When you think about Peru, you think about Machu Picchu, the high mountains of the Andes, Titicaca Lake, Ceviche, Guinea pig, Nazca lines, The Classic Inca Trail hike, and the list could go on and on, of course, you also think about llamas and alpacas. These 2 animals are the cutest and most famous animals in South America, Peru, and Machu Picchu. Let's discover together the nature and importance of Llamas in Machu Picchu.

All about the Llamas and Alpacas in Machu Picchu Citadel

Llamas of Machu Picchu

Llama (Lama Glama) is the largest domesticated South American camelid. They have been used widely in the Andes as packed animals and a source of meat since the Pre-Columbian period.

Llamas live in the mountains of Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. During the Inca Empire, they became one of the most important animals and helped the Quechua Nation's fast development as they were used to transfer food, their wool, and meat as the primary source of protein.

There are four species of South American camelids:

  • Llamas.- Domesticated hundreds of years ago and have been used as pack animals since the Pre-Inca times; they were also widely used for meat during the Inca empire. Although llama wool is not as good as Alpaca, it's widely used nowadays to make clothes. Llama has long legs and curved ears.
  • Alpacas.- They are domesticated camelids in South America. Alpacas are famous for their soft wool that is lightweight, waterproof, and resistant to sunlight. Alpacas are also widely used for their meat, which is very low in cholesterol. Alpacas are shorter with big and pointed ears.
  • Guanacos.– They are closely related to llamas. However, guanacos live in the wild, and they were never domesticated. They have short reddish-brown fur, a gray face, and small ears. Guanacos are widely spread from 4500 m up to sea level; they also live in the desert, one of the camelids that can quickly adapt to weather conditions.
  • Vicuñas.- They are the smallest and most valuable South American camelids. Their fiber is the finest in the world, and over the years, Vicuñas have been hunted nearly to extinction. Nowadays, Vicuñas live in natural reserves protected by the government. They are wild mammals.

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Machu Picchu Llamas

During the Inca Empire's height, llamas were the largest domesticated animals in South America; there were no horses, mules, donkeys, or other mammals we find now. For this reason, the Incas used llamas to transfer food, guano, and construction materials, making the Inca Empire's expansion possible.

Their fiber was also widely used for the population's clothing since Alpaca and Vicuña were reserved only for the royal family. Thanks to their ability to adapt to any weather quickly, llamas were taken all over the Incan Empire.

Llama is a natural inhabitant of the high Andes where the oxygen is low; their blood contains a large amount of hemoglobin, enabling them to absorb the scarce oxygen in the environment.

llamas in Machu Picchu

Today, you can see around 30 llamas in Machu Picchu, wandering free in the ruins' terraces. Still, in Cusco and Puno villages, they are herded and vital to support the locals' economy. Their wool is used to make sweaters, ponchos, and chullos that are warm and thick for the Andes' cold weather.

The Llamas in Machu Picchu are property of the government as Machu Picchu is a national park; they are free to go anywhere in the complex; however, the steep Inca stairs will be a natural fence for them. Machu Picchu Llamas are friendly and pleasant; they often walk among the crowds and stop for selfies driving crazy all visitors.

Llamas are inside the protected area in the Sanctuary of Machu Picchu; however, they still have natural predators like the Pumas and the Spectacled Bears. These two animals live in the Mountain Clouds forest where Machu Picchu is located.

Facts about the Llamas In Machu Picchu

They are Indigenous Inhabitants

Llamas have lived in Peru for millennia - they don't represent a modern tourist attraction but an integral part of history! Llamas can be found throughout Machu Picchu as both a historical and tourist attraction.

The most important packed animal for the Incas

Llamas were essential in the Incan transportation systems, particularly for difficult-to-access locations like Machu Picchu in the mountains. Llamas would help carry heavy loads across steep terrains.

Llamas as Lawnmowers of Machu Picchu

Llamas at Machu Picchu serve a practical function: they keep the grass cut! Their grazing helps preserve and prevent the overgrowth of vegetation in their landscape environment.

Llamas were Sacred Animals for the Incas

Llamas were revered animals among the Incas, who considered them sacred gifts from god. Llamas would often be used during religious ceremonies and sacrifices.

Great Spitters

Llamas can be friendly creatures, but when threatened or annoyed, they can spit - therefore, it is essential for tourists to treat llamas with care and give them plenty of space.

Unofficial Mascots of Machu Picchu

Llamas have become unofficial mascots of Machu Picchu, appearing on souvenirs, postcards, and marketing materials as unofficial mascots. Their popularity may be partly attributed to their friendly and photogenic characteristics.

Wild and Domesticated Llamas

Machu Picchu's llamas are domesticated animals; however, they live free in Machu Picchu. 

Wool Source

Llamas have long been revered as sources of wool for Andean textile production. Their thick coats are cut away and spun into yarn used in weaving traditional garments.

Alpaca vs. Llama

Many people mistake llamas and alpacas for one another; however, these two species belong to entirely separate genera. Llamas feature long faces while alpacas tend to have rounder, rounder faces. Both species can be found around Machu Picchu.

Conservation Efforts

Peru has taken steps to protect llamas, acknowledging both their cultural and ecological value in areas like Machu Picchu.

FAQs About the Llamas in Machu Picchu.

Are Llamas Native to Peru?

South American camelids (Llamas, Alpacas, Guanacos, and Vicuñas) are relative to Camels; they belong to the camelid specie.

Llamas are descendants of the Camelops, the first camels that wandered North America about 40 million years ago. It is believed that Camelops lived long enough to encounter humans. They went extinct due to the Ice Age and human arrival 13,000 years ago.

The llamas migrated to South America about 3 million years ago. Since llamas were naturally adapted to the high Andes, the first humans of South America survived hunting the camelids since they were slow to run and easy to find the high mountain plains. Fossil discoveries in caves show human bones, camelid bones, and hunting weapons made of rocks.

Llamas are domestic animals that live on the high plateaus of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. Bolivia is the country with more numbers of Llamas.

Are Llamas in Machu Picchu dangerous?

Llamas are not dangerous but friendly, pleasant, peaceful animals. However, when they feel threatened or bothered, they might expectorate a rugged spit. Machu Picchu llamas are used to seeing people daily and usually approach the crowds searching for food. It's important to know that giving food to llamas in Machu Picchu is not allowed for safety.

Can I take photos of Llamas in Machu Picchu?

Llamas of Machu Picchu, most of them are photogenic animals. They know that if they pose for pictures, they have a higher chance of getting food. This is not recommended, of course.

When you visit Machu Picchu, please make sure your batteries are fully charged and have enough memory space to get the best llama photos. It would be best to keep inside the trail and not enter the green areas where llamas feed.

When is the best time to see the Llamas?

The best time to see and take pictures of Llamas in Machu Picchu is early in the morning when they are coming out to eat, and they usually walk along the trails where travelers can capture the best pics, also, late in the afternoon.​

How do llamas communicate?

Llamas use a variety of ways to communicate with each other, including making sounds, using their body movements, and displaying certain behaviors. Some examples of these are:

Vocalizations

Llamas communicate using distinct sounds. Examples are:

  • Llamas hum quietly to indicate happiness, wonder, or greetings. Sounds are relaxing.
  • Llamas warn others of danger. This sound warns llamas of danger.
  • Llamas click their tongues on the roof of their mouths to cluck. It's intriguing! Mother llamas utilize this sound to communicate with their crias.
  • Male llamas communicate differently during the breeding season. Male llamas may make a unique vocalization called orgling. The low, strong rumble shows dominance and attracts women.

Body language

Llamas can express their emotions and desires through body language. Common examples:

  • Llamas have expressive, moveable ears. When alert and interested, they position their ears forward. When irritated, they lay their ears back.
  • Llamas raise their tails when enthusiastic or playful. However, a drooping tail tucked between the legs may indicate fear or submission.
  • Llamas often raise their heads and necks, indicating dominance or hostility. When relaxed, animals may lower their heads and necks.

Behaviors

Llamas communicate through actions and interactions. Some actions:

  • Nuzzling: Llamas may nuzzle one other or humans to show affection, bonding, or reassurance.
  • Llamas may spit when threatened, dominant, or annoyed. It includes forcing saliva out.

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