Differences Between Alpacas and Llamas
Peru is waiting for you with open arms, full of natural wonders worthy of appreciation in each of its regions. If you go to the sierra, for example, you will be able to appreciate, over 3,500 meters above sea level, some cute little furry animals that are part of the enchanting landscape of this beautiful corner of South America.
It is about the llamas, alpacas. Visitors tend to love these Andean camelids; they take selfies with them and even name them. But at the time of posting the photos, it is difficult for them to specify exactly which animals it is.
Alpaca vs llama is a million-dollar question! We are going to go through the key things to look for when evaluating the difference between a llama and alpaca. They both have similarities but are also very different, and quirky animals. Then we are going to go through some fun facts about llamas, and some fun alpaca facts.
Llamas of today are the direct descendants of the wild guanaco, while alpacas are the descendants of the vicuna. Also, there has been interbreeding between the two species, most likely by ancient human domestication intervention, dating back to over 6000 years ago. Today, all llamas and alpacas are totally domesticated, although their ancient cousins, the guanacos, and vicunas, still roam in the wild.
At a first glance, particularly from a distance, these two characters look very similar. However, when you get up close and personal, it becomes clear that they are two totally different animals.
Size: This is the most obvious difference.
- Llamas are far larger, reaching a total height (top of the head) of 1.8 meters (5 ft 11in), and can weigh between 130 to 200 kg. (290-420 lbs.)
- Alpacas on the other hand are half that size growing to about 80cm to 1metre (2.6 to 3.2 feet) and rarely reaching weights of over 70 kgs. (150 lbs).
- Llamas have long faces with very little hair.
- While alpacas have cute and stubby little faces covered in soft hair, with a thick fringe on their foreheads, making them look like pop stars of the 60s.
- Llamas have long banana-shaped ears
- while alpaca ears are short, straight, and pointed.
Personality: Although both animals are gentle and affectionate by nature, llamas, being much bigger, have shorter fuses and can become aggressive towards any potential predator or anyone who rubs them up the wrong way.
- Alpacas are more intelligent and even learn to perform tricks!
- Llamas are intelligent too. However, they come with a little attitude and don’t fancy taking instructions from humans.
Fiber: Although the wool of both species is highly valued, they vary substantially in structure and quality.
- The wool of a llama is significantly thicker and coarser, making it ideal for the making of hard-wearing rugs, blankets, and ropes.
- Alpaca fiber is much finer and as soft as cashmere but stronger than sheep’s wool. This makes it highly sought by trendy European fashion houses producing expensive and delicate garments, like scarves, socks, mittens, and hats.
Their Purpose: Although both species have provided meat and valuable wool, for thousands of years.
- llamas have been bred mostly to be used as pack animals while trekking through the mountains. They also make great guards looking after sheep, goats, and alpacas.
- Alpacas are bred purely for their valuable and luxurious fleece.
Forms of Defense: Although all llamas are domesticated, they are still very territorial and will lay claim and defend any area they consider theirs, whether it is fenced or not. Being herd animals and much bigger than alpacas, they will not hesitate to attack and chase away any rival males or potential predators, such as pumas and ocelots. They fight dirty, using any means such as charging, spitting, kicking, screaming, or wrestling to the ground anything that may pose a threat.
Alpacas, being much smaller and totally domesticated, will seek safety in numbers to avoid predators.
Where Can One See Llamas And Alpacas?
If you visit the region around Cusco Peru, then mixing with the llamas and alpacas will be a highlight for most travelers. When you first wander the cobblestone streets of Cusco you’ll discover plenty of local photographic models who wear traditional dress and walk around with a llama or some cute little lambs. Don’t forget that this is a legitimate job. If you take a photo with them, then pay them!
Located on the Cusco to Pisac road, Awancancha is an indigenous-run center that aims to keep alive traditional Andean textile arts through the collaboration of local indigenous communities. These communities have made weaving the principal activity of their villages in modern times.
You can see weaving and natural dye demonstrations in many places in the Sacred Valley, especially Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. However, there are no other places you can see all four members of the camelid family – llama, alpacas, vicunas, and guanacos. We always stop at Awanacancha for this reason!
Trekking on any of The Remote Routes
The best Andes trekking routes to see llamas and alpacas in their natural habitat are the Lares Region of Peru and the Ausangate Mountain area. We stayed at the small villages near Ausangate and woke to views of llamas and alpacas outside our bedroom window! You can ask your trek operator to use llamas to carry your camping equipment on treks. Although mules and horses are more commonly used!
The placid nature, low maintenance qualities, and unique appearance of these animals have made them trendy and extremely popular in recent years for farms, parks, zoos, private ranches, and eco-estates around the world. They are also used as livestock guards and even as golf caddies. In their native countries, they remain a most respected national asset of huge economic importance, providing employment for thousands of people, in the form of weaving, knitting, farming, and tourism, with their valuable fibers being exported to all corners of the world, bringing in much needed foreign revenue. Their genes are also exported to many breeding farms across the USA, Europe, and Australia.