All about Llamas in Machu Picchu ?
When you think about Peru, you think about Machu Picchu, the high mountains of the Andes, Titicaca lake, Ceviche, Guinea pig, Nazca lines, and the list could go on and on, and of course, you also think about llamas and alpacas. Together, they are the cutest animals and the most famous in South America.
Llamas and Alpacas of Machu Picchu
Llama (Lama Glama) is the largest domesticated South American camelid. They were 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 a lot the Quechua Nation’s fast development as they used to transfer food, their wool, and the meat as the primary source of protein.
There are 4 species of South American camelids:
Llamas.- Domesticated hundreds of years ago and has been used as a pack animal since the Pre-Inca times, 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 that 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, being 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 were hunted nearly to extinction. Nowadays, Vicuñas live in natural reserves protected by the goverment. They are wild mammals.
Machu Picchu Llamas
During the Inca Empire’s height, llamas were the largest domesticated animals in South America; they were no horse, mules, donkeys, or any other mammals we find now. For this reason, the Incas used llamas to transfer food, guano, construction materials, a make possible the expansion of the Inca Empire.
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; this is because their blood contains a large amount of hemoglobin, enabling them to absorb the scarce oxygen in the environment.
Today you can see around 30 llamas in Machu Picchu, wandering free in the ruins’ terraces, but in Cusco and Puno villages, they are herded and are vital to support the economy of locals. Their wool is used to make sweaters, ponchos, and chullos, warm and thick for the Andes’ cold weather.
The Llamas in Machu Picchu are property of the goverment 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 them. Machu Picchu Llamas is friendly and sociable; they will often walk among the crowds and stop for selfies driving crazy.
In the Sanctuary, llamas are inside the protected area; however, they still have natural predators like the Pumas and the Spectacled Bear. These 2 animals live in the Mountain Clouds forest where Machu Picchu is located.
FAQs About the Llamas in Machu Picchu.
Are Llamas Native to Peru?
South American camelids (Llamas, Alpacas, Guanacos, and Vicuñas) are relative to Camels, in fact they belong to the camelid specie.
Llamas are descendants of the Camelops, the first camels that wandered North America about 4o million ago. It is believed that Camelops lived long enough to encounter humans. They went extinct due to the Ice Age and the 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 together with camelid bones and hunting weapons made of rocks.
Llamas are domestic animals that live in 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; they are friendly, sociable, and peaceful animals. However, when they feel threatened or bothered, they might expectorate a rugged spit. Machu Picchu llamas are used to see people every day 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 somehow know that if they pose for the pictures, there are higher chances to get food. This is not recommended, of course.
When you visit Machu Picchu, make sure your batteries are fully charged, and you 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.
Written by Juan Coronel – Adventure Tour Guide, Travel Expert