Latest update: 10 May 2021
You’re going to do it! You have the guts, and you are ready for it. But where? Where are you going to do your ayahuasca retreat or ceremony? I did a back to basic retreat in Peru and did A LOT of online research in advance. So I am happy to share that knowledge to help you ou
For an ayahuasca ceremony, I had to look beyond my national borders. Ayahuasca is prohibited in The Netherlands. Here, the government sees it as drugs. It’s a shame, but there is nothing to do about it. There are still some people who offer it illegally, though it’ll be quite a challenge to find them. But really… it’s not actually a punishment for me to make a nice trip – pun intended – out of it, is it?
Just for the record, this article is not – I repeat: THIS IS NOT intended as a promotional talk for ayahuasca. I don’t want to convince you that you MUST do this. The choice is entirely up to you, and if you’ve decided to go for it, all I want to do with this article I help you find a nice place for your ayahuasca experience.
So let’s do just that, let’s see how you find the best ayahuasca retreat for you!
Step 1: learn about ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is not something you just go do on an ordinary Monday morning. Or at least it shouldn’t be, in my opinion. That is why I am not in favor of doing a ceremony unprepared, just because you can. Or actually – I think that’s a VERY BAD idea. Don’t do it like that. Take ayahuasca seriously. If you see it purely as a fun drug trip, I think there are other things out there for you.
Online you are going to find all kinds of stories about how bad ayahuasca is for you, that people go crazy or even die. Whether that’s true, is up to you to determine. Do your research, read, and inform yourself. Find out if the stories are true, what ayahuasca is, what it can do for you, and whether it appeals to you.
Write down any doubts. What questions do you have? And dive deeper into that. For example, you may want to read everything about the ayahuasca diet. Or, learn more about health conditions in combination with ayahuasca. Or completely dive into the meaning of visions that could occur. Keep researching until you are sure you want to do it – or not, also still an option! Some people describe ayahuasca as a calling. They say that there could come a time in your life when you just feel that now is the right time for Ayahuasca. If you already have the necessary knowledge, then definitely grab that moment.
Step 2: determine your budget
Choosing the right ayahuasca retreat for you starts with how much money you want to spend. It is not only the price of the retreat or the single ceremony but also the money you spend on your flight ticket and onward travel. So what is it worth to you? Just think of an amount without doing any research. Do you want to spend 500 euros, 1,000 or maybe 5,000?
Now that you have an amount in mind, look at how realistic it is. Enter a few searches on Google, try, for example, “luxury ayahuasca retreat” or “ayahuasca retreat” in combination with a country or place. On the Bookyogaretreats site, you will also find a list of different ayahuasca retreats, most of them in combination with yoga.
What did your search turn up? Are you in shock? Are you okay? Do you need to adjust your budget, or perhaps open a savings account? I see this budget as a provisional budget. In your search for the best ayahuasca retreat for you, your wishes and requirements will become more apparent, which may result in you being willing to pay a little more for a specific need or service. The question of money actually comes back at every step in your decision process: is this worth it to you?
Step 3: Choose a location for your ayahuasca retreat
Maybe you are still back home, or perhaps you are already in the middle of the Peruvian jungle or backpacking through India. If so, you can already narrow your search considerably. If you are in your home country, all options are still open. Perhaps you already have a preference for a country – are you already planning a trip somewhere, or do you know what is, and what is not, possible through your provisional budget?
Besides the location on the map, the physical location is also important. Do you want to go into the jungle or instead go to the mountains? The inhabited world or the uninhabited world? I chose an ayahuasca retreat in the Amazon region in Peru because I wanted the jungle. Hot and humid, in the middle of nature and far away from the rest of the world. I also liked the idea of drinking ayahuasca where it originates from, where the ceremonies are part of the way of life and traditions.
Step 4: determine your luxury level
If you know in which region or city you would like to drink ayahuasca, you should think twice about how much luxury you want. Are you open to a cold shower, or even bathing in the river? Do you like to share a room? Or do you want to be pampered at a luxury resort? A massage here and a yoga class there? Do you need wi-fi? Of course, all options have a price tag. Use Google to get an idea of the differences. After all, you can now search more specifically and visit some websites of ayahuasca centers.
I wanted to have the most authentic experience possible. So no Westernized center, but a locally run retreat. In most cases, that means that there is little luxury. So you have to be up for that – and wonder if you’d still call that an ayahuasca retreat. 😉
Step 5: when and for how long
How long do you want to go? Of course, that depends on many factors, such as how much time you have at all, what it costs per day, and whether you expect to need a lot of healing. And then you also have the offerings of the ayahuasca centers. One offers weeklong retreats, the other starts with a month’s stay.
Some retreats have a fixed schedule, others are a lot more flexible, and you can start at any time. A number of centers are also likely to fall off your longlist because of their popularity – you have to book months in advance.
So especially if you have a specific period in mind, your choice options are already thin. That’s both convenient and a bit disappointing.
Step 6: expectations and needs
Make sure you know what the retreat program entails. So how many ceremonies do you get, is food provided? Of course, you want to know all those practical things.
If you have a particular question or situation with which you want to enter an ayahuasca retreat, look for a program designed for that. There are unique retreats for people dealing with depression, retreats for women only, but also couples. Some programs deal with addictions to alcohol or drugs, and there are many more types of programs. So if you feel that you have a fairly specific need, see if there are centers that specialize in that. Or, if you’ve found an ayahuasca center that appeals to you, get in touch and explain your expectations and needs. Ask if they have experience in dealing with your situation.
Step 7: extras and guidance
You probably have an idea in your head of what your ayahuasca retreat will look like. Maybe not yet very concrete, but a vague idea. Maybe about that level of luxury, and perhaps about how you would prefer to spend your days during the retreat. Do you want to do all kinds of activities besides the ceremonies? Do you want to learn more about plant medicines or do touristy stuff? Do you want to have the option to follow a dieta?
Would you like to have facilitators during your ceremonies? These are people who attend the ceremony but do not drink ayahuasca themselves. They are there for you, to hold your hand when you need it, to escort you to the toilet, or to discuss your experience. Also, check if someone speaks your language or English if you do not speak the language of your shaman.
For me, it was important that someone sober would be at my first ceremony to make sure I was okay. Because I had no idea if I would panic, would have all kinds of questions, or something else. I wanted someone who spoke English to watch over me. So for my ayahuasca retreat in Peru, I made sure of that before I booked.
Step 8: which Maestra of Maestro
Maybe you don’t care. Maybe your gut feeling says something about it. Do you want a male or a female shaman? I knew almost immediately that I wanted a female shaman (Maestra). Fueled in part by horror stories online about shamans abusing women, but mainly because female shamans are said to have a much more loving approach. That they take a softer approach to the ceremonies and the healing, where men sometimes take it more roughly. Of course, that is different for each shaman.
So make sure to check the ayahuasca centers website to see who the shaman is. Some specialize in specific issues (see step 6), and some you may simply like for their background story. I honestly wouldn’t choose a retreat if you don’t know who the shaman is. I don’t take it as a good sign when I can’t find anything about him or her on the website. It is quite a responsibility to guide such a ceremony – and, as a participant, you just have to make sure you are in good hands.
Step 9: run through the website and read reviews
You probably have a few ayahuasca centers left now. Study their websites, what are the differences? What appeals to you? And also, Google the names of the centers and the shamans. Maybe you can find reviews online. For example, Retreat Guru and AyaAdvisors have quite a few reviews. The retreats on the website of Bookyogaretreats also have reviews. Remember that these are often the more upscale retreats, managed by people who know the importance of reviews. The smaller, often locally run, Ayahuasca centers are usually not very active with their marketing. Their online presence is a lot smaller.
Step 10: get in touch with the ayahuasca center
I always recommend contacting the ayahuasca center of your choice before booking. Just to see how they communicate with you, what the tone is, et cetera. Don’t be ashamed to ask any questions you have! A good ayahuasca center has received all these questions a hundred times before and can answer them perfectly.
Step 11: follow your feeling (ugh, clincher)
The most important thing when choosing an ayahuasca center is that you feel comfortable with it. You should get excited and have a good feeling about the center. Of course, you put all the pluses and minuses against each other, and it must fit your budget. But the ultimate decision-maker is your gut feeling.
I think you’re ready then: ready to book. If you are very flexible in your schedule, you could try to arrange your ayahuasca retreat on the spot. The chances are that you pay a lot less. But … also be prepared for disappointment. Because there might not be a spot available, and you may have to find another ayahuasca center. Also fine, of course, but you have to be able to deal with that.
My choice: Inca Shipiba, ayahuasca retreat in Peru
I was already in Peru when I decided I wanted to do an ayahuasca retreat. I asked other travelers about experiences, but I only met people who were still in the planning phase. Also, many of them wanted to “do a ceremony” somewhere during their trip. I absolutely wanted to go to such a center for a week, so that I could do multiple ceremonies. And I wanted to do that in the Amazon, near Iquitos. So that limited my options a lot already
At first, I had a long list of about 20 retreats, but I waived off many based on price and start date. I was looking for a retreat with more flexibility, one where I could start every day. Plus, I wanted a female shaman. That’s how I eliminated many of them, and in the end, I contacted two ayahuasca centers. One was a little faster to respond, and I would get private accommodation there. The other center was still under construction, and everyone slept in the ceremony room. I didn’t like that idea. So the choice was quickly made: Inca Shipiba. And it was fantastic! For me, this was definitely the best ayahuasca retreat in Peru.
Good luck with your ayahuasca trip (yes, pun still intended).