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On your way to Sacred Valley, why not stop off at a farm with seriously cute animals? Awana Kancha is around 30 minutes from central Cusco and an unbeatable experience.
Awana Kancha – the ‘living museum of the Andes’ – invites people to get up close and personal with native alpacas, treasured by the ancient Inca civilization and a sacred symbol of Peru.
Although billed as a “weaving centre,” Awana Kancha’s main draw is arguably its resident animals. Here, you’ll encounter all four species of the native camelid family up close; alpacas, llamas, guanacos and vicunãs. These long-necked creatures have historically roamed the Andes and provided clothing, fuel and companionship as domesticated animals for over 5,000 years.
Now, most of us have heard of alpacas and llamas, mainly because their remarkable wool has become popular over the years, as have the intricately woven Peruvian textiles that adorn homes, restaurants and chic hotels. The lesser-known guanacos and vicunãs are very shy and tend to live in the higher regions of the Andes, where they’re normally spotted from afar, if at all.
However, the attention-loving alpacas and their llama cousins aren’t camera shy, so photo opportunities are in abundance – especially if you come armed with handfuls of alfalfa and other grasses. Feeding these cheeky creatures is a real hoot, and their friendly, inquisitive nature makes meeting them an entertaining experience. Just watch out for saliva and spitting – they are a slobbery species!
Once you’re finished cuddling the llama cuties, don’t miss out on Awana Kancha’s fascinating exhibits focusing on the production and craft of traditional Peruvian fabrics. The process involved in creating these vibrant textiles is steeped in folklore, so you can learn about the fabrics and their traditional purposes, as well as watch local Quechuan women demonstrate ancient techniques, as they weave by hand using looms. Optional tour guides are on standby to explain everything from natural dyeing methods and types of Andean potato, to the difference between an alpaca and llama.
Entrance is free, but a donation or purchase at the shop is very much appreciated, with all proceeds going towards caring for the animals and maintaining the education centre. As both a commercial and a cooperative establishment, the farm provides an interactive platform where people can learn about the animals, as well as the history of alpaca wool and its production, from people who have made it their livelihood to preserve the traditions of Andean textiles. The gift shop is expensive, but the quality is guaranteed, and once you see how much work goes into these pieces you certainly won’t feel cheated.
Practically, this is an excellent stop-off as part of a longer journey, where you not only learn about wildlife and craft but can stretch your legs, take in the landscape and access clean restrooms (a luxury if taking the scenic route to Machu Picchu). The café and shop sell drinks, snacks and even small meals, setting you in good stead for the onward journey into the Sacred Valley.
If you’re here to make a beeline for the alpacas, Awana Kancha is easily accessible from Cusco via public transport – or takes just 30 minutes by car. That said, altitude sickness can be a real bummer, so if you’ve just flown into Cusco, try to take it easy. Local remedies are on offer – such as coca leaf sweets and tea – but the best remedy is acclimatization.