I met my first alpaca in a jewellery shop in a small town in Peru. My husband, James and I were being shown around the salt ponds in Maras and Inca ruins in Moray by a local farmer and like most enterprising tour guides, he took us to his friend's shop hoping we'd buy something and he would get a kick-back. To the farmer's dismay, I was spellbound by his friend's baby alpaca wondering freely around the shop. And, that's when I learned that alpacas don't want to be cuddled, no matter how adorable, sweet-faced and furry they may be.
Alpacas are herd animals and they become quite distressed unless they're in a group of three or more. Normally, they're low-key sweet creatures with quirky personalities, but if you get them upset they will spit on you. After all, they're part of the camel family. However, unlike camels and llamas, their fur is amazing -- it's finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton and warmer than goose down. You really want to pet an alpaca now, don't you?!
Well, you can, and on deal (probably)! I've gone to Alpaca Annie at Haguelands Farm in New Romney, Kent, England twice now with Wowcher and Groupon and I'm sure there's other farms in the UK and around the world offering such visits. You thought this was all quite special interest when you started reading, but hanging out with alpacas is actually more popular than you would think and you can feel good knowing you're supporting a local farm.
At Alpaca Annie, the experience starts off at the male alpaca paddock where they provide some interesting tidbits about alpacas before pairing you up with one to walk through their fields. I really liked Stupot's disposition (photo above) so I walked him on both my visits.
The walk is painfully slow, but it's an interesting experience to bond with a creature almost the same size as you. At the beginning of the walk, they're a bit wary, but once you've hand-fed them a few carrots, you're besties and can pet their neck with the back of your hand. Do not pet the top of their head--they hate that and find it all very condescending.
After the walk, its time to visit the female alpaca enclosure--if you go in early summer, there will also be new babies scampering about so be prepared for your heart to melt! Most of the adult female alpacas are keen to get their hooves on your basket of carrots and will cozy right up to you. You may want to bring some extra carrot pieces with you because once the carrots are gone they're done with you. As James pointed out, they weren't interested in me for my winning personality.
Two-hour trek experiences at Alpaca Annie are £25 per person (so its worthwhile to nab an online discount voucher). Treks are offered Tuesday – Friday at 1.00pm and on Saturday and Sunday at 10am and 1pm. During August, treks on the weekdays and weekends are only offered at 3pm.
Whether you choose a morning or afternoon trek, you're going to want a nibble afterward. I recommend heading to Mary's Tea Room on the High Street in Dymchurch for a homemade cream tea or other baked treats.
Dymchurch is a small seaside town and you may be tempted to take a post-tea constitutional on the boardwalk. Well, DON'T!! Seriously, do not go near the sea here in the summer months. James and I barely stepped foot on the boardwalk before we were covered in hundreds of midges. Fortunately, we didn't get bitten much, but we were picking these tiny insects off each other like monkeys for the next half hour.
If you're coming from London (you'll need to rent a car) or any other starting point that's a drive away, it's worthwhile to make it a full day out by seeing Dover Castle or exploring Canterbury.
Road trip? Alpaca my bags!
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