So you’ve arrived in Cusco and can’t wait to start shopping for all your alpaca hats and sweaters – but don’t start buying before knowing what’s genuine. You’ll find sweaters and “alpaca” products everywhere, but many vendors will sell unwitting tourists fake alpaca fibers while claiming it’s 100% pure. Here is a guide to alpaca shopping in Peru and how to avoid the scams.
There are two different types of alpaca: Huacaya and Suri. While most vendors won’t know the difference – unless you go to a higher-end store – it’s a good distinction to be aware of. Huacaya produces a fluffier fiber, while Suri has a more silky, shinier fiber. Either way it’ll be soft and comfortable.
Alpaca. especially baby alpaca, is a very soft material that will not itch or irritate the skin, which is why it is so sought-after. If you try on a sweater or scarf and it rubs your skin the wrong way then it’s likely not alpaca – trust your skin.
A good way to check if something is pure alpaca is to see if it’s cold. Pure alpaca and baby alpaca will be cold, while the synthetic materials will not. Go to a nice store and rub your hands along the genuine stuff – it’ll give you a better idea of what you’re looking for.
Baby alpaca is going to be more expensive – so if you find something that is only 50 soles and claims to be pure baby alpaca then it definitely is not. It tends to be about $20 more expensive than normal alpaca and you won’t find it in the markets, only in nicer stores. Alpaca is soft and baby alpaca is even softer.
The holy grail of all fibers, it was more valuable than gold to the Incas. This is the softest and best fiber, but it’ll cost you. In the U.S., Vicuña products will cost upwards to $6,000 for a sweater and you’ll be able to get it for about half that in Cusco. Not many stores will carry it – only the really high-end ones – and the goods will usually be locked up.
If you’re afraid about unwittingly buying a fake alpaca sweater or maybe you don’t have the time to go hunting for one, just pay the money at one of the nicer stores. You’ll have peace of mind and you’ll save some time too.
The best way to really get a feel for alpaca material is going to the nicer stores and running your hands over everything – don’t worry, they’re used to this. Spend some time touching everything and remembering the prices. If baby alpaca goes for 300 soles somewhere and you find someone selling it for 50 soles, it’s probably a fake.