Inca Trail, you will also arrive early at Machu Picchu.

The Llamas of Machu Picchu

During the 12th century, the Incas formed part of a variety of tribes in South America. 300 years later, they were able to flourish and expand their borders up north in today’s Ecuador, and to the south in modern Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. As explained by The Guardian: Llama manure supplied a type of fertilizer which generated the possibility for corn to be cultivated at outstanding altitudes, which created an increase in calorie intake for the Incas and opened their way to conquer extensive parts of South America.
Although recent findings give the llamas credibility for supporting the tremendous growth of the Inca Empire, this development has traditionally been credited to the power-hungry Emperor Pachacuti (1438 – 1471) and archaeologists generally believe that the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was built in honor of the 9th century Inca ruler. After the Spanish conquest of Tawantinsuyu (the Inca state) in the 16th century, the Inca civilization started its downfall.

The llama in Inca time

Historically, the Incas domesticated llamas, as well as alpacas (relatives of llamas tamed for their soft wool) and guinea pigs. Llamas were crucial for the development of the Inca Empire. They were kept for their meat and fur. But the Incas also used the llamas as pack animals. Llamas can easily walk on mountainous ground and carry a quarter of their weight thanks to their thick leather soles.
Llamas were also frequently sacrificed for the Inca gods (especially during the Inti Raymi, one of the most important Inca ceremonies). Nonetheless, llamas were also very important for their dung (fertilizer).

Characteristics of llamas

Llamas (scientific name: Lama Glama) are herbivorous, domesticated mammals of the Camelidae family. Just like camels, they can survive on small amounts of water. Thanks to their extensive and prominent hair, that gives them their ‘fluffy’ look, they stay warm during the cold Andean nights. Llamas’ coats can be black, white, brown, or reddish. They have a lifespan of around 20 to 30 years and reach a length of approximately 160 cm.

The Llamas of Machu Picchu

Llamas in the altitude

The high altitude of the Andes means that there is a low air pressure. However, llamas are able to live without any problem at these altitudes because of the high amount of hemoglobin in their blood. Thanks to the high levels of hemoglobin, they can absorb oxygen at the average height of 4000 meters above sea level.

Funny llama facts:

  • An over packed llama will lie down and not move until you take off some weight
  • The gestation period of a llama is about 350 days
  • Llamas have three stomachs and eat grass, weeds, and other plants
  • Peru is home to about 90% of the alpacas and 26% of the llamas in the world
  • Baby Alpaca is NOT the fiber from a new-born baby alpaca but a type of Alpaca fiber, taken from the first shearing. Baby Alpaca is a very expensive wool that comes from the underside of the neck and the belly, when the animal is less than one-year-old.

Llamas vs Alpacas

Most of the camelids you will see at Machu Picchu are llamas. However, you may also encounter the related alpaca. Although similar, the main differences between llamas and alpacas can be seen between their ears, fur and size. The ears of the llama are long and curved, whereas those of the alpaca are short and straight. Furthermore, the llama is almost twice as big and heavy. Llamas weigh around 200 to 350 lbs. (90 to 158 kg), while Alpacas normally weigh 100 to 175 lbs. (45 to 68 kg).

Moreover, llamas have longer faces while those of the alpacas are hairy, which gives them their famous cute look. Another way to spot the difference between llamas and alpacas is by observing which animal is the fluffiest. Llamas have a harsh outer coat, while alpacas have soft, dense and fast growing hair.

The Llamas of Machu Picchu

Do llamas spit?

Although both species are social, llamas tend to be a bit more independent. This means that they are more likely to protect themselves. Both animals do spit but this rarely happens. If a llama or alpaca spits, it will be when they feel threatened. Llamas are more prone to spitting than alpacas.

Both species have been domesticated for approximately 5,000 years. Because of their soft hair, alpacas are generally kept for their fur which produces luxury fiber. Llamas are usually kept for their meat and as pack-carrying animals because of their larger size.

Origin: Guanaco and Vicuña

If you are lucky, you will encounter the wild ancestors of the llama and alpaca during your Peru trip! The two camelid species that live in the high Andes are the guanaco and vicuña. It is generally believed that the llama is the domesticated descendant of the guanaco, and that the alpaca is related to the vicuña.

The vicuña shares many characteristics with the alpaca: small, slender, weighs around 150 lbs. (68kg), measures around 80 cm (2 ft. 6 in.) at the shoulder and has small ears. Both species have a highly soft fleece. However, the vicuña produces this in a very low quantity of fleece: just one pound per year, approximately.

Although smaller, the guanaco shares characteristics with the llama: rough outer hair and a soft undercoat. Currently, both the guanaco and vicuña are endangered. Luckily, it is not allowed to hunt them anymore.

Other places in Peru where llamas can be seen:

  • Awanacancha (Sacred valley of the Incas, on the road from Cusco to Pisac): this camel breeding center is also called a “living museum of los Andes.”
  • Rainbow Mountain nearby Cusco.
  • Arequipa.
  • Along the Ausangate Trek
  • Cusco city and also nearby Sacsahuaman.

Other countries in South America where llamas live:

Another funny llama video:

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