All members of the Camelid family, the Guanaco and Vicuña are the wild ancestors of the Llama and Alpaca, respectively. Originating from a common ancestor in North America some 45 million years ago, the Camelid family branched into Camelius tribe who migrated to Asia and Africa to become Bactrian Camels and Dromedaries, and Lamini tribe who migrated south to the Andes.
Guanaco are the largest of the four species, standing approximately 3-4 feet at the shoulder and weighing around 200 lbs. They also have the largest range of the species, spreading from Ecuador in the north, all the way to Tierra del Fuego in the south. They are found throughout the altiplano of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, but are most numerous in Patagonia.
Guanaco fiber is soft and warm and often found in luxury garments, second only to Vicuña in value.
Guanaco can be frequently spotted in Torres del Paine National Park as part of our Wild South journey.
Originally descended from the Guanaco, Llamas were domesticated by pre-Columbian civilizations, and used for meat, beasts of burden and for their wool. Domestic llamas are highly social herd creatures. Both the Incas and Spanish Conquistadors trained llamas to wear packs and carry 25-30% of their own body weight. They were essential in transporting ore from the mines, eventually replaced by introduced horses.
Their soft undercoat is used for handicrafts and garments, while their coarse outercoat is used for rugs, tapestries and rope.
Llamas can be frequently seen at Machu Picchu and in the Urubamba Valley on our Center of the Inca Universe journey.
Vicuña are the smallest of the four species, standing under 3 feet at the shoulder and weighing less than 150 lbs. The national animal of Peru, Vicuña are depicted on the Peruvian coat of arms. The Vicuña is native to Peru, Bolivia, northwest Argentina and northern Chile.
Valued for its fine fibers, Vicuña is among the most expensive fabrics in the world, rivaling angora, cashmere and shatoosh for luxury garments. Once reserved exclusively for Inca royalty, Vicuña fabric now fetches between $2,000 and $3,000 per yard.
Vicuña can be seen at the Arequipa Fiesta every November. Attendance can be arranged as part of a Custom Peru journey.
Descendant from the wild Vicuña, the Alpaca has been domesticated for thousands of years, and well documented in pre-Columbian art of the Moche civilization. Today, Alpaca are maintained in herds between 11,000 and 16,000 feet throughout the Andes region of southern Peru, northern Bolivia and northern Chile.
Although not as fine and valuable as Vicuña, the Alpaca's fleece is soft, naturally fire resistant and contains no lanolin, making it also hypoallergenic. Sheared annually, an adult Alpaca will produce 50-90 ounces of high quality fiber and a further 50-100 ounces of second quality fiber.
Alpaca are seen regularly around Machu Picchu and in the Urubamba Valley as part of our Center of the Inca Universe journey. A visit to the Arequipa Alpaca Fiesta can be made as part of our Custom Peru arrangements if you happen to be traveling in the area in November.