Why Peru is the best place for Ayahuasca
A simple maloka, or jungle hut, in the forest outside of Iquitos, Peru. The sometimes-melodic, sometimes-primal songs of a curandero guiding you through visions of divinity and darkness. The sensations of pure bliss interspersed with retching and cleansing. The only grounding focal point in the darkness is the icaros music, and sometimes, even that stops while the shaman offers healings to each ceremony participant. And the night goes on...
Although the sacred Ayahuasca plant medicine can now be found in ceremonies around the world, thousands of seekers every year head to the Amazonian jungles and mountains for the wisdom, healing, and spiritual medicine of working with this special plant. Here’s why Peru is the place to journey to meet Mother Ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca healing and shamanism is a way of life in Peru
Although many Central and South American countries have their own shamanic lineages working with different plant medicines, the peoples of the Peruvian Amazon Basin have worked with Ayahuasca (sometimes spelled ayawaska to reflect the Quechua language) for a very long time in ritual and spiritual ceremony. shamanic lineages and wisdom have been passed down through generations. Many of Peru’s native curanderos have worked with the Ayahuasca vine since they were children.
So, what does this mean? Working with a shaman who has known this medicine all his life and who has learned from generations of familial wisdom means you’ll be putting your trust into someone who deserves it. And this part is important: you will encounter people, some of them even native Peruvians, who have come to see plant medicine as a way of making money from tourists. As popular as Machu Picchu has become, so has working with Ayahuasca. Unfortunately, some are not giving the respect that the medicinal plants deserve and these aren’t people you’ll want to journey with. Ask lots of questions and, if possible, get to know the shaman and his or her assistants before the night of the ceremony to be sure you’re completely at ease and well taken care of.
The Chacruna is native to South America
When it is brewed, Ayahuasca has two components: Banisteriopsis caapi, and in most cases, Psychotria viridis. Both of these plants are native to the Amazon Basin and, though they can be cultivated elsewhere in similar climates, there is something particularly powerful in working with them in concert with the elements of their native soil. When traditions have been passed down through generations in cultures such as the Shipibo people’s, this often includes the lineage of plants -- ensuring that the purity of both the medicine itself, as well as the sacredness of its preparation and ceremonial use is very important.
DMT, or otherwise referred to as the Spirit Molecule is active in the Ayahuasca brew. In some cases, other alkaloid-containing plants are substituted in Europe and North America to make a substance that still contains DMT, but is different than traditional Ayahuasca. Be wary, this is not the same as working with “The Mother” in the presence of a true shamanic guide.
There are many retreat formats and options including varied retreat lengths, the inclusion of other healing processes, or even men’s and women’s retreats
Depending on what you’re seeking from your healing experience, you may choose a retreat that emphasizes single-gender sessions, offers ceremony for each participant in solitude, or even has extended options for one to three months of in-depth healing. Many retreat centers that offer Ayahuasca also work with other medicines like Huachuma (San Pedro), Kambo, or Iboga, so your experience may include multiple journeys working with different healing plants.
Again, shamanic practices have a long lineage in Peru and many shamans work with healing traditions that have been passed down through many generations. This means they may offer you complimentary medicines or practices like herbal baths or mud packs to support your overall experience.
This isn’t just another “trip”, the intention is for healing
Working with this sacred plant is decidedly not aligned with “getting high” or looking for a psychedelic “trip”. Although Ayahuasca tourism is booming and you will likely encounter brujos, or street vendors trying to entice unaware tourists to drink a variation on the brew, Peru is the best place to find authentic, caring centers and shamans. Reputable centers carefully screen visitors to ensure pure intention and protect the energy of the ceremonial space. Properly held ceremonies will offer an invitation to heal, not just ‘try something cool’. This creates the space for both first time and experienced participants to really let go into the arms of the medicine.
You can find an experience deep in the jungle, or at a more Western-style Ayahuasca retreat center near Lima, Pisac, Cusco, and Iquitos
Whether you’re ready to push your comfort zones and retreat to the more primitive huts in the Amazon jungle of the mountains or you’d prefer to stay close to the creature comforts of a local community or city in a Western-style retreat center, you can find a beautiful, transformative experience suited to your desires and needs. For those with health issues in search of more focused support, a well-equipped, more “modern” center may create a more comfortable environment for your ceremonial experience.
Either way, seekers can meet this powerful medicine in an environment that allows for the richest experience -- without needing to sleep on the ground in the Amazon rainforest if you don’t want to. Flying into Iquitos, a traveler must stop through Lima, Pucallpa, or Tarapoto. But once in this small city (if it is where you choose to go), travel to your retreat can be a simple transport sometimes involving beautiful boat rides. The staff at your healing center will be able to explain what to expect.
Peru is leading the way in providing safe, authentic ayahuasca ceremonies
The creation of the Ayahuasca Safety Association is a reflection of Peru’s commitment to protecting this sacred work. With so many people now calling themselves Ayahuasca shamans and offering ceremonies with little training and little attention to safety or authenticity, curanderos have joined together to create guidelines within Peru. Though the organization is still just getting its legs, many centers will state their membership in the ASA on their websites. The hope? By protecting this medicine and its use, they can protect its reputation, its lineage, and foster a culture of appreciation for its many benefits. So when you’re choosing your retreat experience look for the ASA logo, or ask to chat to experienced facilitator’s or their lineage. Reputable centers will also provide you with pre and post Ayahuasca knowledge including information about the Ayahuasca diet and integration afterward. Steer clear of those who give you shady or vague answers.
Whether you’re a couple or traveling solo, working with Ayahuasca can improve your relationship with your partner and/or yourself
Sometimes, people don't want to work with the medicine until their partner is also ready. This makes sense as sharing such a powerful experience with a loved one can be very special. Working with Ayahuasca has an incredible ability to show you so much about yourself and clarify how you see your life. And for a partner who hasn’t worked with the medicine to try and understand might be challenging.
So if you and your partner are craving a holiday that is more than just drinking by the pool, flights to Peru are pretty cheap! Consider taking the medicine journey together. Although the ceremony itself is something you have to do for yourself, sharing in the experience can be an incredibly connective experience.
Traveling solo? You will get to know yourself inside and out, and hopefully, emerge from this journey with a clearer and more confident knowing of exactly who you are.
The cost of attending an Ayahuasca experience in Peru is very reasonable
As destinations like Costa Rica become increasingly popular, the costs of travel and attending retreats are on the rise. Peru has maintained a fairly low cost of travel (both flights to the country as well as travel once you arrive), and the average cost of your full retreat experience will likely be significantly lower than it might be in Europe or North America -- even with high-end facilities and additional treatments. So if you want an authentic experience for a lower cost, Peru is an excellent choice. This can enable you to take a longer trip, explore the Sacred Valley, brush up on your Spanish, and stay for a while to integrate your medicine experience more fully.
There are many beautiful and culturally rich places to experience such as Macchu Pichu, Calca Canyon, Saqsaywaman, and Moray
The history in Peru is deep and is filled with mystery. How was Macchu Pichu built, and what was it like to live there? Saqsaywaman was the historical capital of the Incan Empire in the 13th century, and Moray is an incredible archaeological site northwest of Cuzco with unique ruins and an irrigation system on a high plateau. Calca Canyon is a habitat for the majestic Andean Condor, an impressive bird that has long held spiritual significance to the Peruvian people and, consequently, to the shamanic culture.
Ready to visit Peru? We suggest doing some reflection to determine what you’re seeking… then start ‘perusing’ your options.