8 things to consider before booking your best Ayahuasca retreat in peru
August , 2019
In the past decade, sacred medicine tourism has increased exponentially throughout the Peruvian Amazon. There are approximately twenty licensed operators offering Ayahuasca retreats in Peru and many more who are operating unlicensed. In order to help you make an informed decision about which retreat is best for you, I’ve put together a list of the 8 things I feel it’s most important to consider when researching the best retreat operator for you and embarking on a sacred plant medicine journey.
1. What are your intentions?
Sacred plant medicine is very unlike Western medicine! Plant medicines, like Ayahuasca, treat the root cause underlying superficial symptoms and work at the level of the heart, psyche and soul. They are not intended as a quick fix.
It’s important before you embark on a journey with plant medicine, to consider what your intentions are and to clarify your expectations.
Is your expectation for example, that you will be able to heal a specific personal trauma? And are you hoping that Ayahuasca alone will be the solution? Or, are you wanting to work with Ayahuasca ongoing and embed it into an existing spiritual practice? Do you foresee yourself entering into a life-long apprenticeship with sacred plants with the view to becoming a “Shaman”, curandero? These are all valid, thoughtful intentions; however, it is important that you communicate these intentions and discuss your expectations with an experienced facilitator prior to booking and paying for your place. If the retreat operator is not interested in knowing your intentions or is unavailable to answer questions relating to your expectations, it may be better to look around for a retreat operator that is. A trustworthy Ayahuasca retreat operator is one that makes you feel safe and comfortable – safety and comfort extend to ensuring that your expectations are aligned with what is reasonable to expect from the experience. Put differently, Ayahuasca and other sacred plant medicines are not panaceas and in order to have a fulfilling, life-altering experience it’s important that your intentions are aligned with what is realistic to expect from the medicines and the retreat experience. It also helps to know that your facilitator is deeply invested in helping you to realize them.
Scientific research on the effects of Ayahuasca consider it to be “broadly safe,” however, your safety may be placed at risk if a few fundamental precautions are not in place. When researching a suitable retreat operator, check to see that there is a comprehensive medical screening process in place – bonus points if the medical screening process is endorsed by the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Educational, Research, and Service. You want to know that the retreat center is committed to sifting out people that for whatever reason are unsuitable for sacred medicine work. Your experience of sacred medicine will be influenced by the other participants on retreat, and so you want to be sure the retreat operator you choose recognizes this and has a process in place for screening participants. In addition, you will want to check to see that the retreat operator has guidelines in place that assist you with your preparation for the retreat experience. For example, there are certain foods that must be abstained from prior to taking Ayahuasca and certain drugs and medications that must be purged from your system. Make sure the retreat operator has guidelines for what is required and is available to advise and assist you as you prepare for your retreat. You will also want to make sure that the retreat will be staffed by facilitators who are trained in CPR and have an emergency protocol and first aid kits at the retreat site. It may also be worthwhile enquiring into whether the facilitators are knowledgeable about how to treat snake and insect bites – or the most common kinds of injuries sustained by people in the area in which the retreat takes place. And lastly, a licensed Ayahuasca retreat operator is likely to have all of the above covered. So, if in doubt, seek out evidence of their license through their website or inquire directly.
Ayahuasca retreat review – AYA Healing Retreats
3. Know your shaman and their tradition
Unfortunately, with the boom in Western tourism to Peru, the town of Iquitos, where many retreats depart from, is replete with charlatans offering Ayahuasca to Westerners for as little as $20USD. Ayahuasca has been a revered source of divine knowledge and healing in Amazonian communities for nearly two thousand years and the process to become a curandero is a life-long apprenticeship. The indigenous knowledge systems of the people of the Amazon must be trusted, revered and partnered with if Ayahuasca is to remain a safe and sustainable method of healing for the many Westerns who come to Peru in search of it every year. When researching a reputable retreat operator, make sure they are partnering with legitimate, indigenous curanderos. If they appear to be offering Ayahuasca services in the absence of indigenous knowledge, the retreat may not be safe. Ask to see profiles and photos of the curanderos if you are unsure and search the name of the curandero online to ensure they are a legitimate person. Often, remarkable shaman will be in high demand and may work across several licensed retreats.
4. Are there opportunities for healing beyond Ayahuasca?
While Ayahuasca is the most widely known sacred plant medicine in the West, there are myriad other plants and healing traditions that can profoundly impact your health and wellbeing, for the better. In fact, many master plants, such as Bobinsana can enhance a person’s experience of Ayahuasca when a dieta of the plant is prescribed by a curandero in conjunction with it. A reputable retreat center should offer a breadth of opportunities for healing beyond or in conjunction with Ayahuasca. Master plant dietas are one such example and have been used by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin for thousands of years to receive knowledge and healing from indwelling plant spirits. A creditable Ayahuasca retreat in Peru should also aim to depart knowledge about the ancient healing traditions to participants through optional activities such as guided walks through the forest and informal lectures. This knowledge is vital in order to dispel many of the myths surrounding Ayahuasca and sacred plant medicine and to inspire retreat participants to advocate for the preservation of indigenous healing methods and the Amazon itself. In other words, the retreat should offer an “experience,” one that is deeply invested in education and healing. Seek out reviews of the retreat operator you are considering booking a place with in order to find out more about how other participants have enjoyed the “experience” of being on retreat.
5. Where in the world should I go?
The Peruvian Amazon is the birthplace of sacred plant medicine and Ayahuasca – precisely because Ayahuasca and many plant species are native to and grow abundantly in this region. The Peruvian Amazon has a long and rich history of medicinal plant healing and is, therefore, the oldest and most authentic place to undergo a retreat experience. The curanderos who inhabit this part of the world extend from long lineages of plant healers and many have never left the region. While it is possible to participate in a sacred plant medicine experience elsewhere in the world; in Canada and North America, Australia and throughout Europe, these retreat experiences can lack the authenticity, expertise, and connection to place that one finds in Peru.
“When researching retreat operators, at a minimum, the person facilitating the workshop should have received lengthy training in the Peruvian Amazon and be able to point to the lineage of the healers under which they underwent their apprenticeship.“
When researching retreat operators, at a minimum, the curandero facilitating the workshop should have received lengthy training in the Peruvian Amazon and be able to point to the lineage of the healers under which they underwent their apprenticeship. If this information is lacking, or not forthcoming, it is advisable to seek out a facilitator who can provide you with these details. An additional element to consider is the legality of sacred medicine use. Throughout Peru and the wider Amazonian basin, Ayahuasca is legal. In North American and Australia, it is not. Participating in an “illegal” ceremony may compromise the quality of the brew and the overall ritual experience which in turn may impair your ability to integrate your learnings.
Lastly, if you are wanting to journey to Peru it is always advisable to check travel warnings for the country and to ensure you have thoroughly researched licensed retreat operators to ensure they are working in partnership with indigenous healers. You will want also to make sure that the retreat center caters to your needs and preferences. Are the sleeping quarters going to be comfortable? Is the food compatible with your dietary needs? Journeying to Peru from the West means that you will be some distance from the comforts of home. It’s important to make sure that while working with sacred plant medicines you are able to look after your wellbeing, and that means eating well and getting good sleep!
Group photo after the flower bath.
Ayahuasca Retreat & Dieta
6. How many Ayahuasca sessions is “enough”?
For some people, one Ayahuasca session is enough to remedy significant trauma and promote life-altering healing. For others, it is many more. Most experienced curanderos suggest at least four sessions with sufficient time for integration between ceremonies. Working with sacred plant medicines can be taxing on the body – there is often a lot of purging (vomiting and diarrhea) that takes place. You will want to make sure that the retreat you are considering booking with allows for adequate space between Ayahuasca ceremonies for you to rest and recover the body as well as the mind.
7. Do they offer integration support during and after the retreat?
It is not enough to offer participants a retreat experience and send them back to their home country (most often in the West) with little to no support. Sacred plant medicine work is profoundly life-altering; it is, however, with the rise in Peruvian “spiritual tourism,” at risk of becoming an experience that participants collect; not one they are respectfully supported to integrate and embody.
Ayahuasca can bring to the conscious level, traumatic memories, and experiences and it is therefore vital that whilst on retreat, you are supported to integrate and manage difficult feelings. A reputable retreat center should offer opportunities on retreat for you to talk about your experiences individually with a qualified counselor or therapist. Trauma-informed integration work is one such modality that we have written about in the “integrating Ayahuasca” ariticle that can be extremely effective in supporting participants to fully embody and integrate their sacred medicine experience.
After two weeks in the company of others who are committed to changing their lives for the better, letting go of old ways of being and knowing, it can be strangely confronting and impossibly difficult to return to everyday life and familial interactions with those who may be resistant to change and unwilling to accept a new you. A reputable retreat operator should also equip you with tools for managing the return to your home country following your retreat. Check their website for information relating to self-care and post-retreat support. The great operators will build into their retreat packages integration support post-retreat. This will generally involve a qualified therapist or counselor contacting you personally after the retreat at 1 and 3-month intervals to discuss any issues you might be facing in relation to integrating your learnings and managing your home life post-retreat.
8. Do they Give Back?
The Amazon region has historically faced significant environmental and cultural threats from outsiders. From mining companies seeking bountiful resources to the Jesuits seeking people to convert to Christianity. With the recent rise in Western visitation to the region, it has never been more important, and indeed more possible for the West to play an important role in protecting the biodiversity and the millennia-long healing traditions of the people of the Amazon basin. When researching a retreat operator, it is important to consider what steps they have or are taking to reduce their footprint in the Amazon and contribute to the health of its inhabitants. Does the retreat operator, for example, have a policy in place to employ local people and pay them a fair wage? Do they offer them fair conditions and respect their expertise? Do they make use of organic and contaminant-free soaps and cleaning products to reduce pollutant runoff into the river? Does the retreat operator donate a percentage of their earnings to locally run cooperatives and NGO’s? Do they advocate against destructive and unsustainable mining and deforestation initiatives? How are they using their profits to create a better world outside of the Amazon – perhaps in their own country through activism?
It is a privilege to access and benefit from the indigenous healing traditions of the people of the Amazon basin; in return, it’s important that retreat operators are committed to giving back and supporting the sustainability of the industry. Make sure the retreat operator you’re considering working with recognizes the importance of mutuality and reciprocity in their work.
Final Conclusion to help you make your best decision.
I hope that this shortlist has proved somewhat helpful. The choice for where your journey for a sacred medicine experience will ultimately rest with you, however, it can help to allay your fears of the unknown to read up about how other people have found the experience of a specific tour operator. While choosing the best Ayahuasca retreat in Peru is more complex than choosing where to go for dinner, there are communities dedicated to supporting people to have a safe, enjoyable experience of sacred medicine through websites such as Retreat Guru and Ayamundo. These websites are dedicated to collating reviews from retreat participants– not retreat operators. Through Ayamundo, for example, you can connect and talk in real-time with retreat participants and ask them questions about their recent experience. Likewise, Retreat Guru features recent reviews of a number of different plant medicine retreats. You can search for and book places on upcoming retreats without paying a booking fee here too.
Remember to trust your gut and take your time with your decision. Do your research and ask questions of the retreat operators you’re considering booking with before you depart with any money. They should be happy and available to answer them. If they’re not, keep looking!
Elio Geusa is the director of AYA Healing Retreats hosting Ayahuasca retreats in the Peruvian rainforest. He works in Peru helping to facilitate life-changing plant medicine experiences alongside Shipibo curandero’s Don Miguel and Maestra Juanita. He is immensely passionate about sharing his knowledge on Master Plants, respecting traditional ways of knowing, interpreting and navigating plant medicine work and helping to reawaken his guests to the innate intelligence and benevolence of the natural world.
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