Ayahuasca is Quechua for spirit vine, or vine of souls; it is a brew which shamans of the Amazon Basin have been preparing for hundreds of years
It is employed throughout the Amazon and Andes for divinatory purposes, as a religious sacrament, and for healing. Popular in Peru’s indigenous communities and among many mestizos, it’s seen throughout the country as an herbal medicine rather than an illicit hallucinogenic drug, and a valued part of Peruvian spiritual and economic life, with government tourist agencies even sponsoring ayahuasca festivals.
Popular Ayahuasca destinations include the Amazonian urban center of Iquitos and the outlying Shipibo town of San Francisco, although you can also experience it in the Andean region, such as in Cusco’s Sacred Valley. You can even take part in ayahuasca healing retreats during which you will take part in multiple ceremonies.
Apprentices spend years under the tutelage of elder shaman getting to know the individual plants used to prepare ayahuasca, learning about their individual healing properties and the spirits associated with each. According the shaman, these spirits teach them icaros, or spirit songs, which they then sing or whistle during ceremonies in order to call forth the plants’ unique assistance.
Preparations vary, but of the basic leaves, seeds, and bark combination which are boiled together to prepare the brew, it is the caapi vine which must be present. The vine is considered to be the gatekeeper and guide to otherworldly realms. Traditional additions of barks and plants are often added on top of the main ingredients for their spiritual properties, from Ayahuma bark which is used to retrieve parts of the soul lost to trauma, Capirona bark for cleansing, Remo Caspi bark to heal dark energy, and much more. Each of the many possible ingredients has a recognizable spirit; the Ayahuma bark, for instance, appears as a headless giant.
CAUTION: If you’re interested in trying Ayahuasca, you must take responsibility yourself for researching possible severe adverse reactions with various prescription medications, as most shamans are unfamiliar with Western pharmaceuticals.
Ceremonies take place as night falls, generally after a brief midday fast. The freshly prepared ayahuasca will be blessed with mapacho, a tobacco whose smoke is believed to ward off negative spirits, as the shamans pay homage to the ayahuasca’s spirits, entreating their assistance. The shamans will serve you the amount which they feel you are in need of. The taste is not pleasant, and vomiting is a normal occurrence, viewed as a purging of dark energy.
Once all have drunk, the lights are put out and the shaman begin to sing their spirit songs to the rhythm of their chakapas, leaf rattles and in somewhere around 20 minutes, the visions will begin to appear. Ideally, during this time practitioners seek a window into themselves, wrestling with their fears and releasing negative spirits. Many feel they are traveling among realities. Sting famously says that during his Ayahuasca ceremony, he chased a bee through a Joshua tree for hours. You can expect the average ceremony lasts about four to five hours.
In each of Pirwa Hostels’ thirteen locations throughout Peru and Bolivia, you’ll find the help desks of our own travel agency and tour operator, Pirwa Travel. If you are interested in trying ayahuasca, you can ask them to help arrange this for you. Don’t worry if you haven’t the time to make it to the jungle, as there are also options throughout the Andean region for mystical tourists looking for a unique experience!