Alpaca walking might not be the first thing you think of when you imagine the Great British countryside but it is coming to a UK town near you! Hugely popular with adults and children alike, this activity sees animal lovers paired up with a fluffy alpaca friend to walk. It certainly sounds like a good day but is it worth the hype? Read on to hear all about my own alpaca trekking experience and also find out how to arrange your own!
Alpaca Walking Experience – The World’s Best Gift?
As Christmas loomed over me, I sat debating what on earth I was going to buy my sister. Lots of ideas ran through my mind, all of them more feeble than the last until I had my lightbulb idea.
When I buy presents I always try to consider what the receiver would enjoy. That’s what you’re meant to do. What you’re not meant to do, is let that thought become barged out of the way by another more narcissistic one. ‘But what would I enjoy?’ Having already mentally invited myself to the occasion I had just decided to gift to someone else, I hastily booked my tickets and ordered a gift voucher for her.
As you probably know if you have read my blog before, I love an animal experience (except for any interaction involving monkeys that is, I prefer to keep my hair on my head) and I was massively excited to go alpaca trekking. I had never even seen an alpaca before (this was pre my South America travels) and the idea of being able to get up close to one made my face ache from smiling. (I don’t smile all that often because my face is usually wracked by anxiety.)
What is the difference between an alpaca and a llama?
Firstly, there is a difference between a llama and an alpaca. Contrary to common belief, the latter is much smaller, measuring in at about half the size of a fully grown llama. This makes trekking with them a great day out for the whole family, as children are usually strong enough to guide them unassisted.
Unlike other camelids, the alpaca’s wool sets them apart. One of the most naturally soft fibres in the world, it is often used to make a whole range of products, including jumpers, blankets and gloves. The most common places to find alpaca products on sale are Andean countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Alpaca Walking in Norfolk
After a misty journey towards one of Norfolk’s prettiest seaside towns, we arrived at Wells-next-the-Sea, a very unlikely home for fifteen alpacas. It turns out that alpacas are not native to Norfolk at all (who would’ve guessed?!) and usually hang out around South America. Having wondered why somebody wanted so many alpacas, my question was quickly answered as our guide introduced us to our new furry friends.
All of the alpacas have colourful South American names, with the ones in our party being christened Yaku, Alfonso, Diego and Fernando. The alpacas at Wells are mostly rescues who have been saved from a life of isolation. Instead of standing alone mournfully, the centre in Wells allows them to spend their days being fed by enthusiastic visitors and then walking it off. What a life! If reincarnation is a thing, I’d like to end up here, please.
So what do you need to know about Alpaca Trekking?
Is alpaca walking ethical?
Unlike camels, alpacas cannot be ridden owing to their nervous disposition and their weak backs. This doesn’t answer whether alpaca walking is ethical though.
I searched the internet for information regarding this prior to my visit but alas, I found nothing. Therefore, it comes to be a matter your personal view and common sense. In my opinion, there is nothing unethical about alpaca walking, providing the animal is well cared for, given breaks and not abused. You should always use your discretion to determine whether this is the case.
If you visit somewhere where you believe that they are not treating the animals fairly, contact both the RSPCA and the local council in that area.
Do alpacas trek in groups?
Sort of like the Kardashians, alpacas do everything within their family group. When one alpaca is taken on a trek, the whole family goes with them. At the Wells base, the fifteen alpacas are split into four different groups to ensure that they have enough company to keep them happy but can be taken out in manageable groups.
This is the main reason why the alpacas have been rescued. It is not uncommon for people to buy an alpaca and leave it in a field on its own because they don’t know how to care for it properly. In reality, alpacas are social animals and if forced to live a life of solitude, they will suffer a great deal of stress and anxiety.
What are alpacas like?
The thing that surprised me the most about the alpacas was how sensitive they are. They are a prey animal and one that is always on the lookout for threats to their safety. During the trek, they will prefer to walk behind you. This because in case of an attack, you will be taken out first. It’s always good to have a contingency plan after all!
Alpacas have eyes on the sides of their face and get very nervous when something unexpected happens (a lot like me). For this reason, they don’t like being touched on their heads.
Understandably, they feel most comfortable when they can see things coming, so be aware that if something creeps up on your alpaca, they will freak out.
One thing that particularly upsets alpacas is the presence of dogs. We had a confrontation with a dog en route, which resulted in Alfonso becoming so scared that he showered the back end of the party with a flood of spit so high it rivalled the Jet d’Eau!
Can you choose your own alpaca to walk?
Most alpaca farms usually rotate animals so that all members of the pack walk regularly but also not too much. This might mean that there is a walking rota but it never hurts to ask the farmer if you have a preference.
Just like people, alpacas have different personalities so if you do have the option to pick your alpaca, bear this in mind! My alpaca, Fernando, was definitely the prettiest of our group and also the leader (albeit reluctantly).
My sister’s alpaca was more ditzy than the others, constantly dropping to the floor to roll in the dust. Her boyfriend had the most placid of the lot which preferred to stay at the back of the group, whilst Tim got landed with the scruffy rebel (they say like attracts like) who constantly attempted to pull him into oncoming traffic.
Do you have any tips for alpaca walking?
Considering their nervous disposition, alpacas are fiercely independent animals. When you trek with them you have to make it clear you are in charge or they will walk all over you (metaphorically not literally). Alpacas eat pretty much non stop, so you will quickly find that any pause for breath will have you headed towards a bush for some light refreshment.
If your alpaca becomes scared whilst on the trek, it has the same response as many humans in the face of fear (definitely me anyway) and will simply freeze and wait for the scary thing to pass. As a warning, if your alpaca doesn’t want to move, you could be there some time. Be patient and try to understand that it is exhausting being so highly strung. Trust me, I should know.
Is making eye contact dangerous?
Well, not dangerous in that your alpaca will charge you down and eat your flesh, but making eye contact is confrontational and will be interpreted as a challenge. Making eye contact will make them less receptive to your commands and you might even earn yourself a shower of the rather gooey variety… Alpacas are super docile animals so do yourself and them a favour and allow them to relax in your company.
Will you be able to feed the alpacas?
Most alpaca trekking experiences will allow you to have time feeding the animals. Alpacas love eating and get super excited when you go to feed them. Some of their favourite snacks include chopped apples and slices of bread.
Be aware that with food in your hands you will be the centre of attention and the alpacas will try to distract you so that they can slip their heads into your food bag. Unknown to me originally, alpacas only have bottom teeth so even when they get a bit carried away, you’re very unlikely to lose your hand. Good news all round.
What should you wear to go alpaca walking?
Although these kinds of treks are rarely challenging, it is certainly worth wearing outdoor clothing. Hiking specific boots are recommended as the terrain can be squelchy if wet (it is the UK after all) and for the same reason, it is always best to bring a rain jacket. During the summer months, suncream and a hat are advised.
When can you go alpaca trekking?
Generally, alpaca walking happens year-round, come rain or shine! In the rare event that your experience has to be cancelled, this would likely be due to flooding or something else of an extreme nature.
How much does an alpaca walking experience cost?
Although alpaca farms vary over the UK, the standard price for an alpaca trekking experience is around £35-£45 for a 60-90 minute walk. This price is only applicable if you are happy to go as part of a group. Individual walks will cost more.
Alpaca Walking: The Verdict!
After meeting the alpacas, I felt like I had a deep connection with them. We were alike in so many ways: our constant desire to fill our faces, our skittish nature and our desire to hide behind those braver than ourselves. Mostly, I was surprised by how gentle the alpacas were and how happy they seemed.
It might not be considered a big attraction on a national scale but I can honestly say I had more fun with Fernando and his friends than I have done at 90% of the tourist attractions around the country. Alpaca walking is generally reasonably priced, family-friendly and also a great way to explore the Great British countryside. As long as the alpacas keep smiling, this is one attraction that is only set to grow in popularity.
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