Machu Pichu, atop a high peak in the Andes mountains, is known for the mysterious Incan ruins – and llamas. These large wooly creatures, along with their close cousins Alpacas, are the only residents of Machu Pichu now. These hardy beasts share many traits with camels; in fact, they are all part of the camelid species. With their ability to survive in a hostile environment on little water and the poor foliage found at 3000-5000 ft, alpacas and llamas were ideally suited for domestication by the ancient Incas. They provide wool and meat for the native peoples, as well as sturdy transportation through the mountain passes. The alpacas and llamas of Machu Picchu even provide fertilizer for the main Incan farmed crop, maize.
The Alpacas and Llamas of Machu Picchu
The llamas of Machu Picchu were so important to the Incan society that hunting them was forbidden. Llama herders and breeders held elevated places in the culture, as preservation and the health of the herds directly affected the survival of the people. Disease or poor health of the herd could have catastrophic consequences for the villagers. Llamas were even used by the Inca priests in religious ceremonies.
Domesticated about 4000 years ago by the Incans, alpacas and llamas are still part of the native culture today. Although they wander free atop the summit and Machu Pichu ruins, farther south, they are herded and used to support the local population. Wool from the animals is used to make sweaters that are thick and warm, with the added benefit of being hypo-allergenic. Not only are the herds still maintained by the native people, the lean, nutritious meat feeds many in the nearby urban areas.
Llamas, being herd animals, tend to socialize with each other in a variety of “play,” from neck “hugging” to wrestling, kicking, and spitting. Farmers must be careful not to over-socialize baby llamas with humans, otherwise, the llama will grow up to treat humans in this manner. Their social structure is family, then herd, with ranking within the herd being fluid (although the young are commonly “disciplined” by their elders). Llamas are also very gentle – you can find them outside of Peru in many U.S. petting zoos and farms. They can be easily trained to harness, and are very curious. Photographers at Machu Pichu will find their vacation camera rolls full of llama “photo bombs.”
To plan your Peru adventure and to learn more about things to do in Cusco, get in touch with Alpaca Expeditions. Alpaca Expeditions is a Peruvian travel operator with a main office in located in Cusco, Peru, and we are the top-rated tour operators of the Inca Trail.