Imagine yourself hiking through the snowy peaks of Mt. Chimborazo, Ecuador during an excursion break on your AMIGOS Gap Year.
You’re taking in the beautiful views when you see something move out of the corner of your eye. Is it an alpaca? Maybe a llama? It’s probably a vicuña!
But… What’s that?
Vicuñas are members of the camelid family, a specific group of hoofed mammals. There are six types: dromedary camels, Bactrian camels, wild Bactrian camels, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos. Yes, camels and llamas are cousins!
You probably won’t spot many camels in Central and South America, but you could definitely run into any of the other members of the camelid family. Most people know about llamas and alpacas, especially since they are entirely domesticated animals, but the vicuñas and guanacos are a different story.
Vicuñas are most closely related to alpacas. Slightly smaller and more slender than alpacas, they typically spend their time in herds, bouncing around elevated and bleak mountain ranges. They can be found in some parts of Peru, Ecuadorian mountain ranges, and even hopping around Bolivia.
Unlike their domesticated relatives, vicuñas are completely wild. They are often very shy, so don’t be surprised if they go running! When you’re visiting Mt. Chimborazo during a Gap Year or summer program with AMIGOS, be sure to keep an eye out for these introverted animals.
Guanacos are the early descendants of llamas. Weighing around 200 pounds, they are one of the largest mammals found in South America. They primarily live in mountainous or desert ranges throughout Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Paraguay.
Usually traveling in herds, they primarily form groups of females with one dominant male and all of the children, known as chulengos. Guanacos have very thick, shaggy coats that are typically light brown with a white underbelly.
South America holds lots of surprises, especially of the furry camelid variety! Next time you’re visiting somewhere like Ecuador with AMIGOS, be sure to keep an eye out for new friends, whether they have two legs or four.