So what the heck is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?  Are they even different?!   They sure are, but not by a lot!  They are both members of the camelid family, however the llama has a longer neck and bigger head.  We were told that historically (and still today) llamas were used as beasts of burden to assist farmers and Spanish conquistadors.  They refuse to carry more than 40 lbs.  I am not sure if this is scientifically true, but we did hear it more than once on the trip!  In any case, check out these llamas we saw grazing at Machu Picchu:

Alpacas on the other hand, remind me more of sheep, in terms of their matted, thick hair.  Its smaller than a llama.  Their coat is the thickest of all camelids.

For the record, alpacas are also delicious, particulary when dressed with some tangy Andean cheese!  Yum!  Interesting fact: Alpacas use communal dung piles, so they never, ever, eat where they poop.  This helps prevent illness and intestinal issues in herds, as well as allows them to be housetrained!  Neat!

To complicate matters between these species further, you also have the Vicuña.  The Vicuna is a relative of the llama, and the wild ancestor of the alpaca.  In my opinion, it is also the cutest.  Of the three, their wool is most expensive, as they produce the least of it, and it is the most delicate while being extremely warm due to its unique composition.  They were declared endangered in the 1970s, and are protected by law.  They are also the national animal of Peru!  We did see a few, however I didn’t manage to get a good photo.  I will instead use the magic of the interwebs to procure one for you:

Our wonderful and fabulous GAP guide Edwin (who somehow managed to get me through the Inca Trail in one piece) was a wealth of knowledge on Inca culture and history, as well as on the site of Machu Picchu itself.  While he knew many facts and details on its construction, what was most impressive was his incredible passion in retelling us this history.  You could tell he genuinely loved sharing his culture with us.  He told me that no matter how many times he had visited Machu Picchu, he was constantly impressed, and each time noticed new things.  He was phenomenal, and his eagerness translated to each of us.

In this picture you can also see a row of houses in the background.  What you’ll notice is how they are very stone-y.  This is because these buildings were for average people doing average things – living, eating, sleeping, storing food etc.  The Incas saved the majority of their time, energy, and construction might to be used on their temples, which incorporate classic Inca construction – seamless joints, large stones, and stunningly complicated angles.  The image below is from a street in the city, with the left side being a rough-hewn building, and the right side the back of a temple – it really shows how construction methods varied depending on the purpose.  Can you even believe those seamless walls!  Seamless!  No mortar!  You couldn’t even fit a sheet of paper in between those joints!  And of course, they are angled in the typical style to withstand earthquakes.  So, so, impressive.

And how do they keep the grounds so neat and tidy?  Why, llamas, of course!