Discover the ‘camels of the New World’



 



When thinking about the Andes, many people picture snow-capped mountains, vast green plains, indigenous peoples ?and herds of llamas. And yes, these are some of the main characteristics of the mountainous South American region ? including those llamas. In fact, American llamas ? and their close cousins (alpacas, guanacos and vicunas) ? inhabit the immense and frigid plains along the entire mountain range. Possessing both beauty and elegance, with their thin necks and slender legs, they are placed in the same family as their more distant relative, the camel ? from which they get the name ?camelids.?

1 Camelids

In fact, these South American camelids are the only relatives of the camel in existence today, which raises the question as to how they got to South America? There are several theories about this, though studies on the question remain incomplete. The best-known theory asserts that these animals first appeared in North America some five million years ago. From there, due to the adverse climate resulting from the advance of glaciers, they emigrated over time, some wandering as far as Eurasia, where they in turn evolved into the two species we know today: the two-humped camel and the one-humped dromedary. Other ancestors of today?s the ?Lamini? (humpless) species of camelid made their way to South America, crossing the Panama isthmus some three million years ago. The paradox is that, over time, they eventually disappeared from their place of origin, perhaps due to the extreme weather conditions or because of the arrival of a new predator: human beings.

In South America, there are four species of camelids: llamas, alpacas, vicu?as, and guanacos. Llamas and alpacas are domesticated species, while vicu?as and guanacos are found only in the wild. The four share some characteristics, for example their ability to breed with each other and their sexual dimorphism (which means it?s not easy to distinguish their gender). Alpacas, llamas and vicunas have another common feature: they live in highlands, while guanacos can live at sea level.

Llamas: the sacred animals of the Incas

Among the Andean camelids, the llama is the largest. Its most striking feature is that it?s not a natural species, as it is a ?creation? of human beings. Specifically, the people of the highlands began domesticating guanacos some 5,000 years ago. The animal?s geographical distribution is now wide since it became a trade commodity during the Inca Empire. Nonetheless, they are found principally in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Argentina. Llamas have traditionally been used as beasts of burden, though they are also used for their wool and for meat. As their wool is thick and strong, it?s highly valued ? particularly because it?s not chemically treated.

2 Llamas

The economy of the Inca Empire was based on the exploitation of llamas, not only for their wool and meat, but also for their bones (used for making musical instruments), their leather (for footwear), their fat (for medicines), and their excrement (for fertilizer).

For the Incas, the llama was a sacred animal. They believed that each llama on Earth had its ?mirror? in the ?Celestial Llama?: a constellation that could be seen from certain sacred places.

The alpaca: an endangered species

The alpaca is a smaller species, though like the llama (and camels) it has the habit of spitting as a method of defense. Alpacas differ from llamas, though, in that they are not used as beasts of burden; however, they have been domesticated for thousands of years as these animals are highly valued for their wool ? considered the finest among camelids. Alpaca wool is used to make products as diverse as blankets, ponchos, scarves, vests and sweaters, while its meat is considered a delicacy by some peoples of Andes. These camelids stand at between 0.94 and 1.04 meters high and weigh between 50 and 55 kg. They are found mainly in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, although countries such as Australia, the USA and New Zealand possess small numbers and are making great efforts to increase their populations.

3 Alpacas

The alpaca is a smaller species, though like the llama (and camels) it has the habit of spitting as a method of defense. Alpacas differ from llamas, though, in that they are not used as beasts of burden; however, they have been domesticated for thousands of years as these animals are highly valued for their wool ? considered the finest among camelids. Alpaca wool is used to make products as diverse as blankets, ponchos, scarves, vests and sweaters, while its meat is considered a delicacy by some peoples of Andes. These camelids stand at between 0.94 and 1.04 meters high and weigh between 50 and 55 kg. They are found mainly in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, although countries such as Australia, the USA and New Zealand possess small numbers and are making great efforts to increase their populations.

The alpaca is a smaller species, though like the llama (and camels) it has the habit of spitting as a method of defense. Alpacas differ from llamas, though, in that they are not used as beasts of burden; however, they have been domesticated for thousands of years as these animals are highly valued for their wool ? considered the finest among camelids. Alpaca wool is used to make products as diverse as blankets, ponchos, scarves, vests and sweaters, while its meat is considered a delicacy by some peoples of Andes. These camelids stand at between 0.94 and 1.04 meters high and weigh between 50 and 55 kg. They are found mainly in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, although countries such as Australia, the USA and New Zealand possess small numbers and are making great efforts to increase their populations.

The vicu?a: sedentary and ‘ecological’

The vicu?a, a patriotic symbol of Peru, is a smaller herbivorous camelid. Reaching a length of 80 cm and weighing between 40 and 50 kg. These sedentary animals have long legs and, in a sense, are ecological because the soles of their feet have a kind of pad that prevents them from digging up vegetation, in this way not contributing to erosion. In addition, they have a very structured and organized social system: adult males live with a harem of two or three females and their young. The wool of the vicu?a is some of the best of its type since, in the world of haute couture, a square meter can cost up to $3,000 USD. High fashion labels, especially Italian and French companies, use vicu?a wool for the production of exclusive clothing. However, due to the intense hunting of these animals since ancient times, vicuna are now in danger of extinction. Like alpacas and llamas, they live mainly in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

4 Vicunas

The vicu?a, a patriotic symbol of Peru, is a smaller herbivorous camelid. Reaching a length of 80 cm and weighing between 40 and 50 kg. These sedentary animals have long legs and, in a sense, are ecological because the soles of their feet have a kind of pad that prevents them from digging up vegetation, in this way not contributing to erosion. In addition, they have a very structured and organized social system: adult males live with a harem of two or three females and their young. The wool of the vicu?a is some of the best of its type since, in the world of haute couture, a square meter can cost up to $3,000 USD. High fashion labels, especially Italian and French companies, use vicu?a wool for the production of exclusive clothing. However, due to the intense hunting of these animals since ancient times, vicuna are now in danger of extinction. Like alpacas and llamas, they live mainly in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

The elegant guanaco

Elegant, possessing fine bones, and a fast runner (reaching up to 64 km per hour), the guanaco is also a threatened species of camelid, even scarcer than llamas. The animal is sociable, especially when young, though later they become more aloof in relation to humans, as they roam in large herds in semi-desert areas. They have thick and soft coats that protect them from the cold, which is helpful in that they live mainly in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. Guanacos can weigh up to 140 kg and measure 1.70 m in height. Their coats are of three shades: beige on the upper body, white on their stomach areas and gray on their heads. Their wool and leather are used to make fine and highly valued garments.

5 Guanaco

Camelids: the ?camels of the New World?

These four species of South American camelids are called the ?camels of the New World.? Like their humpbacked relatives in Asia and Africa, they have certain characteristics that have allowed them to adapt to arid regions, while they themselves also serve as important resources for the populations with whom they coexist. According to several studies, of the 9 million camelids in South America, many alpacas and llamas still serve as the main source of income for certain farm communities of the region.

6 Camelid

They are, without a doubt, curious and interesting animals. Those who study them describe them as ?diurnal and social,? although if they get angry, they release a secretion of mucus through their nose ? not aggressively, but rather to defend themselves when they feel threatened.

But in addition to their historical role in providing meat and wool to Andean peoples, certain camelids are currently used for novel therapies. What is known as ?alpaca-therapy? or ?lama-therapy? has been developed in Germany as a variation of the treatments that use dogs, horses and dolphins. It is claimed that children with autism, people who have suffered traumatic experiences, those afflicted with high levels of stress, and people with psychiatric problems can all benefit from this treatment. This approach is based on a unique characteristic of camelids: they are said to be the only animals that really look into the eyes and observe humans, as they are sensitive, curious and project a calming presence. As they are also docile and serene ? which add to their beauty and magnetism ? they exert a kind of fascination by those who look at them.

In short, there is much to discover about these animals. When traveling through the Andes, it?s worth seeing them close up in the landscapes in which they reign. Look into their eyes and find out if it is true that they can peer into your being. But of course, for your sake, be very careful not to disturb them…

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on?A Luxury Travel Blog?in order to raise your profile, please?contact us.



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Top 7 hotels in Bolivia… ‘the rooftop of the world’



 



Strikingly beautiful and mountainous, Bolivia has been dubbed the “rooftop of the world” due to the dizzyingly high altitudes of most of its Andean cities – altitudes that can literally take your breath away the moment you touch down. Because of these extraordinary mountainous landscapes and thick Amazonian jungles, European contact with Bolivia was impeded, which allowed indigenous peoples to hold onto many of their traditions, with some isolated villages remaining virtually untouched for centuries.

Bolivia - Rooftop of the World.

Given these unique customs, its colorful history, exotic wildlife and jaw-dropping landscapes, Bolivia is now a mecca for adventurers seeking the path less traveled. And, despite it still being a developing nation, more and more upscale hotels are popping up across the country, especially in the fast-growing metropolitan areas. To assist you in narrowing down where to stay during your Bolivian adventure, we have selected the top seven upscale hotels that will help you discover the superlative natural beauty of Bolivia – the essence of South America.

Rosario Hotel, Lake Titicaca

Situated conveniently close to the center of Copacabana, Hotel Rosario del Lago Titicaca stands in a supreme position overlooking the clear, deep blue waters of this famous lake. The restaurant, with its lakeside views, offers superb cuisine including locally caught trout, one of the region’s specialties, as well as fine Bolivian wines which can be enjoyed al fresco, weather permitting.

Lake Titicaca -- Rosario 1

The spacious guestrooms and suites are beautifully and individually decorated with brightly colored, traditional Andean handicrafts; a relaxing atmosphere in which to rest before steeping yourself in the atmosphere, culture and history that this area has to offer.

Lake Titicaca -- Rosario

Casa Grande Hotel, La Paz

The Casa Grande Hotel offers the best of both worlds. Relax in the quiet, contemporary interior, complete with pool, leisure facilities and first class restaurant, knowing that you are only a few minutes’ walk from the cable car which will take you into the vibrant city of La Paz. Here you will discover a wealth of local culture, from its museums and market stalls to its bustling nightlife.

La Paz -- Casa Grande

You will also, no doubt, enjoy visiting one of the many natural viewing points from which you can cast your eyes to the majestic snow-capped mountains, a backdrop which remains unchanged since it was inhabited by the Inca many centuries ago.

La Paz -- Casa Grande pool

Stannum Boutique Hotel and Spa, La Paz

The Stannum Boutique Hotel lies in a prime yet tranquil position, just a five-minute drive from the bustling markets, historic buildings and archaeological heritage of La Paz. Perched above a mall, you will find everything you need close by and, in the hotel itself, all the amenities you might require: from your comfortable guestroom, with its stunning city or mountain views; to the relaxing spa facilities and gourmet restaurant serving fine cuisine created by a national celebrity chef. Having been out discovering the jewels of La Paz, you will no doubt enjoy sampling the delightful selection of wines and cocktails from one of the bars, while looking out over the city below.

Stanumm room-premium-king-mountain-view

Coloso Potosi, Potosi

Moments away from the town’s main cathedral, Coloso Potosi provides simple yet comfortable accommodation as well as a spa, pool, and sauna, in a central city location. Potosi is a historic town, once bustling with silver mining production, which gave fabulous wealth from the naturally rich deposits found in the Cerro Rico or “Rich Mountain” which dominates the city.

Potosi - Coloco Potosi dining

In addition to visiting the mines, you will be able to immerse yourself in the history of the town’s grand churches and ornate architecture. Once the largest and wealthiest cities of the Americas, even now, something valuable is said to be “worth a Potosi”.

Potosi - Coloso room

Luna Salada Salt Flat Hotel

Formed with blocks of salt mined from the local area, Luna Salada Salt Hotel provides a natural link between the building and the famous Salt Flats that can be admired from within its walls. Simple, yet comfortable, the hotel strips back the distractions of modern day life to create a sense of peace during time spent here.

Uyuni Luna Salada Salt Hotel room

The bright and spacious guestrooms offer stunning views in every direction through the delicately dressed large windows, while the neutral colors within are decorated with a splash of perfectly executed color, allowing the beauty of the salt blocks to speak for themselves. Dining is an exceptional experience with traditional cuisine served amid starlit views of the Salar de Uyuni.

Uyuni - Luna Salada Salta Hotel exterior.

Camino Real Suites, Santa Cruz

The Camino Real Hotel, positioned just six miles from the city center, is an inviting hotel where you will find your spacious guestroom fitted with all mod cons that ensure an enjoyable stay. The hotel has an outdoor pool with waterslide, whirlpool and wet bar, while the beautiful indoor pool with spa, hot tub, sauna and treatment rooms gives you a chance to unwind. The two restaurants provide a variety of local and international cuisine, and there are even on-site gift shops. Camino Real is an excellent place to stay while delving into this cultural city, which has developed and grown since it was discovered by its first European settlers, the Spanish conquistadores.

Santa Cruz - Camino Real premium suite

Tayka del Desierto Hotel, Siloli Desert

Tayka del Desierto Hotel is a combination of low-lying buildings in the heart of the desert, surrounded by soaring mountains which provide a breathtaking backdrop to the dusty terrain. The accommodation is basic yet comfortably in keeping with its environment, offering a good meal and welcome shelter in this otherwise barren land.

Siloli -- Tayka exterior.

A pleasant surprise greets you in the dining room where floor to ceiling curved glass allows a remarkable opportunity to gaze out across the bronze landscape during the day, and admire the starlit skies at night.

Siloli -- Tayka del Desierto

Parador Santa Maria, Sucre

The exterior of Parador Santa Maria cannot prepare you for the sumptuous luxury and splendor of the architecture which greets you on entering the building. An 18th-century mansion, elegantly restored in authentic colonial style, the Parador Santa Maria Hotel is adorned with fine antiques and situated in an ideal location near the center of Sucre.

Sucre parador-santa-maria-reception

With spa, sauna and gym facilities giving you an ideal way of relaxing after your time exploring the town, what better way to end the day than relaxing in the rooftop hot tub while gazing across the city rooftops, to the valley and mountains beyond?

Sucre -- parador-santa-maria-room

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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