Alpaca Products of the Andes


Could there be a more perfectly created yarn than alpaca? Less expensive than vicuna yet softer than cashmere, warmer, stronger and more lightweight than sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece makes durable garments, perfect for layering in cold mountain temperatures, not to mention making a unique souvenir for travelers on Peru tours. Because alpaca fleece contains no lanolin or scales, it can be worn by those allergic to sheep’s wool. Unlike the coarser llama fleece that has quite an odor when damp, alpaca has none.

Several factors determine the texture of yarns or garments made of alpaca. One is where the wool comes from, the softest yarn made from the areas that don’t receive as much exposure to weather such as the belly. The age of the animal also alters the texture of the wool. Genetics and nutrition play a role. Alpaca is not the easiest yarn to knit because it has so much give due to the nature of the fiber, and that the strands are hollow inside.

Beyond the twenty-two natural shades of alpaca, plant-based and synthetic dyes produce the fiber in every color of the rainbow, giving visitors on Peru tours many options from which to choose. Certain indigenous markets called Mercados de Brujos (witch markets), sell tins of powdered dyes. Proprietors in these establishments also sell cures for various maladies and read the future in coca leaves. Because synthetic alpaca dyes have the desirable property of not running, they have mostly replaced the natural dyes that were used over the millennia. Among tourists who travel to Peru, interest in the indigenous tradition of natural dyes is being revived. Fortunately it is still possible to make these dyes because some elderly women recall the recipes. The natural dyes, collectively called makhnu, are derived from a parasitic insect that inhabits various plants. When dried, makhnu produces different colors, depending on its host. From the prickly pear cactus comes a scarlet purple color; from eucalyptus, yellow; coca leaves, green; spring blooming wildflowers, orange; walnut hulls, brown; lichen, pink; purple-skinned potatoes, purple. Ingredients are mixed by dye masters.

When taking home some alpaca souvenirs, visitors on Peru tours to the Andean region will have a variety of apparel from which to choose, including ponchos, sweaters and belts. Visitors may not have seen some of items made of alpaca before their travel to Peru. Such items are leg warmers, called pantaloncillos, a chullo, the distinctive Andean men’s cap knitted of fine gauge yarn, and totes for particular purposes such as carrying money in the folds of your skirt or storing the day’s supply of coca leaves. An alpaca blanket also makes a memorable souvenir of one’s Peru tours.

Southern Explorations offers many trips that visit indigenous markets and villages where alpaca garments are sold. These include the Machu Picchu tours that visit the famed markets of Pisac and Cincheros and tours that travel to Lake Titicaca or Arequipa, the center of Peru’s alpaca industry. During your stay in Lima, visitors on Peru tours will also find alpaca and vicuna items galore, especially in the Miraflores neighborhood.