A visit to “Mundo Alpaca” in Arequipa, Peru
In Arequipa, Peru, listed amongst the various indigenous and Spanish colonial attractions, is a place called “Mundo Alpaca” (“Alpaca World”). Highly rated on online travel forums, Mundo Alpaca is a unique alpaca-centric location that integrates elements of education, tourism, marketing, responsible sourcing, retailing, and zoology. The complex is maintained by Sol Alpaca, a retail brand that sells alpaca wool products (part of the Michell Group). While visiting, I was lucky enough to meet Ramiro de Taboada, Director of Marketing at Sol Alpaca, to help explain how this place came to be.
To start, visiting Mundo Alpaca is a fun, relaxed, and enjoyable experience. It’s a short walk from Arequipa’s historical churches and monasteries past the street retailers (many of whom are also selling alpaca products), and across a busy street where the cars seem intent on blocking your way. Entering Mundo Alpaca’s front doors, a friendly multi-lingual employee greets everyone who enters the retail location, which sells all types of alpaca wool garments. Most visitors proceed to the back area where knowledgeable staff members explain about the different types of South American camelids (primarily llamas, alpacas, and wild vicuñas). The highlight of Mundo Alpaca is the alpaca pen, where visitors are given a handful of alfalfa to feed the seven different female alpacas who all have distinctive coats. These animals each have personalities of their own, and they approach the visitors at the wooden fence, intent on getting an alfalfa snack.
After visiting the alpaca pen, visitors learn about the alpaca wool process. In the sorting facility filled with piles of wool, there are samples of the thirty-two natural colors and the different fiber grades, which are sorted by highly skilled women per Andean tradition. Continuing through the dying and weaving sections, two indigenous weavers are work on rotation to demonstrate how alpaca wool garments are created at a slow pace of two meters of cloth per month. At the end of the tour, visitors are welcome to revisit any of the different sections, or to peruse the retail area. It’s all free, easily accessible, and memorable.
Speaking with Ramiro, the marketing director who was kind enough to give me an interview near the alpaca pen, I found out more about how Mundo Alpaca started, and about how Sol Alpaca and the Michell Group balance Mundo Alpaca’s dual roles as a free tourist destination and as a flagship retail location.
“It all happened at once. In reality, Sol Alpaca as a brand is about fifteen years old. This complex has grown throughout the years. At first, we had just a small pen for the animals, and it’s grown since then…Thanks to the efforts of all the workers, we’ve become one of the top ten attractions in Arequipa.”
Ramiro explained the importance of tourism to the alpaca wool industry and to Peru, being one of the country’s top five revenue sources. The Michell Group, as a pioneer in the alpaca wool industry, created Mundo Alpaca as a way to educate people about the entire process, from the alpacas through the final product.
“It’s important for tourists who visit to know how the alpaca wool process begins. And basically that’s what we want to express with Mundo Alpaca. We take care of the animals, we understand the different types of alpacas, and about the alpaca wool itself. And later we show each of the stages of the wool supply chain.”
Ramiro also emphasized the importance of Peruvian culture and maintaining the alpaca wool tradition.
“An important aspect that needs to come through, is that at Sol Alpaca we have a culture of highlighting the rich textile tradition that we have as Peruvians. If you look at the designs of our garments, yes they have a lot of contemporary style, they’re very vanguard, but they always maintain elements of pre-Colombian cultures. And we know that we want to emphasize this, in the music that we have in our stores, in the colors that we use, in the way in which we interact with people, et cetera.”
What might be most remarkable about Mundo Alpaca is how well everything comes together, and how well the entire concept is executed. It’s not just an animal pen set up next to a garment store, it’s an attraction that is visited by internationals as well as locals (I’m told it’s a popular field trip destination for the local schools). All visitors are genuinely welcome, everyone working there is a true professional, and maybe most notably, it does not feel like a gimmick nor a tourist trap. Mundo Alpaca has achieved a unique balance, providing a welcoming, educational experience, while furthering Sol Alpaca’s brand objectives. It’s also an effective differentiator in a city with an abundance of alpaca wool retailers.
Given the unique work environment, I asked Ramiro if there were any interesting or unusual events that had occurred.
“We had a group of tourists here a few months ago…and suddenly one of the alpacas gave birth. It was super beautiful moment because we didn’t just get to experience this ourselves, but the tourists as well.”
Overall, Mundo Alpaca is a place worth seeing, and it’s nice to see a marketing strategy that has for years created a positive experience to offer to everyone who visits Arequipa.