Peru has always been a popular travel destination, but in the last two decades a new form of tourism has emerged: Ayahuasca seekers. Every year, thousands of foreigners head to the Peruvian Amazon to take the sacred plant medicine ayahuasca in their search for healing. In Peru, the majority of these centers are located in Pucallpa, Tarapoto, and Iquitos, in the eastern region of Peru. Some lodges offering jungle or nature tours include ayahuasca sessions as well.
It is estimated that the number of centers offering ayahuasca is between 30 and 100, just in Iquitos, in the northeast of Peru. While this sudden popularity might be very positive for people running these retreats, it has also allowed some unscrupulous opportunists to take advantage.
Luckily, there are a lot of great and genuine places where you can have a life changing experience taking ayahuasca with the help of trained professionals. It is important to be very careful and do the proper research before booking a flight to the Amazon and a spot for the next ayahuasca retreat.
What are the Risks of Falling for a Scam?
There are many risks associated with falling into a fraudulent retreat. The first and most obvious is the fact that sometimes the plants might be mixed with chemicals, causing irreversible damage to the body and leading to death in extreme cases. Unfortunately, some people have been poisoned while taking the beverage, or weren’t in optimal health and were never told to refrain from taking it. Ayahuasca, as transformative as it may be, is not for everyone. People with conditions such as heart disease or gout should abstain from ingesting ayahuasca. A reputable retreat will let you know that, very possibly screening for medical histories beforehand.
Another risk is that scammers could take advantage of people while they’re unconscious. There have been cases of fraudulent shamans robbing their clients or even sexually abusing them. It is important when booking an ayahuasca retreat to remember that you’re going to be in a very vulnerable position with an almost complete stranger. Have this in mind when doing your research.
Less obvious but equally dangerous is the risk of healing ceremonies being led by people that don’t have the proper experience or qualifications. Anyone taking consciousness-altering plants such as ayahuasca should always be accompanied by a guide that is going to provide proper supervision, context, and support.
“These plants open portals, our role is to help you navigate them and bring you back but, with shamanic tourism sometimes these ceremonies are led by people who don’t know how to close these portals and that can be very dangerous,” says Herbert Quinteros, director of Katari Healing Center in Tarapoto, in an interview with Truffle Report.
According to Herbert, this is a serious issue. In his center, he has been visited by people who fell for these scams and were very damaged psychologically and energetically.
What do you Need to Know Before Signing up for a Peruvian Ayahuasca Retreat
Before even looking into an ayahuasca retreat, there are certain things that need to be taken into account. The first one is that not everyone is fit to take ayahuasca. Have in mind that sacred plants make you face yourself and you need to be ready for that. People that have suffered severe trauma associated with a particular episode need to be careful because it may be incredibly triggering.
People with certain health conditions should also be careful. For instance, people that have had coronary bypass surgery are at risk of suffering a heart attack. Anyone with a medical condition requiring life-sustaining medication should also abstain. Ayahuasca doesn’t interact well with pharmaceutical drugs and could pose serious risks.
Finally, be sure that you’re looking into doing ayahuasca for the right reasons. Ayahuasca is medicine, not a recreational drug. Consciousness expanding plants reach deep into your spirit and can help you heal your deepest wounds, aiding with personal growth. Have in mind that you will also have to follow a very strict diet and preparation before and after the experience.
Read the Signs, Listen to the Songs
It is very important to do your research into the retreat and the person who will be leading your healing ceremony. Don’t just settle for the first google result. Read articles, ask people, watch videos and reach out to the retreats.
Find an authentic retreat led by a healer that has been trained in the traditions of the Amazon and respects the earth. Ask about whether they actually do the chants (Ikaros) or if they play CDs in the background. The Ikaros are the way in which the healers connect with the spirits of the plants, and genuine retreats will be led by healers who can perform the chants themselves. They’re an essential part of the ceremony, and a good way to help recognize an authentic vegelatista.
Another warning sign is the prevalence of recreational users. Genuine centers quickly recognize people that want to do ayahuasca just for the hallucinatory experience, and turn them down. Retreats conducted simply for profit or to exploit ayahuasca’s increasing popularity will even advertise it as part of their tours. If the center you’re looking into is trying hard to sell you an ayahuasca experience as part of a larger vacation package, perhaps you should look for another one.
“It’s not about filling up your pockets with money,” says Herbert Quinteros. “It’s about doing real work for people that are on their personal growth journey.”
Taking ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon can be an incredibly fulfilling and transformative experience. Be sure to do it under the guidance of a real healer that has your best interest in mind.