8 Criteria to Consider When Choosing an Ayahuasca Retreat
Make the Right Choice by Knowing What to Look For
With the recent increase in ayahuasca tourism and the vast number of ayahuasca retreats and healing centers being built, it can be a daunting task to choose which location to attend. The business is booming, and people are flocking to these centers in droves to experiment with this wonderful plant medicine. I've been to Peru twice to visit an ayahuasca retreat and have met numerous people along the way who have described their experiences and what they liked and disliked about the centers they attended. Because of my experience on the subject, I thought I'd chip in my part to help future ayahuasca seekers to find an ayahuasca center that they will enjoy.
When Mother Ayahuasca calls out to you it is because she knows you’re in need of healing. Whether the healing you need is physical, mental or spiritual she knows and she beckons to you. Listen to your intuition. If you hear her calling strongly then I recommend doing what you need to in order make this connection. Once you’ve decided that you want to experiment with this powerful medicine, you’ll need to determine which ayahuasca center to attend.
There are a number of criteria to consider when determining which center is right for you. I've broken down those criteria below and explained which are the most important and why.
1. Do Thorough Research
Before committing yourself to working with ayahuasca and choosing which retreat you plan to attend, it's imperative that you thoroughly research the medicine and learn about what you will be taking.
You should know exactly how this psychoactive brew is made, what ingredients go into it, why people take it and issues it can and can't address, and the types of effects you may experience after ingestion.
There are a plethora ("Jefe, do you even know what a 'plethora' is?") of websites, blogs and pages that can provide this information. It's best to read through a number of them to get different perspectives so that you have a well-rounded understanding of the medicine.
Take Your Time With Your Research
After you've determined that this medicine is right for you and will benefit you, the next most important thing for you to do is to choose a retreat that accommodates you best.
The place that you attend will have a huge impact on your overall experience, so I recommend researching a number of them and reading the reviews of the people that have visited.
When Mother Ayahuasca called out to me I spent the next 6 hours researching different retreats. There were many that sounded like places with solid foundations for healing. I read every single review people had left of at least five different establishments to make sure I was well-informed but one kept coming back and calling to me; The Hummingbird Ayahuasca Healing and Retreat Center located in Iquitos, Peru.
You can read my reasons for choosing and recommending this specific center in the Useful Links section at the bottom of this page.
2. Safety First
If trying ayahuasca is something that interests you, I firmly believe it’s important not to try to shortcut and save a few bucks by seeking inexpensive options.
This is your livelihood and future that we’re discussing. Your physical, mental and spiritual health are at stake.
Since the ayahuasca industry started to boom and westerners started flocking to the Amazon in search of this mystical medicine about 10 years ago, “Shamans” have been popping up left and right.
Particularly in Iquitos, the ayahuasca capital of the world, many locals who have little to no experience as true ayahuasqueros or shaman decided to get in on the action and the money by offering the brew to would-be gringo ayahuasca seekers.
Although you can save a substantial amount of money by going this route rather than attending a professionally run ayahuasca retreat, there’s no way to know what type of experience or brew you’re going to get.
The other major problem with taking ayahuasca from an non trusted source is that when taking this medicine, it opens you up to the spirit realm. Some people may not believe in this phenomenon, but after drinking ayahuasca most people would agree that there is absolutely no doubt that the spirit realm exists.
Under the guidance of a legitimate Shaman, negative spirits are warded off from the ceremonies and only those that are there to help and heal are allowed in. If you take ayahuasca without the supervision of a true ayahuasquero there is no one to deflect evil spirits from arriving and attaching themselves to you, which can cause more harm than good.
Additionally, you want to make sure you select an ayahuasca center that provides some level of security for the guests.
Most of these centers are located in developing countries close to populations that may view your belongings as paychecks. Depending on where you decide to go, you should have an idea of how safe it is for you to bring valuables that could be targets or ensure that the location provides a security measure for safekeeping.
3. The Shaman
My Friend and Trusted Shaman Manaín at Hummingbird Ayahuasca Center
Many of the aforementioned self-proclaimed “Shamans” that I alluded to in section 2 offer substandard brews with little to no healing properties. They sometimes add other substances to the brew in order to blow the gringos away and offer them a powerful experience, like Toe (the South American cousin to datura, and for anyone who knows what datura does would not willfully ingest it) or LSD, etc.
I’ve heard a number of horror stories from people who chose to take ayahuasca from someone they met on the street, only to feel completely disoriented and discombobulated.
There is also the risk of being taken advantage of by someone posing as a shaman whose primary goal is to rob you, or for women, a possible sexual assault.
One naive woman I met in Cusco was curious about the medicine and met a man who claimed to be an ayahuasquero. She went to the man’s home and was there in the presence of two other tourists and drank ayahuasca. She had very little recollection of the experience and became extremely ill the next day, unable to get out of her bed for the next 36 hours! An authentic ayahuasca experience should last from 3 - 6 hours, tops. It will leave you feeling healthier and cleaner the following day, not sick or drained.
Read up on the Shaman that will be holding ceremonies and administering your brew.
You can find out what type of energy he/she carries and get a good feel for your spiritual maestro through the reviews of past visitors to the center you're going to attend. I cannot stress this point enough:
Make sure you are going into ceremony with a legitimate Shaman!
4. Ownership and Staff
Virtually equally as important as the shaman is the ownership of the retreat that you plan to attend.
It's imperative to ensure that the owners take a deep interest in the healing of their guests and provide an environment for you to do so.
Keep in mind that ayahuasca centers are businesses and there are good and bad business people out there. Once again, you can usually get a pretty good feel for the owners from reviews of other people who have visited.
A sign of good ownership is a place that accommodates all of the guests and checks in on them regularly to make sure they are comfortable and getting the most out of their time there.
Another indication of good ownership is a program geared towards healing that offers more than just ayahuasca ceremonies.
Many of the centers offer San Pedro (huachuma) ceremonies as a second plant medicine option with which you can experiment, as well as other healing programs such as yoga, meditation sessions, group discussions, one on one visitations with the shaman or the owner, etc.
5. How's the Brew?
Lets face it. The quality of the brew is extremely important to most people interested in drinking ayahuasca.
Not only is it necessary to know that it's a legit brew coming from a trusted source, but many people also want to make certain they get a potent brew so that they can have a mind-blowing experience.
There are two types of shrubs from which the DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is traditionally extracted to make the psychoactive component in an ayahuasca brew: Chakruna and Huambisa (also known as Chaliponga). There's a big difference in flavor between these two brews taste-wise; a chakruna brew is very bitter while a huambisa brew is very sweet, almost like a cough syrup.
According to some people who have drank both types there are also some subtle differences in an ayahuasca trip depending on which type you've ingested. If you ask the owner of the retreat you plan to attend which type of leaves are used in the brew they offer you can do further research to determine if you'd like to work with one over the other.
This medicine is not a joke. It is by no means a recreational drug.
It’s the most potent plant medicine on the planet that can have the most profound effect on your life, but is also one that you must take seriously and for which you must prepare.
If you’re solely seeking a recreational psychedelic experience it’s best to use other hallucinogens that are not as deep and potent as ayahuasca, or to wait until you have a solid intention or purpose for working with the medicine.
6. Location, Location, Location
For the most authentic experience and in order to get the most out of the medicine, I recommend doing it somewhere in the Amazon Jungle.
There are many places that offer ayahuasca ceremonies in the United States, Europe, the Andes etc. Ayahuasca retreats have popped up all over the globe. Just as a Husky can survive in Houston, Texas and a Chihuahua will carry on in Chugiak, Alaska, ayahuasca can be brought anywhere on this earth and still have an impact. However, she'll not be at her optimum performance when she's out of place.
Ayahuasca is a plant medicine of the jungle. This is her home. This is where the healing properties and spirits surrounding ayahuasca are most potent.
If you want to have the most profound experience of your life and to obtain all that this amazing plant medicine has to offer, I recommend you go to the jungle and find yourself a true Amazonian healer.
The flora and fauna of the Amazon Jungle are wonders themselves.
7. Amenities and Accommodations
Depending on what your standards are and how much you're willing to "rough it," this is another criterion to consider.
Some ayahuasca retreats are located closer to urban areas while others are more remote. The location may determine if the center you hope to attend offers wifi or cell phone service to guests.
From my personal experience, I enjoy being able to completely disconnect from the outside world and sacrifice my ability to connect to the internet and speak with family or friends in distant countries at my leisure.
It helped me to connect more deeply with nature and with the people that surrounded me.
We were forced to have face to face conversations if we felt like being social and were prevented from taking in any distractions from the outside world, prompting us to focus deeply on ourselves and our inner healing.
As the center that I attended was located a fair distance away from civilization, there was very little noise and light polluting the atmosphere. I returned to a completely primitive circadian rhythm, going to sleep shortly after sundown and rising when the sun started to shine into my room.
The retreat that I attended offered the basic necessities in accommodations: private rooms, clean showers and nice compost toilets, a spacious common area complete with a large library, board games, musical instruments, paints and coloring books/utensils to express creativity etc. There would be some retreats that offer more than this and others that offer less.
You need to contemplate what you can live with and without and make sure the location you will attend is accommodating to your needs.
8. The Cost
I intentionally listed this criterion last as I believe it is the least important. Obviously it can be a huge factor on which place you choose, but I stress that it's not as important as any of the other aforementioned criteria because in the grand scheme of things, it will have a lesser effect on the outcome of your life.
Attending a reputable and ethical ayahuasca retreat won’t come cheap. That's not to say that you should look for the most expensive center, but definitely don't seek out the most affordable option either.
You need to determine a budget with which you can work. You need to research the places that you plan to stay on the way to get to your destination. You need to have an idea of how much the services you’ll require should cost, so that people don’t attempt to take advantage of you. You’ll need to know which airlines are affordable to get you to your destination and if you want to save some money, when and where to buy your tickets.
Other than being at the ayahuasca center, nothing is arranged for you. There is no “package deal” including flight, hotels and transportation. It's not like going to an all inclusive touristic beach resort in Mexico.
Attending an ayahuasca healing retreat is one of those scenarios in which you get what you paid for.
Research a few places and find some that have all of the accommodations you desire, where the owners, shaman and staff seem like genuine people, the location is appropriate and safety is provided, the ayahuasca brew has received positive feedback from online reviews, and THEN compare the prices and choose which one works best for your budget.
If you follow these 8 criteria in making your selection it will undoubtedly improve your experience at an ayahuasca retreat.
If you follow these steps and are unhappy with your selection, it will most likely be a reflection of something you didn't research deeply enough. Then, you will know what to look for next time around. Good luck and have a very safe and enjoyable trip!