Come to the Amazon they said. Get spiritually awakened they proclaimed. Be eaten alive by every variety of insect they deemed obvious. Vomit violently in a bucket while tripping balls for hours they smiled.
It’s all part of the Ayahuasca Retreat Experience in Peru.
It’s about healing, growth, self-reflection, and suspicious bug bites and hopefully: Insight.
Every Ayahuasca retreat is different and every person walks his or her own path on their ayahuasca journey. Following my first ayahuasca ceremony and tobacco ceremony (see: vomit marathon), I ended up staying for 3 more weeks in Mayantuyacu, chasing the elusive vision I so desperately craved. To say I was craven would be an understatement, which, most definitely, is the opposite of what an ayahuasca journey is about. Craven, obsessive, annoying any who would listen – but hey, that is how I roll.
To each their own.
Whatever that means.
Anyway, back to the plot. Ayayhuasca retreats that you find on the interwebs vary in length and luxury and authenticity. There are some people retreats that last only a few days, while there are some people, especially folks recovering from more seriously ailments, who go for over an month. When I was Mayantuyacu, I met quite a few people who were very serious about ayahuasca who would spend months there – even in Tambo and eating only quinoa sans salt once a day (isolation, more on that to come). Anyway, the point is, Ayahuasca retreats vary, however, most retreats that you find on the Internet are around 7-9 days.
During the Day
How you spend your days on an Ayahuasca retreat is just as important as the ayahuasca ceremonies themselves. It is called integration. Taking the concepts that you learn during the ceremonies and making your new thoughts, feelings, and insights into actionable learning. To be clear, Mayantuyacu, during the day is perfect. It is a natural geothermal wonder, the jungle looks like film Avatar, but most importantly, you are immersed alone in nature.
After spending three weeks there, I think it is good to be isolated. You want to be bored, which I know sounds odd. While you get visuals and ‘high’ during the ceremonies, over a longer period of time ayahuasca opens you up. It breaks you down to your core. The ayahuasca diet (to be discussed later) aids in this. In Mayantuyacu, there are jungle hikes, a couple of waterfalls, and a couple of places in the thermal river that are cool enough to swim without melting like the guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is tempting to socialize a ton with other people since there isn’t a lot to do, and while that can be a helpful in sussing out ideas, it is also a good idea to spend a lot of time alone with your thoughts. You will read. A lot. However, sometimes you greatest insights from an ayahuasca retreat, come to you at random or when you are just taking a nap.
Going into Isolation: Tambo
Many Ayahuasca retreats offer the ability to stay in the jungle on the platform. It is called Tambo – and is where you go for complete isolation. In Mayantuyacu, there are five tambo areas as of writing this. Each tambo spot has a hammock, a bed with mosquito net and a little hut roof for the evitable rain downfalls – it is the jungle after all. I met a few people at Mayantuyacu who took their ayahuasca experiences and plant diets very serious and do tambo most of the time they are there – in isolation – just them, the jungle and their mind. Food is brought to that it the strictest of the ayahuasca diet (ie, just quinoa or lentils, no salt, water).
You would think that the jungle is a quiet place to sleep, but you would be wrong. The jungle comes alive at night. Starting around sunset, about 1 million frogs perform for you nightly, with the loudest croaking. Enjoy.
What is an Ayahuasca Diet?
I did not sign up for an ayahuasca retreat with a pre-departure planning or any kind of guidance, I just showed up at Mayantuyacu, as such, my only guidance was the good citizens of the Internet. Basically the ayahuasca diet is a vegan diet with also no salt or alcohol.
How strict you are comes down to you. I started the diet one week ahead of time, which seemed fine, even for a ravenous meat eater like myself (I usually eat somewhere on the Paleo, Keto, or low-carb spectrum). About a week into the diet in Mayantuyacu however, I started feel pretty weak. I spent a lot of time napping, which is fine, since there isn’t a lot do there anyway and I am a champion napper.
I would try your best to stick to the diet, otherwise you will get more sick and have a greater chance of a bad ayahuasca trip. A few articles online go into greater detail as to the dangers of not sticking with the diet prior to an ayahuasca ceremony. The big one is avoiding the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in a lot of meats, and can, increase the risk of hypertension or a stroke.
What is the Plant Diet?
Many ayahuasca retreats have you ‘diet’ on plant medicines in addition to the ayahuasca you take during the ceremonies. However, unlike ayahuasca, these plants are not entheogens, so the effects are subtler. You take only 1/3 of a cup three times a day. Don’t be mistaken though; you can still very much feel these plants especially overtime. At Mayantuyacu, Maestro Juan Flores selects your plant medicine after meeting you. You talk to him about why you are there, and he feels and sees your energy. He then selects what to put you on. It is kind of like the sorting hat in Harry Potter – you never know what you will get. I got put on Cucuasi whilst there. It was to heal my ‘feminine’ energy. It side effects include making you horny as Hell, which is not usually a problem, unless you are on a diet that includes no masturbation or sex. #ayahuascalife
Benefits of Ayahuasca
It has suddenly occurred to me that during all of my ayahuasca posts ( insert all links), I have been a bit vague as to the why of ayahuasca. I know I have said it is used for healing but what exactly does that even mean? Good question.
Ayahuasca can help open your heart and mind:
It is easy to lose perspective in our lives. Negative feedback loops, where we repeat the same mistakes over and over again happen, a lot. We are human. But we also have some choice. And sometimes it takes some outside forces to jolt us out of our current existent to realize that our reality is largely made up of the stories we tell ourselves. And the interpretation of said stories is one of the few choices we actually do have control over. Ayahuasca, can breakdown some deeper unconscious shit that we may not even be able to bring up ourselves. If you have gotten his far into researching Ayahuasca, maybe you haven’t gotten the results you are looking for elsewhere and could use some forward inertia.
Ayahuasca and meeting others can shift your perspective:
Just like how travel can throw you into new worlds, so can ayahuasca. Meeting people when you travel can be a great way to re-center yourself. Ayahuasca can also help with that. Likewise, meeting other people who are also looking for a different path can be eye opening and get you out of your egoic mind.
Ayahuasca can reveal you blind spots:
Probably the biggest one for me. The longer I spent in Mayantuyacu, the more stories that I told myself started to crumble. I had tunnel vision. Sometimes it takes an outsider to get you wake up.
Ayahuasca can be used to help you cure addiction, depression, PTSD, anxiety, etc.:
I know I sounds like a miracle drugs, but the latest research on psychedelics is coming in and things are looking up. The re-firing up of neural pathways and the after effects of psychedelics are becoming undeniable.
What to Bring on an Ayahuasca Retreat in Peru
If you are venturing to Peru or any other locale that is in the jungle you will need to be dressed for success. And by success I mean you won’t be soaking wet or looking like you have been attacked by army ants – both of which, are highly likely anyway.
–White clothes for the ayahuasca ceremonies
–Quick dry clothing made with synthetic material. I was being a cheapskate before I went to Peru and just looked for the cheapest clothes I could find as I wouldn’t be wearing them again. The dress your 3 year old kid strategy. This worked okay, but a lot of the cotton gear I brought, while cheap, had a hard time drying out after the rain. There is just so much humidity in the air.
–Kindle/e-reader. This was the best item I brought. The ability to bring an endless amount of books on a device that doesn’t need charging every minute…priceless.
–High quality journal. In keeping with my cheapskate theme, I brought the cheapest notebooks I could find. I don’t tend to write on paper much since I can’t read my own handwriting, as such, the humidity really just made the whole thing a mess. You will want to do some writing of your thoughts, do so on something decent.
–Headlamp. The freaks come out at night…and by freaks I mean things that can bite you. There isn’t much light in the jungle at night, and since you aren’t a sea navigating sailor from the 1600s, you probably don’t use the stars to get around. The headlamp will be used a lot.
–Lightweight long shirts and pants FTW. Covering yourself is easier than greasing yourself up with deet lotion like a ( ). It is more effective too. I brought a ton of deet and bug spray but I am not sure it works for every type of bug. There was a lot of No-see-ums (bugs you don’t see), so I would just get lazy and not put on the spray. Five hours later I would like a modern art masterpiece with bug bites tatting my whole body.
–Slip on shoes. Sandals are great for the water but terrible for hiking around. There are bugs and other creatures that will bite you in the jungle. Be hip, wear slip ons.
How to Find an Ayahuasca Retreat in Peru (or elsewhere)
I personally think word of mouth, as in a recommendation from a friend is the best. I had a few recommendations about where to go, but my friend who had been to Mayantuyacu, sold me on the boiling river and Juan Flores being the real deal when it comes to shamans. There are a lot of fake shamans and brujas (witches) out there. So I would ask around on your Facebook. If you are in Peru already, even better, as you will find a lot of advice on the ground. Ayahuasca retreats are not cheap. You can find individual ceremonies offered in towns like Pucallpa, but proceed with caution. Get recommendations. I met a guy in Mayantuyacu who had been to Peru before and been to a small village and done quite a few ayahuasca ceremonies for only $40 a pop. However, in the end, you alone in village, probably. Paying a bit more, and being in the jungle can help with overall integration experience. It is hard to put a price on well-being and peace of mind.
You can also look at reviews on AyaAdvisors.org. Keep in mind that like all other review sites, there is a heavy bias of reviewers who only had a good or really bad experience.
General Advice on Ayahuasca Retreats
If you are going into the jungle and going to be ingesting strange plant medicine it might be prudent to get some travel insurance. I don’t always buy travel insurance when I travel, but in some situations it is a must. I recommended World Nomads travel insurance. You can check them out rates below. Most backpackers use them if they get insurance. If you decide against them, I would still try to get some kind of insurance just to err on the side of safety – you never know when bad trip will mean you hulu dancing into a venomous snake pit. Your mother’s heart will thank you.