The Great Vicuña Roundup

Not much grows at 15,000 feet above sea level. So the communities at these Andean altitudes rely on alpacas and vicuñas to earn a living. And the people at Belmond Travel are helping to make that possible.

First of all, what’s the difference between an alpaca and a vicuña? Both are camelids, but an alpaca is much larger, averaging about 6 feet in height, whereas a vicuña peaks out at under three feet. (The llama is the largest of Peru’s camelids, which can grow up to 8 feet tall.) Additionally, alpacas are domesticated, and vicuñas are wild.

Every year, the mountainous communities near Arequipa conduct a special, time-honored ceremony, Chaccu de Vicuñas. Community members take a very long, multi-colored rope up into the mountains, and use it to herd the vicuñas to a specific spot. (They use this technique so that they never have to touch the vicuñas). The ceremony includes giving thanks to Mother Earth (Pachamama), and blessing the animals.

Once the ceremony is complete, community members measure the length of the coats of the vicuñas, and those that are long enough are sheered. (It takes three years for a vicuña to grow a full coat.) Vicuña wool is extraordinarily soft, rare and expensive. And even though vicuñas are protected by the Peruvian government, these local communities have permission to responsibly harvest vicuña wool in this manner. In return, the community members patrol the mountains throughout the year, guarding against poachers.

Through its RailPeru division, Belmond helps support the annual Chaccu de Vicuñas. Belmond provides funding the ceremony, items used in the ceremony, as well as prizes for a competition between local farmers. By supporting the Chaccu de Vicuñas, Belmond is helping to preserve the cultural traditions of the past, while also helping to ensure the economic viability of the local communities for years to come.