Backpacking through south American, you will meet a lot of animals that only enhance your journey and your memories. We have compiled a list of 10 animals that you will encounter most frequently through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru.
Llamas & Alpacas
The South American Camelidae are grouped into four species: Vicuna, Guanaco, Llama, and Alpaca. Llamas are found throughout South America particularly in the highlands and countryside’s along with their close cousin, the Alpaca. There are 3 main differences between the two which is their nose, their coat and their size. The nose of the Alpaca is a lot shorter and more squashed. They are raised almost solely for their fine wool called fleece. The Alpaca is also smaller than the Llama too. You will have ample opportunity to come face to face with both during your South American travels, particularly during treks.
The Condor can be found throughout the Andean Mountain region, Patagonia and all along the coastal regions of Western South America. The American Bird Conservancy estimate that there are currently 10,000 left in population. You will have the unique opportunity to witness these spectacular birds for yourself particularly in Bolivia and Peru. There are three popular options to witness them out in the wild. In Peru you can take the Cusco 5 day Salkantay Trek which finishes up at Machu Pichu, the Colca Canyon trip which you can take from the beautiful Arequipa and in Bolivia you can take Sucre’s Dinosaur Footprints Trek. The best chance of seeing the Andean Condor is at the Mirador del Condor which is part of the Colca Canyon trip. Weather permitting the Condors will fly directly over your head and you can see the sheer magnitude of their 10.5 foot wingspan. Santiago Zoo in Chile is a good alternative to see them up close however you will not be seeing these glorious birds in their natural habitats.
Without a doubt you will encounter countless stray dogs throughout your South America adventure, particularly all across Chile. Dog lovers will be intrigued by Santiago Chile. There are an estimated 180,000 strays and a further 80,000 allowed to roam the streets. You will notice kennels, food and water stations throughout various parks for the dogs. A lot of the locals give them food, water, clothing and shelter all for the price of their companionship on a long walk home. They are known to follow tourists wherever go in the hope they will provide them with food afterwards. In the Bohemian Valparaiso dogs they hang out with the local street musicians, while other dogs can be found accompanying backpackers on a trek keeping the group safe. You’ll never be alone in Chile because there is always a dog looking for a companion. Chile is free of rabies and most are harmless, which helps explain why they are tolerated.
Like dogs most cats are strays. They are not found as often as dogs but still found on treks and in cities. If you’re a cat lover you need to visit “Kitty Park”, in Miraflores Lima. Here you’ll find all types of cats lounging around, eating and playing with the locals. We also found a very young kitten on our Salkantay trek and almost took him back to camp.
Penguins are still at risk to oil spills wiping out so many at once which is why they are protected in so many areas in South America. These adorable waddling birds in their natural habitat can be found in Argentina, Chile and Ecuador. The Magellanic and Humbold are most common but there are different types of penguins all over South America. In Argentina you can find the Magellanic Penguins in Punto Tumbo and Tierra del Fuego. In Chile the Magellanic Penguins can be found in both Isla Magdalena and Punto Arenas and you’ll find the Humboldt penguins in Damas Island near La Serena. Travelling further up north to Ecuador the Galapagos Penguins are found on the Galapagos Islands.
Travelling from the San Pedro in Chile to Uyuni in Bolivia through the famous Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) is an absolute must. Passing by the stunning Lagoons a lot of flamingos can be found in their natural habitats as this area is a breeding ground for the James Flamingos. The Chilean Flamingos are found all over Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina even in Ecuador and Brazil. Check out the Chilean Flamingo, along with a whole host of other birds check out the Laguna Nimez Reserve in El Calafate in Argentina.
If you travel to the Amazon no doubt you will find Caimans of all sizes. In the popular backpackers destination of Rurrenabaque in the Pampas jungle region you’ll most definitely be introduced to the caiman living close to your cabins. The water here can be as low as 1.5meters deep. Although you might see a head lifting out of the water we assure you they have lots of treats rather than snapping at the backpackers.
Parrots are seen everywhere in South America. There is a huge colony of burrowing parakeet in El Condor a small town near the city of Viedma in Argentina. This is a little of the beaten track and well worth a visit. You will see small green parrots travelling through the rainforest in around Macchu Picchu. These little parrots can also be found in the Miraflores district in Lima Peru along the main road chirping and singing to the sound of the traffic. You’ll find rescued Macaws in La Senda Verde (Bolivia) whose wings have been unfortunately clipped. Santiago zoo has a wide range of parrots and birds which again are a great place to see these birds up close and personal.
Capuchin monkeys are common throughout the jungle region and you may be lucky enough to get close to them on any Amazon or Pampas tour. On the Pampas tour backpackers are recommended to bring bananas with them on the boat. This attracts the monkeys to jump aboard which provides to invaluable entertainment and some excellent photo opportunities. There were many monkeys here but the most magnificent monkey you will find in the Amazon is the Howler monkey. Like a cock on a farm, the Howler Monkey is the jungles alarm. Heard for 3 miles in the distance you will surely rise with sound of his howl. La Sende Verde in Bolivia just outside La Paz gives travellers a chance to visit a monkey reservation. You’ll find rescued monkeys such as the for mentioned Capuchin and Howler Monkey along with the Black Faced Spider Monkey, Bolivian Night Monkey, Brown Mantled Tamarin and Beni Titi Monkey. They allow volunteers but contact them in advance. http://www.sendaverde.com/primates.html
Pink Dolphins are a rare find in the Jungle. As part of the Pampas jungle trip in Ruranebaque guides provide an opportunity to swim in the river with some pink Dolphins. Unfortunately most of them are too afraid to come too close to people but the guides will bring backpackers to an area where there is a greater chance of witnessing these curious pink dolphins. Attracted by loud noise the pink dolphins like to play with empty bottles. Our guide spent 30 minutes shouting out “Flipper!” and banging on the boat in a desperate attempt to summons them but to no avail. We could however see them from a distance.