How to Find a Good Ayahuasca Shaman in Peru
I recently had the opportunity to meet Mother Ayahuasca in Peru; you may have heard of her since she is calling to more and more people in the West. In case you haven’t, Ayahuasca is a vine found in the Amazon jungle traditionally used by the local shamans in a medicinal brew of the same name. Scientifically, it induces a psychedelic state of mind but spiritually it’s much more than that. It’s more like a journey inside into the depths of your soul.
It’s certainly not a party drug but a sacred medicine and people have been drinking it for possibly as long as two millennia. While shamans use it mainly to communicate with nature and to heal others, westerners are usually looking for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing and awakening. Many say one session of Ayahuasca is as good as one year of therapy (some go as far as saying ten) and even cancer, HIV, chronic depressions and drug addictions are said to be treatable with it.
You can find Ayahuasca outside of Peru but it is such a powerful plant and alters your state of mind in ways you might not understand. I believe it’s important to take Ayahuasca in a traditional setting with at least one experienced shaman present to guide you on your journey.
One of the hubs for Ayahuasca-tourism is Iquitos, Peru, which means that you’ll find many reputable retreats close to the city but also many charlatans.
Between the numbers of charlatans rising along with the numbers of Ayahuasca-tourists coming to Peru and excessive retreats catering to every whim a spoiled westerner could come up with, we were lucky to find a really good place: an experienced shaman, basic accommodation in the middle of the jungle and not too many other people at the same time. Ayahuasca sends you on a very personal journey and I believe that everyone should find a place they feel completely comfortable in.
One of the hubs for Ayahuasca-tourism is Iquitos, Peru, which means that you’ll find many reputable retreats close to the city but also many charlatans. You’ll be offered Ayahuasca by pretty much every moto-taxi driver. The bad news is that especially in the city there are not only charlatans but also brujos (sorcerers with bad intentions). No matter if you believe in these kinds of things or not, if you’re drinking a mind-altering substance prepared by someone you don’t know, you better make sure they have your best interest in mind.
You can do a personal ceremony with a local shaman in the city for, say, 50 Soles (less than 20 USD) or you could spend over $1600 for a 7-day western-style retreat in a group of 10 or more people. Retreats with group settings aren’t traditional but usually cater better to western needs and are generally safer for inexperienced Ayahuasca drinkers.
Here are some tips for how to find good Ayahuasca in Peru:
1. Do your research.
Read up about Ayahuasca and decide if this is something you’d like to experience at all. It can be very scary (some say they have faced death) and like every purging or detox it takes some strength, mentally and physically. Also read up about dangers and double check any medication you’re taking. Pharmaceuticals and plant medicines don’t mix!
2. Traditional setting = Amazonian jungle
Of course, you won’t have the comforts you might be used to: little to no electricity, no running water, no phone connection and possibly no one to speak your language if you don’t speak Spanish. If you’re tripping in a place like that, you’ll want to make sure you feel safe! If in doubt, spending over $1000 for a Western style retreat can be well worth it.
3. Don’t ever go with anyone who approaches you on the street
The proper shamans probably don’t live in the city and they certainly don’t go around looking for gringos to sell their services to.
4. Search online.
There are quite a few review sites popping up these days. If you’re already in Peru, ask around. Karma Cafe and Casa Chacruna (a guesthouse) in Iquitos are good places to meet fellow gringos with lots of Ayahuasca experience. iPeru is the only official tourist information office and is said to be very helpful as well.
5. Ask what’s in their Ayahuasca brew.
Usually there aren’t more than two ingredients: Ayahuasca and Chacruna (or another DMT containing plant). Be extremely careful if they state Toé as an ingredient. Some proper shamans actually do use more than two ingredients in their Ayahuasca but if you’re not 100% sure that your shaman is good and trustworthy, think about it twice.
6. Ask about the shamans, their stories and experiences.
Traditionally it takes over 20 years to apprentice as shaman. Google shamans or ask around for other opinions.
7. Plan on having more than one ceremony.
This way, you can get used to the experience and have some time between ceremonies to process things. Many say three is a minimum while our shaman said it should be four (or any number divisible by four). According to him four ceremonies are “a circle” that opens up a new flow of energy.
8. Try and find a place that doesn’t do more than three ceremonies a week.
This gives you more time to integrate your experiences and even three feels like a lot of hard work.
9. See if they offer circle meetings or any kind of guidance.
If you decide on personal ceremonies, see if you can connect to experienced Ayahuasca drinkers. It’s very helpful to understand what is going on.
10. Check the group size.
In my opinion more than ten people in a ceremony could get quite overwhelming, especially if there’s only one shaman for the group. On one hand people with difficult experiences might need personal help from the shaman and on the other hand you will probably feel different energies from everyone which can get funky.
Have a good trip!
Ask about the procedure and what you should bring. A personal power item to hold onto isn’t a bad idea either in case of an intense trip. If you’re going to a remote retreat, make sure to bring a journal to write down your experiences and a book or something that doesn’t require electricity for the days between the ceremonies.
Watch out for the following red flags.
1. Unfortunately some shamans misuse the trust given to them and offer “personal healing” that involves sex.
While some touching (e.g. the shaman’s hands on your head) can be part of a personal healing, don’t believe any offers that require you to undress with the shaman and be careful if they want to guide you away from the group.
2. Don’t plan on traveling (or doing anything) the day after the ceremony.
Depending on how much Ayahuasca you get, you could trip well into the next day and even if you don’t you’ll need a lot of sleep to process everything.
How to Find a Good Ayahuasca Shaman in Peru