Peru Travel Blog

What is the Ayahuasca Ceremony in Peru?

Written by: Kevin Groh

Ayahausca tea in Peru

It’s no surprise that Peru is a must-see destination for many travelers. From Machu Picchu tours and the Rainbow Mountains to the rich history, delicious food, and unique culture, visiting Peru is an unforgettable experience.

Aside from taking hikes or tours, many tourists enjoy immersing themselves in traditions or festivals like Inti Raymi or a spiritual Ayahuasca ceremony. 

Whether you’re planning a trip to Peru to partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony or are curious to know more about why people describe it as a spiritual awakening, we discuss everything you might need to know.

What is Ayahuasca?

The big question here is, what is Ayahuasca in Peru? Let’s start with the plant. The plant is also commonly called the “spirit vine” and its scientific name is banisteriopsis caapi. It has over fifteen other names that different areas and tribes call it as well. 

With over 90 different tribes that live over 1000 miles away from each other, it is impressive they all work with the same plant. This plant is from all over the Amazon Rainforest, which is the home of the Ayahuasca plant. 

Ayahuasca also refers to the medicine made between the spirit vine and other plants. The main ingredient is going to be the Ayahuasca vine. The vine is then cooked with other plants to create a brown liquid that is then consumed. It is often called Ayahuasca tea or Ayahuasca brew and is used for ceremonies. 

Another interesting fact about this plant is the name Ayahuasca comes from the language of Quechua, which is a widely spoken South American language.

What Makes Ayahuasca So Unique?

Why does Ayahuasca get more attention than other plants? Ayahuasca has two chemicals it produces naturally that have hallucinogenic properties. The main reason it is used is because of dimethyltryptamine or DMT. DMT is a potent hallucinogen that plays an important role in an Ayahuasca healing ceremony.

DMT gets broken down by monoamine oxidases or MAOs, which your body produces naturally in the liver. To be effective, DMT has to be bonded with MAO inhibitors or MAOIs. As soon as it has bonded with the MAOIs, then the hallucinogenic properties are at their strongest and won’t be broken down by your body as quickly.

All this combined creates a way to break into the human spirit. The goal of partaking in this ceremony is to look at what many call your shadow self. Your shadow self is the part of your soul or mind that you ignore and push away. It’s believed that this part holds trauma that causes pain in your daily life, even if you aren’t aware of it.

Person pouring tea into white cups

Is Ayahuasca a Drug?

The short answer is yes. Ayahuasca is a drug in the fact that it does alter the mind when in use. It has a lifespan of about 4-8 hours, depending on the dosage and how strong the shaman made the drink. However, it doesn’t have any lasting adverse side effects that cause harm.

Many people drink Ayahuasca for medicinal properties. It is also primarily used for healing in an Ayahuasca ceremony. With that in mind, it’s important to note that it is part of a group of psychoactive plants.

After consuming the liquid, it takes around 20 to 60 minutes to feel the drug’s effect. From there, users experience an altered state, or “trip” for about 4 to 8 hours. Ayahuasca is a psychedelic drug and needs to be treated safely.

Is Ayahuasca Safe?

Like any drug, there are questions about its safety. Is Ayahuasca in Peru safe? Some people will tell you it’s completely safe, while others will strongly advise against using it. The decision is up to you.

The most straightforward answer is that it depends on your body. Particularly on your body chemistry and your own mind. 

If you already experience mental disorders like schizophrenia, it’s best to avoid consuming Ayahuasca. The effects can result in worsening the condition and ending in a manic episode. 

Anyone who suffers from significant health issues like heart conditions should avoid using Ayahuasca. Before ever partaking in this drug, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks. As with any psychoactive drug, the effects can be minimal or you may experience serious side effects while using Ayahuasca. 

It’s important to note that no drug, whether synthetic or natural, is completely safe, so if you have any hesitation or health concerns, Ayahuasca might not be for you.

What to Expect While Using Ayahuasca

There are a variety of symptoms that can happen when using Ayahuasca. Some of the most common are vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, paranoia, extreme fear, dizziness, euphoria, and psychosis for the duration of the trip. 

Vomiting and diarrhea are considered acceptable when using this drug. In many places, the plant is also called ‘la purga’ or the purge. This is why many places have a bucket next to each participant, just in case. The purge is considered a good step as it indicates your body cleaning itself of negative energy. 

As noted earlier, body chemistry plays a huge part in how one will be affected by Ayahuasca. One person may have a euphoric experience possible while the person next to them is full of panic and paranoia. No traveler experience with Ayahuasca is the same. Some users find it to be life-changing while others have terrible experiences.

What is an Ayahuasca Ceremony?

An Ayahuasca ceremony takes place during the evening and well into the night. Considering most ceremonies can last for up to eight hours, the night is perfect for this event. 

The ceremony is where you take part in drinking Ayahuasca. Depending on the size of the temple, there could be up to 25 participants. However, it is typically much smaller at around eight or so people. This gives the healers the best chance to work with each individual as they partake in this activity. 

The maloka or the circular hut, where the ceremony occurs, is where you and the other guests will sit. In most places, there are mattresses laid out for each guest, as well as a bucket. Each guest will have a spot, typically with their name – this is highly dependent on which temple you are at – that indicates where to sit at each ceremony. 

While each ceremony might differ, there are a few steps you can expect from an Ayahuasca ceremony.

Preparing Before Arrival

Before you arrive at the retreat, you must prepare your body. This all starts weeks before you arrive as you have to do a cleansing yourself. To get the best experience possible, there are a few things that you need to do to give yourself the best chance. 

Here are the things that you should stop at least a week before you arrive at the temple: 

  • Smoking cigarettes. 
  • Smoking marihuana.
  • Drinking alcohol.  
  • Having any caffeine. 
  • Having sex. 
  • Masturbation. 

These are done to help make sure your body can go through any withdrawal symptoms – especially with smoking and drinking – so you don’t have them at the temple. Abstaining from sex and masturbation is said to keep your mind clear and free for the best communication between you and your shadow self. 

There are also things you should stop doing at least two weeks before you arrive at the temple: 

  • Taking medications like antidepressants. 
  • Eating processed foods. 
  • Often eating meat as well or products from animals (milk, honey, and eggs). 

Many medications have ill effects when used with Ayahuasca. There are also claims that the more western medicine will block how Ayahuasca in Peru works. The energy from the medication can stop the healing process and give you a less than authentic experience. What you should do is contact the temple to see what their rules are. 

Psychosis medication is one of the things that must be stopped completely. These medications can have deadly effects if taken with Ayahuasca. 

The vegan diet is often recommended, as well. Each temple has a different diet that they follow. About two weeks before your arrival, they will recommend starting it. It is what the temple and the healers found work best for each person.

Arriving at the Temple

When you arrive at your decided retreat temple, you aren’t ready for Ayahuasca just yet. There are a few things that you have to do to get the most out of your stay. 

One of those things is meditation. You’ve probably been told about meditation before, but if you haven’t, here is a quick rundown of what it is. 

The art of meditation is when you can clear your mind of wandering thoughts. Some people are able to connect with spirits this way or just connect with their inner selves. It is the act of calming the mind and making the focus on the now rather than what could happen. 

Many different retreats have classes on meditation and yoga. Yoga is a great way to get in tune with your body and know what works and what doesn’t work for you. It not only helps you get flexible but like meditation is focused on your center. 

There is an abundance of finding yourself when working with Ayahuasca. 

On top of meditation and yoga, there are often other rituals to do. Depending on the retreat, you could take part in different activities. Each one is designed to help you connect to the spirits all around you. This can be done through floral baths, dance classes, art classes, and more, depending on your retreat area.

White cup of tea in sitting in leaves

The Ceremony

This is the step that is the actual ceremony. Most, if not all, ceremonies start at night. This means before nightfall; you will head to the area that is the maloka. This is where you will be until the closing ceremony takes place. 

During this time, the healer will talk to you about the dosage, your intent, and other recommendations that have come into play before now. Now, it is essential that you show up early to show respect to the healer and the ceremony itself. 

Once everyone has taken a cup of Ayahuasca, the healers will then drink their cup. After that process, the lights will go out, and the shaman will put the room into darkness. Aside from the moonlight that can trickle in, the place will be dark and silent. 

After the drug takes effect, the healers start singing songs, which are known as icaros. These songs are a way for the healer to connect with the plant spirits to help guide you on your journey. Through the ceremony, icaros are used to guide you through your trip as well as raise or lower the intensity of the ceremony. 

Each icaro will be unique to the healer. During the ceremony, the healer will often go to each individual and sing a specific icaro to help aid their healing. This is done all through the ceremony with each person. When the healer isn’t with you, there will be other helpers through the area. 

During this time, not only will icaros be sung, but the shaman will do the blowing of smoke or scented air in the faces or general direction of the participants. The most common would be tobacco smoke, as tobacco is considered one of the main ways to communicate with the plant spirits. 

All of this is to help you work through your negative energies. The healers are there to help guide you through this process. They are going to be the ones that will act as your guide through it all, even after the ceremony comes to an end.

The Closing Ceremony

After the ceremony comes to an end, the healer will start the closing ceremony. This ends with an icaro to close the circle and complete the ritual. It is going to lift the veil of the protective plant energies and open you up to the world once more. 

However, the healer will often add a layer of protection against each individual’s spiritual vulnerability before leaving. 

Then the lights will be lit by the shaman once more, and a light discussion can happen. Once the healer dismisses everyone, they go back to their rooms to sleep.

Integration Back to Society

Once you have completed a ceremony and slept, the next day will start the integration process. This is going to happen the moment you step foot outside the retreat and head back home. 

Before you leave, you will be given the tools to help you keep what you learned with you. The healers will help guide you in what path is best suited for you. Often this is keeping the diet for at least two weeks and slowly integrating back to medication if you need to.

For many participants, leaving the Ayahuasca ceremony is often the most challenging part of the ceremony. In many places, this is what the healers call testing and it is the plant spirit testing you to see if you really earned the knowledge you were given. This “test” may include avoiding temptations or whether or not you fall back into toxic habits. Like the ceremony and experience overall, how you integrate depends on what you wish to gain out of this. 

If you wish to continue with what you were taught, then you must be the change. Many places offer a way to contact them or even repeat ceremonies later on. All to make sure that you feel you get the best out of Ayahuasca.

Who Performs an Ayahuasca Ceremony?

While it varies from place to place, the person performing the ceremony will always be a healer of some nature. Here are some of the common names for the healer: 

  • Shaman. 
  • Curanderos/Curanderas.
  • Healers

No matter what the healer is called, they are there to guide you through the ceremony with ease. Usually, the ceremony has more than one healer in the room to help aid the participants. There will be one main healer who is doing the majority of the tasks and acts as the leader. 

Finding an Ayahuasca shaman in Peru is going to be the most authentic ceremony possible as they have gone through training and respect the culture.

Picking the Right Ayahuasca Ceremony

Unfortunately, there are many illegal and illegitimate Ayahuasca ceremonies being practiced both inside Peru and other parts of South America. Knowing which ones are real and which ones are not can save your life. It sounds drastic to say, but not being safe with this plant medicine can end in death if not careful. It is one of the many reasons it is still illegal in many places. 

So how can you be sure that you are going to be safe? Again, there’s no guarantee that your Ayahuasca experience will be safe or positive, but you should consider the following:

  • Do Your Research: Research your retreat and the type of people there. Make sure you are thorough and do not skip this step. This could be the difference between finding a legitimate retreat and one that is a scam. 
  • Search For Legitimate Healers: These healers typically go through a ten year apprenticeship just to gain the title of a healer. They have worked hard and have worked with these plants for years before doing a ceremony. 
  • Participate in Peru or Other Parts of South America: Being in South America is going to give you the most authentic and safest ceremony. There are many people offering it outside that claim to be healers but have not gone through the training.
  • Understand The Risks: Understand that you are going to a foreign country where the laws are different. Know the risks of going off medication and the Ayahuasca use before you consume it. This is not just something you can do for fun; it has to be done with care and knowledge of what to do if things go wrong. 

Being able to tell when you are in danger is going to be essential. Trust your gut on this one. Know that there are people who are willing to trick others into putting themselves in harm’s way. Here are some tips to look out for when doing research. 

  • If the leader proclaims they are a shaman but do not partake in drinking the Ayahuasca themselves, they are not trustworthy. All leaders drink a cup to help each participant through their journey.
  • If there is too much self-promotion like posters and books claiming they are amazing. Typically a red flag as many healers don’t boast about their skills publicly. 
  • Do they have a following? This can easily mean they are using the vulnerability of the participants during the drug use to gain their favor. 
  • They claim to be singing icaros but are not. If you don’t have an idea of what one is, this can be hard to determine. 
  • Are they boasting about their spiritual claims? If so, then they are not a trustworthy person to be doing an Ayahuasca ceremony. 
  • They are all about money. Do they care about you as a person, or are they going to treat you like a walking wallet? Read the reviews if they have any and see if you can figure out what they are about. 
  • Are they clear about their training? If they are not upfront and clear about how they trained and how long, this is not a place for you. Most likely, they are not trained and don’t know how to conduct a ceremony safely. 

Considering the psychological effects of Ayahuasca puts people in a vulnerable state of mind, there are always potential risks. Knowing what red flags to look for is going to not only save your money but also could save your life. There are real dangers to going to someone who hasn’t had the training or the experience. 

If you find a legitimate retreat with trained healers, you are likely to have a more authentic experience.

Where Can You Do an Ayahuasca Ceremony?

There are many places you can head to in order to take part in the Ayahuasca ceremony. There are going to be retreats all over South America. The most common location is in Peru. Finding an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru is going to give you an authentic experience.

When searching for a retreat, there are many things to keep in mind. Here are some of the following to make sure you find the retreat for you. 

  • Reviews. If you check the reviews of the retreat center, you should be able to see all kinds of people that have gone. Many have videos up that will show you how that person is feeling. Always check the reviews before booking!
  • How long the retreat is. There are going to be different levels of retreat, no matter which retreat you go to. They can range from seven days to a full month. Depending on your ability and commitment level, you can pick from a range. 
  • How many people can be on the retreat? There should never be more than 25 people on the same retreat as you. The smaller the group, typically the more individualized the experience can be. 

Maybe we haven’t covered all of your questions. An Ayahuasca retreat is a big decision to make not only for your pocketbook but also for your well-being.

Tea being poured into a clear cup with a white cup of tea sitting next to it on a wood platform

Common Frequently Asked Questions

Are you signed up for an Ayahuasca retreat and ceremony or maybe have thought about adding the experience to your travel itinerary? Here are some additional questions that may help you decide if it’s for you.

Can You Use Your Phone?

The simple answer is a retreat center does not want you to use your phone. Remember, they are in the middle of a rainforest, and reception is likely to be nonexistent. Many of the retreats want you to disconnect from the world in order to have the best experience possible. That said, it’s always a good idea to let someone know that you are planning to attend a retreat or ceremony.

Can You Attend a Ceremony or Retreat with a Friend, Spouse, or Family Member?  

Since an Ayahuasca ceremony is an individual experience, you might feel safer doing it with someone you trust, but it truly depends on your relationship with them. If you can spend time apart and focus on yourself, then yes. 

Can You Partake in Ayahuasca While Pregnant? 

There is not enough evidence to suggest that it’s safe, so it’s not recommended to use Ayahuasca while pregnant or if you have any medical conditions.

Does Ayahuasca Have Fatal Results?

As ceremonies and retreats become more popular, there are more news reports of deaths associated with Ayahuasca. It’s unclear in most cases if deaths are related to misuse or due to existing health conditions. As we stated earlier, always do your research and understand that there are potential risks.

Will Ayahuasca Cure My Health Problems?

There’s not enough solid evidence to suggest that Ayahuasca can cure or treat certain health issues like anxiety or depression. Using Ayahuasca affects everyone differently and you should use extreme caution if you have underlying conditions.

Common Pricing for Retreats

The price of your retreat will vary from place to place. However, we have found some of the most common expenses for each retreat. Keep in mind that it does not include the airfare needed to get to Peru and back. 

The lowest amount that has been found is USD 1,650. This is typical for your week-long stay and covers just what is in the resort. 

The price goes up from there. It can range from $2,000 to USD 5,000, depending on the length of your stay. The more extended the visit, the more it costs

Most of the time, you will have to put down a deposit that cannot be refunded. Then you would pay the rest of it the closer you get to your stay date. 

Going on a retreat is not going to be a cheap thing. The price reflects the skills of the healers and the amount of attention you would get at each place, as well as the facilities at each place that you can use.

Final Thoughts of an Ayahuasca Ceremony

While there seem to be many benefits to this ceremony, it has to be done with care. Without the necessary care, there is no way to know if this is safe. More research has to be done on the scientific front to know for sure if this is a safe thing to partake in. 

If you are looking for one, though, then Peru is the place to be. An Ayahuasca ceremony in Peru is going to be the only way you can get an authentic experience. Just keep in mind that there are dangers. 

Know your risks before you sign up for a retreat. Know that a positive experience isn’t guaranteed no matter what you do. 

Remember that there are plenty of people out there doing an Ayahuasca ceremony without being trained in it. Keep yourself safe, look into who is doing the ceremony, and actually be a healer. It is the only way to keep yourself safe at the end of the day.

What is the Ayahuasca Ceremony in Peru?

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