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 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 jungles and mountains of Peru for the wisdom, healing, and spiritual medicine of working with this special plant. Here’s why Peru is the place to drink Ayahuasca.
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 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.
The Ayahuasca vine is native to Peru
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 the traditions have been passed down through generations, in some cases this 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
In some cases, other alkaloid-containing plants are substituted in Europe and North America to make a substance similar to Ayahuasca. It's best to be careful, this is not the same as working with “The Mother” in the presence of a true Shamanic guide!
With Ayahuasca, the intention is for healing
Working with this sacred plant is decidedly not aligned with “getting high” or looking for a “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 that 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 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 retreat center
Whether you’re ready to push your comfort zones and retreat to the more primitive huts of the mountains or you’d prefer to stay close to the creature comforts of the 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 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.
Peru is leading the way in providing safe, authentic ceremonial experiences
The creation of the Ayahuasca Safety Association is a reflection of Peru’s commitment to protecting this sacred work. With so many now calling themselves 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.
Ready to visit Peru? We suggest doing some reflection to determine what you’re seeking… then start ‘perusing’ your options.