Vicuñas: Golden Camelid of Peru

You may catch a rare glimpse of a herd of vicuñas on your next Peru trek. Who could help but love this nimble golden camelid that roams the altiplano and mountainous regions of Peru? Sighting their graceful, delicate forms on the run across the high plains while trekking in Peru is a thrilling experience. No wonder they were respected and protected by the Inca. In fact, it was illegal for anybody but members of the ruling family to wear garments made from vicuña wool.

The extremely soft, warm wool of the vicuña is the most coveted fiber in the world! A single overcoat manufactured from vicuña wool goes for upwards of $30,000 USD. Since harsh dyes can damage the fibers, vicuña wool is usually left in its natural state. Additionally, vicuña wool is scarce: each animal only produces around a pound of wool per year.

The vicuña are a highly protected species in Peru. While their population now exceeds 200,000 animals, this was not always the case. Fifty years ago, their numbers had declined to less than 6,000 animals, due to extensive hunting. The Pampas Galeras Reserve was established to protect the vicuña, and its successful breeding and preservation programs literally brought the vicuña back from the verge of extinction. Now, the only legal vicuña fiber is that which is sheared during the annual roundups. Hunting, interfering with, or exporting vicuña is highly illegal in Peru.

Unlike their descendant, the domestic alpaca, the legendary sylphlike vicuña cannot be easily imprisoned or tamed. When kept in captivity, vicuña have been known to develop health issues, such as parasites, osteomyelitis, and dandruff, which damages their wool. Since they are not domesticated or kept in enclosures, vicuñas are herded together yearly in a ceremonial event called a chaccu, during which they are rounded up, sheared, and released back into the wild to roam the plains once more.

Chaccus take place yearly in June on the Pampas Galeras National Reserve in the Lucana province of Peru’s Ayacucho region, on the high altiplano, or mountain plains, where the vicuña live. A grand festival including Peruvian typical music, dancing in colorful traditional garb, and feasting on Peruvian typical dishes accompanies the chaccu. This is the time of the Winter Solstice celebration, an important holiday for the indigenous communities of Peru.

Want to join in on the fun? A trip to the Pampas Galeras to attend the chaccu can be combined with a visit to the Nazca region; it’s an approximate three-hour drive from Nazca to Ayacucho. During your visit, you’ll have the chance to tour the reserve and learn about the community-based programs in place to protect this graceful, golden camelid.

Though rare, vicuñas may occasionally be spotted on one of Apus Peru’s remote Peru mountain treks, which explore the rarely visited backcountry of Southern Peru’s high mountains. See these links for further information:

It’s a privilege to get the rare view of this legendary, ethereal creature. May the vicuña thrive and continue to grace the Pachamama with their wildness and beauty!

Vicuñas by Carine06 licensed under CC BY 2.0

Vicuñas by Carine06 licensed under CC BY 2.0

Short Inca Trail with a Baby

By Apus Peru Co-Founder, Ariana Svenson

To celebrate our daughter’s first birthday, we decided we would undertake the Classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu- as a family!

Permits sell out months in advance, so we made the decision with a good deal of bravado: even though we spent a lot of time outdoors, we’d never taken our daughter on a multi-day camping trip. Still, it was the peak of the high (dry) season, she was acclimatized to the altitude, and we’d paid for an extra porter to carry the superfluous paraphernalia that a baby inexplicably accumulates.


An extra porter can help carry the baby and her paraphernalia when you get tired.

Whether it was to spare us the ignominy of having to return from the Inca Trail without completing it, or just fate, a couple of days before the trek Miss M. developed a serious cold, and it began to bucket down – right in the middle of the dry season! At this point, I accepted that our Inca trail trek was not going to happen – with both a sick baby and pouring rain, the signs were against us.

At this point the supportive folks at Apus Peru suggested we do the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu instead: they made new hotel arrangements, changed our trains, and spent hours finalizing the paperwork for us to do the Short Inca Trail starting at KM 104.

The Short Inca Trail is just that, a one-day hike that joins the last day of the Inca Trail and is ideal for folks who are short of time, who don’t like to camp, or who lack the desire to do a longer trek.

As we arrived at our starting point, my first reaction was that there were very few other groups doing the route that day even though it was the middle of the high season. I expected it to be packed out – it’s the “easy route”, after all. In fact, there was none of the hustle and bustle of the entry to the Classic Inca Trail at KM 88; here, there were just us, our guide and the porters who were carrying our baby and her paraphernalia.

On cue, the rain stopped and revealed the triangular walls of the ruins at Chachabamba. Chachabamba was discovered in 1940 – almost thirty years after Hiram Bingham found Machu Picchu. Its architectural style and intricate stonework suggest that this was an important religious site, in addition to its secondary function as a gatehouse guarding the entrance to Machu Picchu.

Chachabamba: Gatehouse to Machu Picchu

Chachabamba: Gatehouse to Machu Picchu

From here, we began to climb. Having always thought that this was the ‘easy route’ to Machu Picchu, I suddenly realized that there was a lot of gentle but consistent climbing. Despite having trekked extensively in the Andes, after a short while, my aching muscles painfully reminded me that I hadn’t hit the trail in the 12 months since my daughter’s birth – nor even in the final trimester of pregnancy!! I began to struggle, puffing, and taking lots of rests – this was what it was like to be out of shape and then do a trek?! Not a lot of fun!

At Apus Peru we constantly advise people to do their research, and get in shape for their hike to Machu Picchu – advice that I didn’t follow and was now sorry!!! Even if you are going to do a one- day hike, you need to have a decent level of fitness!

Luckily for me, my daughter needed frequent breaks from the baby backpack and we stopped often to admire the views of the valley below us, which was alternately bathed in sunshine and misted over with colorful clouds shifting over the mountains.

Despite Miss M’s lingering cold and my aching legs, there was certainly something magical about breastfeeding her on the trail with spectacular panoramas all about.

We are often asked by parents of babies and toddlers about trekking with their babies, and we always recommend that you allow a lot of extra time: at just 12 months Miss M wasn’t yet walking and so a few crawls and scoots around on the dirt at regular intervals kept her happy.

The Incas were masters at building stairways: something that distinguishes the Inca trail from the alternative trails around Cusco are the endless steps! As a break from climbing the steps, and in between panoramic views, we passed a beautiful cascading waterfall: a lovely surprise from Mother Nature in the midst of the mountains.

A lovely surprise from Mother Nature: Cascades in the Mountains

Surprise from Mother Nature: Cascades in the Mountains

Maybe it’s because we were so slow, but we only encountered two groups all day while on the trail, and despite being so near to Machu Picchu and the heavily trafficked Inca trail, we felt that we were alone in the mountains. We were thrilled by the experience!

After some 6 hours of climbing uphill, we arrived at Wiñay Wayna, perhaps the most gorgeous set of ruins along the whole Inca Trail. The name Wiñay Wayna which in Quechua means “Eternal Youth,” or “Forever Young,” was given to the ruins by the eminent Peruvian archaeologist, Dr. Julio C. Tello. Considered by many to be the most beautiful of the sites on the Inca Trail, it was a wonderful highlight of our trek.

With the frequent stops for the baby we were some 2 hours slower than the average trekker and we still had a couple of hours’ walk through the moist cloud forest. At this point, the terrain was blessedly flat and cool, and we felt as if we were walking in the high jungle. We arrived at the final massive stairs of Inti Punku, which were once a control gate for those who entered and exited the Sanctuary. As the entrance to Machu Picchu, it is one of the most important features of the site; and as the name suggests, it’s devoted to Inti, the sun god.

Final Approach: Up the last staircase!

FInal Approach: Up the last staircase!

At other times when we’ve done the Inca Trail, Inti Punku had been filled with hundreds of tourists moving eagerly to catch their first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Instead, as we were arriving very late in the day, we were the only people at Inti Punku. It was a special moment to arrive at a place normally so inundated with tourists and yet enjoy it in solitude. As we descended the final stretch to Machu Picchu, we saw that there were few people at the site and we had unobstructed views: it was a unique feeling.

After exploring the ruins for a few hours, we made the last bus down. Our 12-month-old looked exhausted by the day’s trek and it was amazing to get a hot shower and then to sink into a soft bed.

As we hit the sack, we were filled with gratitude, that despite having been on the Inca Trail for just a day, we experienced solitude, isolated Inca ruins, and an indescribable sense of awe and accomplishment. We had trekked into Machu Picchu on foot, as a family.

We did it!

Orchids of the Machu Picchu Region of Peru

If you are going on the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu trek, you may be surprised to stumble upon so many varieties of orchids along the trail!

Orchids are a well-distributed and extremely varied plant family, often with fragrant, colorful and bizarrely shaped blooms. The Orchid family is one of the largest families of flowering plants, containing around 600 genera, and comprising approximately 10% of all seed plants. All orchids are myco-heterotrophic, meaning they form a relationship with fungi in the soil in order to get their nutrients. Because of their vibrantly colorful, often strange and perfumed blooms, orchids seem to possess a certain mystique that has captured the imaginations of humans from time immemorial. In fact, dedicated orchid horticulturists and enthusiasts have been known to compete, fight over and even commit crimes in the service of their obsession.

There are literally thousands of orchid species in Peru, many of which are located in the low cloud forest eco-regions around Machu Picchu and along the famed Inka Trail. It is estimated that as many as 50% of Peru’s more than 3,000 orchid species remain unidentified by science.

Here are a few orchid species that can be found along the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu. When possible I am including both the scientific name of the orchid and the common name, along with folklore and traditional uses, when available.

Wiñay Wayna Orchid: (Epidendrum Secundum) found at Machu Picchu and along the Inca Trail, this is an orchid with multiple white to fuchsia blooms. Each flower is around an inch in width. Wiñay Wayna means “Forever Young”; Wiñay Wayna Pass on the Inca Trail takes its name from this flower. The orchid is pollinated by both butterflies and birds. Flower essences made from this orchid are said to preserve youth and vitality.

1Wiñay wayna orchid                        Wiñay Wayna Orchid by Filipe Fortes licensed under CC BY 2.0

Paradise Orchid: (Sobralia Dichotoma) is one of the most common orchids in the region of Machu Picchu. This orchid has 5-8 flowers per stem, and is deep pink and white in color. It’s an ephemeral orchid, lasting for only a few days and blooming between February and April. Its essence is said to have a calming and grounding effect.

2Sobralia Dichotoma                              Wild Orchids by Matito licensed under CC BY 2.0

Waqanki Orchid (Masdevallia Veitchiana) This orchid’s common name in Quechua, Waqanki, means “ You will Cry.” This is a single-flower orchid that grows in crevices on rocks. It has orange sepals with purple spots on the sides. A Quechua legend recounts that an Inca princess’ forbidden love for a common soldier led to the creation of this orchid.

It seems that the Inca ruler, in his anger at this love, spared the soldier’s life, but ordered him to perform severe tests in the jungle as punishment for daring to approach the young princess. The princess, knowing he would not survive the trials, grieved over his departure.

A lovely flower sprang up where her tears fell into his footprints as he fled. The Waqanki orchid is considered a national treasure of Peru.

3masdevallia veitchiana                        Masdevallia Veitichiana by Trixty licensed under CC BY 2.0

These three orchid species, among many others, can be spotted on your Inca Trail trek with Apus Peru. See the following links for several fantastic options for your Machu Picchu trek:

The Spirit of Apu Ausangate

Ausangate is the fourth highest peak in Peru and, at 6,372 meters, is the highest mountain in the Vilcanota Mountain Range. It is a snow-capped mountain with special significance to the Quechua-speaking population of Peru, who revere it as one of their most significant deities.

1Apu Photo: Michael Mossop

To the average tourist, Ausangate is a beautiful mountain and a challenging one to climb. But to the Quechua population of the Southern Andes, Ausangate is an Apu, a powerful mountain spirit that is considered the source of all good things, and is, in fact, the owner of the entire Cusco region of Peru. Quechua communities that dwell on the mountain make offerings, or k’intus, to Ausangate, and he, in return, provides them with all the necessities of life. During the festival of Q’ollor Riti, which takes place annually, thousands of people climb Ausangate to make offerings and receive blessings from Apu Ausangate.

The communities that dwell on Ausangate live a pastoral lifestyle, herding llama and alpacas, and trade with farming villages at lower altitudes for their other needs. The people’s lives are integrally connected to their animals and to one another. They maintain their traditions, such as the weaving of yarn made from alpaca wool, into textiles. These textiles are hand-dyed with plants, and feature ancient and symbolically significant designs referring to the spiritual beliefs of the community.

One of the most basic concepts of life in the high Andes communities is that of Ayni, or reciprocity, which connotes an ever-shifting, dynamic balance in relationship. This give and take informs not only connections that exist among people, but also the bonds between humans and the natural world, and most especially those between the people and Apu Ausangate.

The k’intu offering that reinforces this relationship has the Coca leaf as its main ingredient. Spiritual elders of the villages, or Misayoqs, say that the coca leaf is the favorite food of the Apus. Three perfect coca leaves are infused with the breath of the Misayoq. This places his intention for the wellbeing of the people into the offering. The k’intu is offered as a sacrament to Apu Ausangate, to ensure his benevolent protection towards the people who dwell in his mighty presence.

The k’intu offering that reinforces this relationship has the Coca leaf as its main ingredient. Spiritual elders of the villages, or Misayoqs, say that the coca leaf is the favorite food of the Apus. Three perfect coca leaves are infused with the breath of the Misayoq. This places his intention for the wellbeing of the people into the offering. The k’intu is offered as a sacrament to Apu Ausangate, to ensure his benevolent protection towards the people who dwell in his mighty presence.

2Turqlakes 1  PHOTO: Michael Mossop

Apus Peru offers several treks to Ausangate and the beautiful countryside surrounding it:

Ausangate Trek: Hike the circuit around Ausangate on this five-day trek. This trek is quite challenging, as it traverses three high mountain passes upwards of 5,000 meters. It offers astonishing scenery and the chance to view wildlife, birds, panoramic vistas with snow-capped peaks and mountain lakes. Soak away your aches in a natural hot springs and visit communities where villagers dress in colorful native garb. See more here:

Ausangate Sibinacocha Trek: This is an alternative trek that covers the terrain alongside of Apu Ausangate. You will begin the trek by taking the same route as the classic circuit trek around Ausangate, (see Ausangate trek above), where you will pass through traditional Andean communities, visit hot springs, view pristine turquoise lakes, and gain stunning panoramic views of the mountain. Then, the trek diverges onto the road less travelled, toward Sibanacocha Lagoon, where you will immerse in some authentic, isolated backcountry. Here, you’ll spot herds of grazing alpacas and llamas; and if luck shines upon you, you may even spot a rarely seen herd of golden vicuñas!

On either of these treks you will have the chance to meet the communities, participate in a k’intu offering, and experience the wonder and majesty of Apu Ausangate first hand.

Photo: Michael Mossop

Traveling with Kids to Peru Part II: What to Pack?

Peru Travel with Kids: What to Pack?

Apus Peru Cofounder Ariana Svenson is currently planning a multi generation trip to Peru – with her mother and her children, aged 5 years and 20 months. What are some of the things to consider for Peru travel with children?
This is the second in a series of blogs – Travel with Kids to Peru – and is packed with realistic and useful advice from someone who has 5 years of travel with a small child under her belt, and is now looking forward to travelling with two! She has now planned her trip, which is covered in the first blog. Now: what to pack?


   Pushing the pram in Ollantaytambo –
explains the need for a robust pram with good wheels!

In 2015 Australian parents are in the grip of an enormous vaccination debate as it’s increasingly popular to NOT vaccinate one’s children against basic childhood diseases. It is such a big issue the government has even proposed removing family benefits from those parents who don’t vaccinate! I am aware of the arguments against vaccination and question my decision to inject my gorgeous little 5-year-old with a number of extra vaccines. But then, on the other hand, the idea that Master L, with his propensity to eat dirt and whatever he encounters on the path, won’t be vaccinated, is just as alarming.
I realise that I don’t plan to go un-vaccinated so book in Miss M for her extra travelers’ shots. My final piece of advice – do it plenty of time prior to travel so the child’s body has time to recuperate.


Miss M in the Centre of Cusco wearing layers :) the essential clothing requirement for a trip to the Andes.

This is the easiest on the list – layers, layers and more layers! Of course, there are plenty of alpaca beanies, mittens and jumpers in Peru so don’t go overboard with bulky jackets and the like, as you will be able to stock up while there. Or shop the beautiful selection of Baby Wear at Threads of Peru!

3Lima stroller 3Baby gear

I’m packing just enough nappies to get to Lima! Peru has everything that you might need for a baby or small toddler including disposable nappies, dummies (pacifiers), teething rings and lots of baby food. There is a good range of baby creams /shampoo in large supermarkets but not too many of the eco or earth-friendly variety, so if it’s important to you to use eco products, then best to bring them from home. In Australia we have teething rusks – these are not available in Peru.

Baby paraphernalia 

  • Stroller
  • Pram
  • Car seat
  • Baby cot

Babies/toddlers need a lot of paraphernalia, and international airlines include a stroller/pram, a car seat and a baby cot in the price of an infant plane ticket!!! (Note that domestic airlines do not). I have a specially purchased stroller, which is lightweight (10kg) and has big wheels that are good for negotiating cobblestone streets. Having strong wheels is an important consideration for a pram in Peru! Also be aware that outside of Lima and the better suburbs of Cusco, there are not too many pavements.

Car-seats are not commonly used by children in Peru and pretty much everyone I know thinks I’m a little odd for wanting to use one – however given that traffic is quite inconsistent and traffic accidents (even little prangs) are more common than in other countries – I’m insistent on a car seat for my kids’ protection. ** Note – we are going to explore “how to carry your baby” in a separate blog!
Most better hotels have a cot that they won’t charge for, but if you are on a budget then bringing your own portacot might be a good idea. Or – do as many Peruvians do and co-sleep.


Waiting for meals at restaurants can sometimes be interminable if you have a hungry child – that’s when the bag of goodies comes out :)

Hungry kids are no fun. Hungry kids who are screwing their nose up at some food that they aren’t familiar with are extremely frustrating. I’m taking enough of their favorite snacks to get us through the first 3-5 days when the world will be disorienting – and we will all be tired. Then, we can begin the culinary adventure that is Peru, including the fun of shopping in foreign supermarkets!

Bag of Toys and Books
We carry a bag of goodies to be brought out at opportune moments – small toys (My Little Pony for the Little Miss, and Matchbox toys for the boy) and lightweight books. That said, planes hand out coloring books and once you get to Peru it’s a great adventure getting a range of different toys we have never seen before!
With a bit of patience, and a willingness to slow your pace, traveling to Peru with children can be a relatively stress-free, and yes, even enjoyable, experience.

Peru Travel with Children

Apus Peru Co-founder Ariana Svenson is currently planning a multi-generation trip to Peru – with her mother and her children, aged 5 years and 20 months. What is there to consider when planning Peru travel with kids?

This is a first in a series of blogs – Peru Travel with Kids – and is packed with realistic and useful advice from someone who has 5 years of travel with a small child under her belt, and is now looking forward to travelling with two!


Miss M heads off with her suitcase at the Cusco airport – When at airports, make sure the kids have plenty of time to run!

Flight timing

I’m mentally preparing myself for long haul flights with two kids! Twenty-month-old toddler Master L, who finds an hour car ride sufficient confinement for his active little legs, is likely to be a challenge on long haul flights. Miss M, having crossed the Pacific Ocean already 4 times in her 5 years, is likely going to be easier, though the fact that she can fit in a question every few seconds (often inappropriate) is going to be a bit of a challenge. Last time we travelled the Australia – Peru route she was 3 and we stopped for a night in Sydney and a night in Los Angeles before finally arriving in Lima. The travel period lasted for some 4 days and felt interminable. This time we are trying for direct flights and just 28 hours from our home airport to Lima. We leave at midnight (one hopes the little guy will be zonked) and will just fly…. We will let you know which option works better.


Miss M at a Lima Playground, aged 2, getting her body clock set and sharing playground equipment with the locals!

Getting body clocks set

So many people arrive in Peru and want to skip Lima – and if you are not into great museums, food and a vibrant city, that’s understandable. But the next destination for many is Cusco – which at a colossal 3400m (11,154 feet) is an extremely high altitude city. We are going to spend 3 nights in Lima in a comfortable hotel – with sound-proof walls. The idea is that we rest, recuperate and swim in the pool until our body clocks are organised without having to cope with high altitude at the same time – as well as getting our kids’ body clocks sorted out. (This advice is particularly appropriate for Australians, whose body clocks are the reverse of Peruvians’). So what have we got planned? – nothing at all –we are just going to rest.

Two nights at every hotel

From Lima we are going to forge south – and from here we have one fixed rule. Two nights in every hotel, which means one day driving/travelling and one day to explore and play. This is going to be slower – and more expensive than if we were traveling on our own, but it will also mean that the kids have a lot more fun!


Sacred Valley Hotels, with sunshine and beautiful gardens, allow for perfect acclimatisation for kids. We very much enjoyed the Hotel Pakaritampu, Ollantaytambo. (Pictured)


When we finally arrive in Cusco, we won’t stay – we’ll rather head to the lower climes of the Sacred Valley. Yes, three of our travelling party have been at altitude before and we suppose we will be Ok. However, Master L, at just 20months, is not particularly verbal and we don’t want to take the risk of not acclimatizing him properly. Some vital -and important – advice I read about travelling with small children at altitude is the following: if you are confident that you are able to distinguish the symptoms of altitude sickness in your child from an upset tummy, or even a terrible twos tantrum, then by all means acclimatize rapidly with a small child. For me it’s a no brainer – it’s much safer for him to acclimatize slowly!


Alpacas at many Sacred Valley hotels provided much fascination for our three-year-old, since we acclimatized before heading to Cusco!

In the next blog in this series, we will discuss how to pack when traveling with small children.

!nternational Youth Day

It was International Youth Day yesterday, 12th August, so we thought we would post to acknowledge the day and let you know a little of what we get up to ‘behind the scenes’…

Amongst our other contributions to the local community and sustainability (see this link for details of our projects ), Apus Perú have worked to support a Mosqoy student here in Cusco and we have in our current employment an ex student of Mosqoy, Adrian.

We thought it would be a nice idea to offer Adrian the opportunity to give his side of the story. But first, here’s a little about the Mosqoy organisation… Mosqoy means ‘Dream’ in Quechua and was founded in the Peruvian Andes in 2006, by Canadian and Peruvian youth. Their mission in Peru is to “help break the cycle of poverty that impacts the indigenous Quechua people of the Andean mountains by providing post-secondary educational opportunities for the region’s promising youth”. Their mission links in very nicely with our approach of seeking out projects which recognize that insiders (Andean Peruvians) and outsiders (foreigners) all have strengths and weaknesses – and that by working collaboratively we can reach best practice. As Mosqoy appropriately quote ‘hand-up instead of a hand-out.’

For many of the higher Andean communities the cycle of poverty is escalating while their traditional way of life is increasingly threatened. Mosqoy´s aim is for this to be alleviated by providing students in Peru with opportunities for advanced education, enabling Andean youth to possess the tools necessary to be local leaders and role models! A philosophy that is core to our commitment to making a positive and sustainable contribution to the quality of life for rural Andean communities.

And now over to Adrian:

The Apus Team! Adrian first left.

The Apus Team! Adrian first left.

Hello my name is Adrian Jimenez Suma. I’m from Ollantaytambo and live in the community Mandolista. I have 3 brothers, I studied tourism in 2006 with the help of the NGO Mosqoy.

It was a beautiful experience to be a part of Mosqoy, they helped me a lot in my life and that is why I always stay in touch with them. I was with Mosqoy for four years; three years as a student and one year as manager of the students. My job was to organize trips with students, to support social aid work in the communities of Rio Mapacho, and one of the trips was to Rumira Sondormayo it was there where I met Apus Peru!

When I finished my contract with Mosqoy I spent a long time without work and then I found an adevrtisement for Apus Peru, I contacted them the same day and the next day began working!

I have now been working with Apus Peru for 1 year. My work is in the area of ​​stock preparation equipment for treks and I have occasionally worked with Threads of Peru ( as a Quechua to Spanish translator. What I like about Apus is that my co-workers are friendly and they all work well as a team, we all help each other and I like traveling with Threads, because I can show my culture by speaking Quechua. I am also studying English and would like to join Apus, not as caretaker but as a guide, I hope to have that opportunity.



Thanks for making me part of Apus Peru. Thank you Adrian for sharing your story!