During a trip to Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia, you will surely see at least one of these 4 species of animals that are very similar: the llamas, the alpacas, the guanacso and the vicuñas.
They belong to the camelid family. Although it seems obvious, that these animals are only visible in South America. Guanacos have never been domesticated. You will always see them in nature. So if you see a shepherd with animals, you can be sure that they are not guanacos.
By contrast, llamas, vicuñas and alpacas do not exist in nature. (Keep in mind that the wild state can often be deceptive, as there are herders living hundreds of miles from cities or towns.)
Llama is the best known, and is the largest of the four. It is also the strongest. It can measure up to 1.90 m tall. It is generally used as a transport animal by native Andean peoples. The «term» llama is often used more broadly (wrongly) to apply to the four closely related animal species that make up the South American branch of the camelids.
alpaca is smaller and less strong than the llama. It is almost never used as a draft animal. On the other hand, the alpaca gives a very fine, recognized and quality wool, far superior to that of the llama.
Because the alpaca has a much more selective diet. Their wool is thicker and much more resistant as well.
Between the four species, the llama and the alpaca are the most difficult to tell apart. The trick is to look at the head: the alpaca’s is smaller and less stretched out than the llama’s. It’s actually very hard to tell a llama from an alpaca if you don’t have both species together.
Guanaco is the wild version of the llama and the alpaca. He is the most «traveler» of the four. In fact, it is found throughout the Andes Mountains, in the Altiplano as well as in Patagonia, all the way to Tierra del Fuego.
Guanacos live in groups with a dominant male for several females. It is also the most «athletic» species I would say. The guanacos have a great elasticity and can make great jumps, pass the fences that sometimes intersect with their spaces of freedom.
Vicuña is the most elegant and the smallest. It is also the smallest camelid in the world, about 50 kg.
It is very easy to distinguish it from other species. Vicuña is the most resistant of these four animals. In fact, there are vicuñas up to 5,700 m above sea level! It is, in addition, of the four species, the one that lives only at altitude. His favorite terrain is from 3,000 to 5,500 m altitude.
Vicuña hair is very fine and very resistant. Also, they live in groups.