Wisdom of the Indigenous Elders

The Indigenous peoples of our world have lived in harmony with the natural environment for thousands of years. The wise elders of these traditions have much to teach us about our role as custodians of the earth and about the central importance of spiritual growth to a life lived well. Learning to take only what we need, to waste little, to honour our ancestors, to listen to our bodies and to the natural world are but some of the teachings these wise elders can share with us. At AYA Healing Retreats, we recognise the sacredness of these teachings and we draw from this generational wisdom passed down through the centuries to offer a powerful, authentic and life-changing healing experience.

The Shipibo People

The Shipibo people have a population of between 35,000 and 40,000 people and are one of the largest and most resilient tribes in the Peruvian Amazon. Today, the Shipibo live in approximately 150 small communities nestled along the Ucayali River. Around 1600, Spanish missionaries first began to flood the Amazon rainforest, looking to convert the Shipibo to Christianity and to colonise the region. The Shipibo resisted and it wasn’t until 1950’s that Christian missionaries attempted once more, with varying degrees of success to convert the Shipibo people. The Shipibo people are a resilient tribe, and despite numerous attacks on their culture and traditions, they have retained their traditional knowledge and customs.

The Shipibo people are deeply respected for their knowledge of the sacred plant medicines, ceremony and their spiritual connection to the rainforest environment. Traditionally, the Shipibo women, or Shipiba’s are artisans and are responsible for creating intricate and beautiful pottery, textiles and jewellery. The ceremonial songs, or Icaros and the energy that the songs produce is used to inspire the visual aesthetics of the Shipibo’s textiles, resulting in designs that are truly unique and hypnotic.

Several terrible political policies in the past have led to widespread degradation of the Shipibo’s natural environment. Increasing pollution of the waterways, unsustainable palm oil plantations, oil spills and the predominance of multinational oil and timber companies is an unrelenting threat to the Shipibo people. With this is mind, AYA Healing Retreats is committed to not contributing to the devastation of the Shipibo people that has been legislated by the Peruvian government for decades. We are committed to supporting the Shipibo people’s right to self-determination and to contributing what we can to restoring the vitality of the Amazon Rainforest.

Our Curanderos

It is an honour to have the ancient wisdom of two remarkable indigenous curanderos with us on retreat. Our curanderos have a combined knowledge and expertise that is guaranteed to result in a truly powerful healing experience.

Don Miguel (also known as Senen Yoi- Speaking the Truth)

Don Miguel was born into a Shipibo community called Roaboya on the River Ucayali. When Don Miguel was a child, Angel Sanchez Vargas, his grandfather was the community’s curandero. Vargas was an expert in sacred plant medicines and was frequently called upon to heal and share his spiritual wisdom with members of Roaboya. The school built some years later was named after Vargas and Roaboya went on to be recognised as the first indigenous community 114 years ago. Don Miguel grew up surrounded by the Shipibo wisdom and possess intimate knowledge of the sacred plant medicines. At a very young age he began his apprenticeship as a curandero through plant dietas under the supportive guidance of his grandfather. Miguel is also a trained literature professor and thoroughly enjoys teaching the Shipibo language and culture. Since 2012, Don Miguel has spent the bulk of his time at the Ayahuasca Foundation where he supports his brother, Don Enrique in leading lectures, workshops, initiation courses and retreats. Don Miguel will lead our Ayahuasca ceremonies, circle discussions and be available for personal consultations whilst on retreat.

Maestra Juanita (also known as Isa Yaka- Little Bird)

Maestra Juana was born into the Shipibo community of Pahoyan, one of the most powerful Shipibo healing lineages in the Peruvian Amazon. She is around 60 years old, however her exact age is unknown.She has been studying for more than 35 years under Maestra Manuela, Papa Gilberto and Papa Bejamin, who are all members of the highly-respected curandero family, the Mahua family. Juana began her dieta on the mythical Amazonian tree Noya Rao when she was just 20 years old and has dedicated her life to the path of healing ever since. Juana is also very learned in the workings of the human body, possessing an excellent knowledge of the bones and skeletal system. Juana specialises in bone massage and will be available on the Noya Rao retreat to provide our guests with this unique healing experience. We are delighted to have Juana’s expertise, depth of wisdom and fun loving spirit with us on the Noya Rao retreat.

Papa Gilberto Mahua Papa Gilberto Mahua Ayahuasca

Papa Gilberto Mahua was born into a lineage of renowned Shipibo healers. His grandfather, father and earliest ancestors were all respected curanderos, who, Like Gilberto, were initiated into the plant medicine tradition at a very young age. Gilberto completed his first master plant dieta at the age of 11. For eighteen months, Gilberto saw only his father and uncle who were guiding him through the dieta and his two brothers who are also being apprenticed in Amazonian plant medicine. Ayahuasca and Tobacco along with Ayahuma, Bobinsana, Huaira Caspi and Chiric Sanango formed the basis of his initial journey with master plants.
Since that time, Gilberto has accumulated close to 60 year’s experience working in concert with master plants to promote healing in himself and others. He is regarded in his local community along the Ucayali River and throughout the West as a healer of great integrity, wisdom and excellence. Gilberto is revered not only for his experience and expertise but for his commitment to keeping the Shipibo healing traditions alive at a time when their culture faces ever-increasing political and environmental threats.
Gilberto is regarded as a father to his students. He cares deeply about the healing journey of each and every person and brings great compassion and strength to our ceremonies. His kindness and compelling presence coupled with his singular expertise create a container of safety that enables students to truly surrender to the healing process.
Papa Gilberto will guide students on the Traditional Plant Teacher Dieta retreat and on the  Noya Rao Dieta at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Ready to journey with us?

Ask us questions about what to expect on retreat, book a free Skype session, start your medical screening questionnaire and get set to be profoundly changed.

Contact Us


Shamanism and Mental Health

Shamanism, Plant Medicine & the Western Paradigm of Mental Health

There are many forms of healing, whether it be healing of the physical body, addressing mental health, or healing a fragmented soul or spirit. But how do they connect and where do they cross over?




Thank you for joining our community!