THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO AYAHUASCA RETREATS

Overview

Ayahuasca retreats have become increasingly popular as Westerners flock to this ancient medicine for healing and transformation. Though only drank in the Amazon for the past few thousand years, ayahuasca is now consumed globally, most commonly in a group setting with a shaman and/or trained facilitator.

Most people within the Western world attend retreats to either heal clinical issues or explore expanded states of being. Other reasons for attending include cultural immersion, anthropological study, and general curiosity about this specific flavor of expanded consciousness.

Regardless of your particular interest in ayahuasca, this guide has been designed to help you understand how to choose the best possible ayahuasca retreat for your specific needs.

The first question to consider is whether you should attend an ayahuasca retreat or not. Once you have made this decision, then consider when you want to attend, where you want to attend, and how you want to drink the medicine.

Additional, more specific, factors to consider include location, length of time, why you want to go on retreat, budget, reputation of the facilitator or shaman, and degree of preparation and integration practices provided.

Background & Context

Ayahuasca retreats—as a psychedelic pilgrimage from the West—have emerged from a number of trends, most prominently the growth of the internet.[1][2] The sharing of “trip reports” and widespread dissemination of web-based information has shaped a kind of neo-ayahuasca culture, packaged for Western consumption while reinforcing respect for tradition.

But there’s another trend that gave rise to the ayahuasca retreat: the so-called “empty self” of the globalized, postmodern West.

Following the “decline of the large extended family unit,” wrote anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios, “the individual self is … on a never-ending search for self-actualization and growth.”[3] Diseases of civilization—low self-esteem, drug abuse, chronic consumerism, and existential angst—are rife.

Yet de Rios was critical of ayahuasca tourism, of “troubled men and women travelling great distances to seek out healers.”[3] In her view, it was an exploitative trade—“drug dealers dressed for deception” hawking “burlesque images of what they believe an altered state should be.”[3][4]

As others have noted, Westerners traveling to the Amazon also transforms indigenous cultures.[5][6][7] Traditionally reverent attitudes toward ayahuasca are “in danger of being profaned.”[3][1] And increased demand for the plants has placed a strain on stocks in the wild, prompting some groups to rely on plantations.[1][8] Meanwhile, in Colombia and elsewhere, tribes are concerned that outside interest in ayahuasca will jeopardize their own right to use it.[9][1]

However, not all indigenous attitudes are the same and not everyone laments the corruption of native traditions. Some see the globalization of ayahuasca as their rightful culmination. Western interest in the brew is one means by which Amazonian shamans can effect change in the wider world.[7][10] After all, Westerners tend to leave retreats with a newfound respect for the planet, themselves, and other cultures.[5] They come away motivated for positive change.

Ayahuasca tourism also benefits indigenous communities. Examples of this include: renewing interest in shamanism among the younger generations; expanding the scope of shamanism by exposure to “civilized” problems; breaking taboos against healing victims of sexual abuse; increasing mainstream awareness of disempowered indigenous groups; and incentivizing investment in rainforest conservation.[5][6][1]

Ayahuasca tourism is ethically complex but it needn’t be a source of liberal guilt. Arguably, the rise of the ayahuasca retreat has come at just the right time “to safely guide our [global] culture into … an uncertain future.”[11][22]

Why Attend an Ayahuasca Retreat?

Your first decision must be whether or not you want to attend an ayahuasca retreat.

Here are a few questions to consider when making this decision:

  • Do you have prior experience with psychedelic retreats? If not, you may want to consider beginning with a psilocybin retreat, first.
  • Do you have the budget to fly down to Central or South America and attend an extended retreat?
  • Are you comfortable with the process of purging often associated with ayahuasca?

As additional context for making your decision, here are a few main motivations for attending an ayahuasca retreat:[10][12][15][16]

  • Addiction
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Trauma or PTSD
  • Physical illness or pain
  • Lack of direction or a need for clarification
  • A desire for spiritual growth
  • Curiosity
  • Phobias
  • Loss

Benefits of an ayahuasca retreat

Here is a rundown of the benefits of attending an ayahuasca retreat.

Therapeutic benefits

Renowned experts, such as Dr. Gabor Maté, claim intentional ayahuasca use to be just as effective as a decade of therapy.[14] It uncovers and helps process repressed psychological content; it helps with recovery from addiction; and it helps to eliminate anxiety and depression.

Trauma and PTSD

Ayahuasca often brings up childhood memories and repressed psychological content, which is useful for processing trauma.[12] And group discussions on retreats, with their supportive yet differing viewpoints, are useful for integrating insights.[13]

For example, war zone anthropologist Riccardo Vitale says ayahuasca helped with his PTSD. But integrating the experience was key.[17]

Addiction

The Takiwasi Center in Peru has given ayahuasca to addicts for decades. União do Vegetal members and various indigenous groups also overcome addiction with the brew.[10][18][19] Unlike methadone, which eliminates cravings for heroin by agonizing opioid receptors, ayahuasca retreats produce changes in “global psychosocial functioning.”[20] Reflexive group discussions help individuals to notice and work on their “maladaptive behavioral, emotional and/or cognitive patterns.”[13]

Processing trauma is frequently part of this process. Participants often emerge from retreats with an overwhelming sense of redemption.[20] This feeling is only amplified by the supportive group dynamic.[13]

Anxiety

It’s common to feel less anxious in the days or weeks after a retreat. “I’m less likely to get swept up in my own dramas,” said one participant.[10] “My perpetual suffering is gone,” said another.[12]

Long-term use is also associated with lower levels of anxiety.[21] Lowering of anxiety is likely rooted in the sense of belonging to a group as well as sharing values and intense experiences, as often happens on retreat.

Depression

Recovery from depression is common.[10][12] Many participants feel energized post-retreat and ready to restructure their lives. Given ayahuasca’s serotonergic and dopaminergic effects, and its promotion of neuroplasticity, this is hardly surprising.[13][18] However, breakthroughs are more often ascribed to the intervention of spirits, or to the “absolute unity of being.”[20]

As with the other benefits listed above, the group dynamic of retreats serves to promote integration.

Physical illness

Ayahuasca has been linked to anti-cancer activity, as well as degenerative diseases in general—osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autoimmune disorders, etc.[13] This is an area requiring more research.

But its role in pain relief, at least, is frequently attested to in reports.[10][12][16]

Personal benefits

Self-knowledge is a hallmark of the ayahuasca experience. Self-acceptance, authenticity, and responsibility for one’s own life are commonly felt by participants.[16][10][12] “Ayahuasca exposes the gap between who you think you are and who you actually are,” said one.[14] Another put it more succinctly: “I’m becoming my own best friend.”[10]

Specific benefits include:

Interpersonal skills

Increased presence, openness, and emotional awareness, along with insights into the nature of love, can be transformative for relationships. Post-retreat, many participants feel closer to their partners, their friends and family, and often to their parents in particular.[14][10][16]

Toxic relationships, meanwhile, may be shown for what they are and dissolved without a second thought.[10][24]

Lifestyle changes

Ayahuasca, when used with intention, encourages healthier eating, weight loss, and spending more time outdoors.[16][10] In some cases, it also brings career changes, relocations, and project ideas to fruition.[10]

Overcoming fears

Phobias sprung from long-forgotten traumas may be resolved overnight. And other fears—of failure, rejection, death, and so on—are commonly worked through on retreats.[10][16] In fact, your own mortality may be the first thing you have to confront.

Transpersonal or spiritual benefits

Synchronicities and the development of “psychic” intuition are often experienced on retreats.[10] Many leave reassured they’re a “part of the Cosmos,” the all-encompassing “web of life,” and that it’s far more alive than imagined.[10][16][12]

Indeed the entities and worlds encountered during ceremonies are generally felt to be real.[10][12] You may be left, like anthropologist Jeremy Narby, with the distinctly un-Western, ostensibly unscientific conviction that plants are conscious and communicating with us.[23] Some develop a life-long attachment to “mother ayahuasca,” the grandmotherly spirit of the vine, praying to her in times of crisis or keeping up a devotional practice.[10]

Choosing an Ayahuasca Retreat

With the rise of the ayahuasca retreat has come an explosion of diversity and options. Choosing the best retreat for your specific needs is easier than ever before. In this section, we break down the various options available, based on location.

Where to find the best ayahuasca retreat

Ayahuasca’s native Amazonia remains popular for a number of reasons. It represents life, prehistory, psychedelic pilgrimage, and, for many tourists, an entirely “novel, exotic experience.”[1] As the “proper set and setting,”[1] the Amazon supports the healing process.[11] As one visitor put it: “Beyond the ayahuasca ceremonies there was the lesson the people of the jungle teach simply by existing as living examples of a genuine peace and simplicity.”[12]

However, some of the best ayahuasca retreats are found outside Amazonia.

When choosing a retreat destination, think about:

  • Language (do you need to be able to speak it?)
  • Travel expenses and ease (getting there and getting around and how much it’ll add to the cost)
  • Reputation (how long has the country been hosting retreats? what are people saying about it?)
  • Visa (you probably won’t need one but you might want to check)
  • Vaccinations (hepatitis A, typhoid, yellow fever, etc.; not necessarily a requirement but again you might want to check)
  • Law (countries where ayahuasca has been legalized may have systems in place for your safety)

Before we get into the main ayahuasca hotspots, here are some of the centers we at The Third Wave know, love, and enthusiastically endorse. These will give you some idea of what to look for:

Soltara Healing Center (Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica)

Soltara (from soltar, ‘to release’) is at the nexus of mind and spirit, of clinical psychology and Shipibo tradition.

What we love:

  • Thoughtfully crafted itineraries
  • Male and female Shipibo maestros (shamans/healers)
  • Personalized healing via one-on-one consultation and group ceremonies
  • A board of expert advisors, including Gabor Maté, ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, and psychedelic anthropologist Bia Labate

1heart Journeys (various locations)

1heart varies locations as they continue to fine-tune their Journeys. “Change makers, heart-led leaders and amazing humans” are invited to apply online.

What we love:

  • Community spirit and networking potential
  • Specialist itineraries for leadership and creative development
  • World-class accommodations and amenities

Ayahuasca hotspots

Some of the following destinations have long been associated with ayahuasca, while others are more up-and-coming. What they all have in common, though, is a dedicated community of conscientious ayahuasca facilitators working to open minds with the brew.

Iquitos, Peru

The “ayahuasca capital of the world” is a jungle metropolis on the banks of the Amazon.[6][24] Although accessible only by river or air, there are more retreats here than anywhere else on the planet.[15]

Popular centers include:

Pucallpa, Peru

This major port city on the Ucayali River is close to Lake Yarinacocha. It’s also where the Beat poet icon Allen Ginsberg had his ayahuasca encounter with death: “my skull in my beard on pallet and porch rolling back and forth.”[36]

Popular centers include:

Sacred Valley (Cusco region), Peru

The Sacred Valley of the Incas near their ancient capital of Cusco is popular for tours of Machu Picchu.

Popular centers include:

Tarapoto, Peru

An hour from Lima by plane, Tarapoto is a popular base for exploring the Amazon rainforest.

Popular centers include:

Cuenca, Ecuador

The stunning highland capital of the Andean Azuay Province has UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its historical architecture.

Popular centers include:

Medellín, Colombia

Antioquia, the region around Medellín, is known for its Caribbean coast, sprawling mountains, lush forests, wild orchids, and, increasingly, ayahuasca retreats. Medellín itself is often cheaper and easier to fly to than other South American hotspots.

Popular centers include:

Itacaré, Brazil

A tropical paradise on the Bahia coast, Itacaré is popular for surfing, whale watching, and rainforest hikes.

Popular centers include:

San Ramón, Costa Rica

Although not an Amazonian destination, San Ramón in the central valley of Costa Rica is surrounded by green hills and cloud forest. Despite its reputation as the “city of presidents and poets” (as the birthplace of many literary figures and leaders), it remains a humble place to visit.

Popular centers include:

Other non-Amazonian/non-South American countries popular for ayahuasca retreats include Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain.

How long is an ayahuasca retreat?

Retreats can last a few days, weeks, or even months. But longer stays don’t necessarily entail more ceremonies—just more time for integration and other activities. The Temple of the Way of Light’s 23-day “deep immersion” package, for example, has the same number of ceremonies as their 12-day retreats.

Common options include:

  • 1-day retreats: a single ceremony with overnight stays sometimes possible
  • 2-day/Weekend retreats: one or two ceremonies with overnight stays
  • 1-week retreats (5-8 days): usually three ceremonies; the most popular option and a good intro for beginners
  • 10+-day retreats: five to seven ceremonies for more intensive healing work
  • 1-month retreats: a chance to really immerse yourself in ayahuasca culture or even start training as a healer

First-timers are commonly advised to book three ceremonies. Even if you decide to sit out the third—as some do to process the first two—it’s good to have the option of three.

Ultimately you want to make it worth your while. As cavalier as that sounds, ayahuasca retreats are expensive and often involve a lot of travel. You don’t want to leave disappointed or, worse, feeling cheated—especially when ceremonies may be the least of your total expenses.

How much should an ayahuasca retreat cost?

Expect to pay $650 to $3,000 for one week—but not necessarily double for two weeks, nor substantially less for a few days. Costs vary widely and it pays to shop around. Whatever you do, don’t assume that a higher price automatically means a high standard. After all, it’s money that attracts the fake shamans.

More often, prices reflect what’s in the package. There’s a lot more to ayahuasca retreats than ayahuasca. Itineraries may include excursions, workshops and other activities, shamanic training, luxurious spa treatments, and a range of supplemental modalities (more on these in the next section).

Retreats don’t generally include the cost of your flight, but there’ll often be airport pick-up/drop-off.

Accommodation

Accommodation in dormitories, bunk houses, shared rooms, tambos, or tents is usually included as standard. A private room (ranging from basic to luxurious) may cost a few hundred dollars more but you might want the personal space—especially as a first-timer.

Meals are almost always included. Housekeeping, laundry services, and other additional amenities often have charges attached.

A note on responsible tourism

The fees for ayahuasca retreats can seem at odds with their ethos of love. But all of these places have running costs. Most retreat centers also employ locals from the community and many invest in vital rainforest conservation work.

As a responsible ayahuasca tourist, you should ask how your money will be spent—and make it clear if you don’t like the answer. Reciprocity is ayahuasca tourism at its best. And you, as the tourist, are uniquely placed to demand it.

Supplemental modalities

Although rare, there are cases of people not “breaking through” during ceremonies. Whether physical (pharmacokinetic) or metaphysical (energetic), such “obstructions” can be cleared with supplemental modalities.[24][37] These include:

  • Kambo/sapo: a pre-ceremony purgative to increase ayahuasca absorption
  • Plant dieta: not to be confused with the ayahuasca diet; involves extended isolation in the rainforest with a shamanic “master plant” to stimulate dreams and healing ability
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Breathwork
  • Massage
  • Reiki
  • Qi gong

Don’t expect to find all (or even any) of these at every ayahuasca retreat. This list isn’t comprehensive. And these modalities aren’t always necessary. But they’re worth factoring into your decision.

If you’re interested in specific supplemental modalities, you should research the staff members facilitating them. Check retreat centers’ websites for a list of specialists’ credentials and experience.

Staff

The whole point of a retreat is to benefit from the guidance of experts—not just in healing with the brew but in safety and security as well.

The shaman, healer, or facilitator

You’ll come across a range of titles for the leaders of ceremonies, including shaman, healer, facilitator, practitioner, ayahuasquero, curandero, maestro, and even brujo (sorcerer). These terms aren’t necessarily interchangeable. They reflect the different traditions, lineages, and credentials of those who work with the brew. Some, like the Shipibo term maestro, are appellations honoring years of arduous training.

Do your research on any potential shaman before you sign up for their retreat. Find out how long they’ve been doing it, who taught them, and how they’re rated by the ayahuasca community.

Of course, they may not be all that well known; this isn’t a bad sign in itself. However, if they’re infamously bad at their job (incompetent, deceptive, predatory), there’ll be warnings about them online. AyaAdvisors, Ayamundo, and the Ayahuasca reddit group are some good places to check.

Assistants and other staff members

For your own peace of mind, you should check there’s adequate support staff. At the very least, you should expect the following roles to be filled:

  • First-aider/first-responder
  • Driver (or skipper/pilot in the absence of roads)
  • Ceremony supervisor/assistant (or several, depending on the number of participants)
  • Translator (if applicable)

Depending on the retreat and location, cooks and security guards might also be considered essential.

How many other participants in the ayahuasca ceremony?

The number of other participants varies. Sometimes there are just a few and other times there are several dozen. Fewer participants is often more conducive to meaningful group discussions and less distracting during ceremonies.[38] However, it’s worth noting that Santo Daime rituals often have dozens of participants, and none of them seem to complain.

What’s important is the staff to participant ratio.[39] The number of supervisors/assistants should be commensurate with the number of guests. If you need help getting to the toilet, for example, you probably won’t want to be left waiting while the staff help other participants.

What to Expect on Retreat

Once you’ve made the decision about which retreat to attend, it is important to understand what to expect while on retreat.

Generally speaking, ayahuasca retreats have three distinct phases: preparing for the ceremony, participating in the ceremony, and integrating your experience afterward. Each of these phases is crucial to the integrity of the whole. Here they are in detail:

Preparation

Both the mind and body should be ready for the brew. There are several components to this:

Medical screening

Most credible retreat centers require you to stop taking medications (e.g. SSRI antidepressants) at least one month before your retreat.[24] Discuss this with your doctor and the retreat center beforehand. In almost all cases, you won’t be allowed to drink ayahuasca if you’re in any way contraindicated for it. Most retreat centers have a medical screening to check.

The ayahuasca dieta

As a retreat participant, you’ll be asked to avoid certain things before and after your stay—often for a week each way. These include:[25][26][27][28]

  • Meat (especially pork)
  • Dairy
  • Richly flavored foods (e.g. salty, sugary, spicy)
  • Drugs (e.g. cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, alcohol, caffeine)
  • Sexual activity

You should also avoid anything high in tyramine for at least 24 hours before and after each ceremony.[29] MAOIs inhibit the breakdown of this amino acid and may cause headaches, dizziness, and panic.[30] So watch out for anything smoked, dried, pickled, preserved, fermented, overripe, or expired. Also avoid cheese, bruised fruits, yeast, soy products, protein supplements, and processed foods in general.[31] For more information, see here.

Menstruation

In some traditions, menstruating women are not allowed to participate in ceremonies. Shipibo maestros, for example, apparently feel “the power of menstrual energy can interfere with their work.”[32] If this applies to you during your stay, you may be asked to sit outside. Better yet, time your ayahuasca retreat so it doesn’t overlap with your cycle (if possible).

Intention setting

Upon arrival there will be some kind of group discussion—a chance for you and the other guests to introduce yourselves, meet the shaman/facilitator, and ask any questions you have.

You’ll also be encouraged to clarify an intention. According to physician and childhood trauma specialist Gabor Maté, it’s your intention that frames the experience. It’s a basis for interpretation, so the more specific you are the better (e.g. “teach me about my pain”; “tell me about my fear”).[25][13]

Think about why you’re there and what you want to work on. You’ll probably find this easier after your first ceremony, but it’s useful to start with something—even if it’s just “show me who I’ve become.”[14]

Ceremony

When you enter the ceremony space (or maloca), you’ll find beds or mats arranged in a “circle of trust.”[33] One of these will be yours. You’ll also be given water, towels, and a bucket for purging as necessary.

Most shamans start by cleansing the space (e.g. with palo santo) and blessing the ayahuasca brew itself. You’ll then be invited to take your first cup. Although the taste may be unpleasant, you should try not to vomit too soon—otherwise you’ll have to drink another cup.

The shaman drinks last. Then everybody sits and waits.

You may feel it working its way through your body—“like a snake crawling from one part to the other.”[12] Within half an hour or more, there’ll be an influx of thoughts and images, along with dizziness, confusion, and possibly even sleep. Perceptions—of your body, of time—will be altered.

Eventually, you may need to purge. Don’t be ashamed of this, whatever form it takes. Whether sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, etc., purging is a part of the process. And it should leave you with a sense of release.[12][34][13]

Things will also become a little clearer. Visions may become more concrete; patterns, colors, and lights may give way to animals, such as jaguars and anacondas, as well as creatures not of this world and glimpses of where they come from. You may see people you know or parts of your life played out like a movie on a screen—or, as one participant put it, “the world’s most honest mirror.”[14]

Not everyone experiences visions. Some have a more bodily encounter.[25] But catharsis is virtually universal; crying, laughing, shouting often fills the maloca with noise. Every so often the shaman will sing, “turning the page to another chapter of the trance.”[33] They’ll also use mapacho smoke, drumming, and other means to gently guide the experience.

Eventually the peak subsides to “a state of calmness and crystal clear lucidity.”[33] At this point, participants often feel at one with all of existence and aware of the structure of your life.

To close the ceremony—six or so hours after starting—the shaman rings a bell. You’ll then head off to bed or stay where you are to reflect on what happened and sleep.

For more on the ayahuasca experience, read a detailed first-hand account from one of our writers.

Integration

Many retreat participants find it difficult to process and integrate ayahuasca experiences. Returning to everyday life, the lessons of ayahuasca can fade.[16][14][35] Or you may feel the need to work through whatever came up on the brew.[10] In the latter case, MAPS’ list of psychedelic-aware mental health workers will come in handy.

Other activities that help with integration include:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Journaling (with an emphasis on how to restructure your life)
  • Recording dreams (which may contain “messages”[10])
  • Walks in nature
  • Talking to partners/friends/family
  • Further ceremonies

The idea is to anchor what you’ve learned and to “build up some practice around it.”[25] Keeping to short-term ayahuasca proscriptions (no meat, no sex, no drugs, etc.) for one week to one month afterwards is also important.[27]

Ayahuasca Retreat Red Flags

You should be aware of the dangers of ayahuasca retreats and, where possible, eliminate the worst. The following red flags are reasons to cancel—even if you’ve already arrived at your retreat:

Dangerous admixtures

Ayahuasca contains three ingredients: caapi, chacruna, and water. The two plants may be substituted with others (e.g. Syrian rue for the caapi; Mimosa tenuiflora/hostilis (aka jurema) for the chacruna), but you should always be wary of additions.

One of the most notorious admixtures is Datura (toé). Although it’s long been a staple of Amazonian shamanic traditions,[40] it can lead to psychosis and death.[16][41] It’s often added to brews to intensify visions or more nefariously to control people’s minds.[42]

Although not necessarily an ayahuasca admixture, tobacco (mapacho, Nicotiana rustica) is another substance to watch out for. It’s sometimes given to retreat participants as a tea to induce purging. But it isn’t necessary. According to a respected tabaquero (a healer who works with tobacco), it’s actually “gross misconduct” to offer this tea to all participants—many of whom are contraindicated for the plant.[43]

Bad shamans

On ayahuasca you’re in a vulnerable state—with or without Datura. Although uncommon, there are cases of shamans coercing participants into sex or exposing them to unnecessary dangers.[16]

Trust is essential. Whether a shaman is out to harm you or not, if you doubt their integrity you’re likely to be stressed in their presence. Red flags include:

  • Overcharging or overcrowding
  • Attempts at seduction
  • Strained relations with locals
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Poor safety measures (see below)
  • Poor communication without a translator
  • Tiredness or drunkenness during ceremonies
  • Not drinking the brew during ceremonies

Poor safety measures

Incidents can happen even on reputable retreats; a history of adverse reactions isn’t a red flag in itself. What’s important is how they are handled.

There should be adequate medical supplies, including anti-venom if applicable, and a first-aider trained to apply them. Protocol for emergency medical evacuation (e.g. 24-hour transport, contact with local hospital) is crucial too. You should also be medically screened (usually by questionnaire) prior to participation in a ceremony.[27]

Some of the most safety-conscious retreats employ security guards to patrol their perimeter.[39] Consider this a good sign – but not wholly necessary.

Another good sign is a code of ethics shared by other retreats. The imposition of these by outsiders (e.g. the now defunct proto-regulatory body the Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council) can be ethically problematic, but adherence to them is a sign of integrity.[44]

Who shouldn’t attend a retreat?

Anyone with a history of psychosis (e.g. schizophrenia) should avoid ayahuasca.[13] Responsible retreats are likely to screen you out anyway. Other contraindications include:[45][27][28]

  • Bipolar and borderline personality disorders
  • Cardiovascular problems (e.g. high blood pressure)
  • Disorders of the heart, liver, or kidneys
  • Epilepsy
  • Unstable diabetes

This isn’t a comprehensive list. If in doubt, talk to your doctor and research the safety for yourself.

Drug interactions

Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list, but some drugs to avoid combining with ayahuasca include:[27][28]

  • Antidepressants (e.g. SSRIs, St. John’s Wort)
  • MAOIs
  • Antihypertensives
  • Vasodilators
  • Central nervous system depressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Appetite suppressants
  • Respiratory (e.g. asthma) medications
  • Antihistamines
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Opioids

For more information, see our Essential Guide to Ayahuasca.

Legality

Although DMT is specifically listed under Schedule I of the UN’s Convention on Psychotropic Substances, none of the plants containing DMT are listed. Individual member states may legislate for or against ayahuasca as they see fit.[46]

Many countries, including those with retreats, have no specific laws pertaining to the brew. This leaves the manufacture, possession, and distribution of ayahuasca in a legal gray area pending cases coming to court—as they continue to around the world. It’s therefore important to check the current legal status of ayahuasca in any given country before you book a retreat there.

Where is ayahuasca legal?

The following information may not always reflect the latest developments, but we’ll endeavor to keep it up to date.

Countries where ayahuasca is legal

To the best of our knowledge, ayahuasca is currently legal in:

  • Peru
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Bolivia
  • Mexico

Countries where ayahuasca is decriminalized

There appears to be no risk of a custodial sentence for the possession or use of ayahuasca in:

  • Portugal
  • Chile

Countries where the law is unclear

Countries that have legislated neither for nor against the use of ayahuasca include:

  • Costa Rica (though not technically legal or decriminalized in Costa Rica, ayahuasca is at least tolerated to the point of being de facto decriminalized)
  • Guatemala
  • Argentina
  • Uruguay
  • The Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

Countries where ayahuasca is illegal

Although illegal in each of the countries listed below, some, like the US and Canada, make exceptions for religious use:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • Israel
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • Russia

FAQ

Where can I find reliable ayahuasca retreat reviews?

AyaAdvisors, Ayamundo, and the Ayahuasca reddit group are some of the most trusted sources. Of course, you can also rely on us to review the centers we’ve visited—including Soltara Healing Center and 1heart Journeys and Rythmia.

How can I tell a true ayahuasca shaman from a fraud?

Don’t put your own safety at risk in pursuit of perceived or advertised authenticity. The point is integrity and intent. Reviews are a good way to gauge this.

Also, don’t necessarily be put off by non-indigenous shamans, including gringos from the same country as you. According to Dobkin de Rios, the cultural barriers between ayahuasca tourists and indigenous Amazonian shamans could be a hindrance to mutual understanding anyway.[3] Amazon-trained healers from your own culture are, in theory, better placed to help you with integration.

On the other hand, ayahuasca tourism is an ongoing cultural exchange. Amazonian shamans are getting to know our Western world-view. And they’re not surprised to find that Western society is damaging to our health.[35] In this regard, their distance from it may help.

Above all, what you’re looking for is experience as opposed to ethnicity. See ‘Choosing an Ayahuasca Retreat’ and ‘Ayahuasca Retreat Red Flags’ for more on this.

What are some dangers/risks of the ayahuasca ceremony specifically?

Aside from the contraindications outlined in this guide, ayahuasca ceremonies when properly conducted are relatively safe. In fact, this is one of the advantages of retreats. But see ‘Ayahuasca Retreat Red Flags’ for some specific things to watch out for.

Is it necessary to use tobacco on an ayahuasca retreat?

Tobacco (or mapacho, Nicotiana rustica) is considered an important healing plant in the Amazon. It’s often used by shamans for protecting and clearing a space.[32] It may also be given to participants as a tea to induce purging. However, this can be dangerous, and even deadly for a minority of users.[43] See ‘Ayahuasca Retreat Red Flags’.

It’s not necessary to drink it and you should probably avoid doing so pending further research. Many participants smoke it, though.

What’s the best time of year to attend a retreat in the Amazon?

Generally speaking, the second half of the year tends to be drier with fewer mosquitos. However, people attend retreats all year round. Don’t let the time of year prevent you from attending an ayahuasca retreat.

What should I wear? Do I need to wear white?

Wearing white during ceremonies is more of an ayahuasca church tradition. It’s probably not necessary on retreats. The Temple of the Way of Light, for instance, simply recommends lightweight, long-sleeve clothing for during the day, warmer clothing for during the night, and outerwear suitable for the rain.[32]

Check with individual retreat centers for their own recommendations/requirements for clothing—as well as for any other items you need to bring.

Isn’t ayahuasca tourism unethical?

In certain cases. Ayahuasca tourism significantly alters indigenous communities—and tourists themselves may be exploited. But there are mutual benefits too. See ‘Background & Context’ for details.

How much does a typical ayahuasca retreat cost?

Prices vary considerably depending on duration, what’s included, the local economy, and so on. As mentioned in ‘Choosing an Ayahuasca Retreat’, you should expect to pay upwards of $650 but no more than $3,000 for a one-week retreat with basic, usually shared, accommodation.

Is it necessary to attend numerous ayahuasca retreats?

The purpose of integration is to anchor the benefits of ayahuasca in your life post-retreat. Some find it helpful or desirable to attend one or more retreats per year[10] but this may not be necessary for you. In any case, ayahuasca should not be seen as a quick fix but rather as a plant or spirit you work with over time—an attitude or perspective regardless of how often you take it.

What’s the difference between a shamanic ayahuasca retreat and an ayahuasca ceremony led by an ayahuasca church?

Ayahuasca church ceremonies (e.g. Santo Daime, UDV, etc.) tend to be held during the day and have many dozens of participants. They also incorporate Christian symbols, concepts, and practices—such as the Lord’s Prayer, an altar, and the singing of hymns. In almost all cases, there’s no shaman or guide; it’s a shared experience where all are on an equal footing.[47][48]

Will vaccinations affect ayahuasca?

No. There is no contraindication between standard vaccinations and ayahuasca.[32]
However, there are dangers associated with certain malaria pills, such as mefloquine (e.g. Lariam) and doxycycline (e.g. Doryx). Atovaquone and proguanil/chlorguanide are apparently safe for use with ayahuasca.[32][24]

Should I bring my partner?

The general consensus within the ayahuasca community is that it should only be taken with a partner if your relationship is healthy and mature. Given the intensely personal nature of the ayahuasca experience, though, it’s important to give each other space.[49][32]

Is it true that menstruating women have to sit out ceremonies?

Yes, but not always. If your period comes during a retreat, you may just get a lower dose. Or there may be no problem at all; you may be welcome to participate fully. It depends on the shaman/healer and tradition.[32]

Footnotes

[1] Grunwell, J.N. (1998). Ayahuasca Tourism in South America. maps, 8(3): 8(3):59-62. Retrieved from https://maps.org/news-letters/v08n3/v08n3_62-65_.pdf.

[2] Tupper, K.W. (2009). Ayahuasca healing beyond the Amazon: the globalization of a traditional indigenous entheogenic practice. Global Networks, 9(1):117-136.

[3] Dobkin deRios, M. (1994). Drug Tourism in the Amazon. Anthropology of Consciousness, 5(1):16-19.

[4] Dobkin de Rios, M. (2008). Mea Culpa: Drug Tourism and the Anthropologist’s Responsibility. Anthropology News, 47(7):20.

[5] Prayag, G., Mura, P., Hall, C.M., Fontaine, J. (2016). Spirituality, drugs, and tourism: tourists’ and shamans’ experiences of ayahuasca in Iquitos, Peru. Tourism Recreation Research, 41:1-12.

[6] Crisafulli, A. (2019, Jun 4). Ayahuasca Tourism: Shamans, Charlatans and Thousand-dollar Retreats. Retrieved from https://www.vergemagazine.com/travel-intelligence/beyond-the-guidebook/2495-is-ayahuasca-tourism-safe-and-ethical.html.

[7] Tupper, K.W. (2009). Ayahuasca healing beyond the Amazon: the globalization of a traditional indigenous entheogenic practice. Global Networks, 9(1):117-136.

[8] Suárez Álvarez, C. (2019). Ayahuasca, Iquitos and Monster Vorax. Retrieved from http://www.ayahuascaiquitos.com/.

[9] The Economist. (2019, Jun 15). Indigenous Colombians fear losing their hallucinogenic brews. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2019/06/15/indigenous-colombians-fear-losing-their-hallucinogenic-brews.

[10] Harris, R., Gurel, L. (2013). A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(3): 209-215.

[11] Grob, C.S. (1999). The Psychology of Ayahuasca. In R. Metzner (Ed.), Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca (pp. 63-93). Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

[12] Winkelman, M. (2005). Drug Tourism or Spiritual Healing? Ayahuasca Seekers in Amazonia. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 37(2):209-218.

[13] Frecska, E., Bokor, P., Winkelman, M. (2016). The Therapeutic Potentials of Ayahuasca: Possible Effects against Various Diseases of Civilization. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 7:35.

[14] Illing, S. (2018, Nov 10). The brutal mirror. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/2/19/16739386/ayahuasca-retreat-psychedelic-hallucination-meditation.

[15] Hill, D. (2016, Jun 7). Peru’s ayahuasca industry booms as westerners search for alternative healing. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jun/07/peru-ayahuasca-drink-boom-amazon-spirituality-healing.

[16] Kavenská, V., Simonová, H. (2015). Ayahuasca Tourism: Participants in Shamanic Rituals and their Personality Styles, Motivation, Benefits and Risks. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/Ed/Desktop/OneDrive/thirdwave/pdf%20sources/[email protected]

[17] Malandra, O. (2016, Jun 9). This War Zone Anthropologist Used Ayahuasca to Heal His PTSD. Retrieved from https://reset.me/story/this-war-zone-anthropologist-used-ayahuasca-to-heal-his-ptsd/.

[18] McKenna, D.J., Callaway, J.C., Grob, C.S. (1998). The Scientific Investigation of Ayahuasca: A Review of Past and Current Research. The Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research, 1. Retrieved from https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/ayahuasca/ayahuasca_journal3.shtml.

[19] Thomas, G., Lucas, P., Capler, N.R., Tupper, K.W., Martin, G. (2013). Ayahuasca-assisted therapy for addiction: results from a preliminary observational study in Canada. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 6(1):30-42.

[20] Dobkin de Rios, M., Grob, C.S., Baker, J.R. (2002). Hallucinogens and Redemption. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 34(3):239-248.

[21] Santos, R.G., Landeira-Fernandez, J., Strassman, R.J., Motta, V., Cruz, A.P. (2007). Effects of ayahuasca on psychometric measures of anxiety, panic-like and hopelessness in Santo Daime members. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 112(3):507-13.

[22] McKenna, D.J. (2005). Ayahuasca and human destiny. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 37(2):231-4.

[23] Narby, J. (2016). The Cosmic Serpent. London, UK: Hachette UK.

[24] Miceli, D.H. (2014, Aug 14). A Guide for Beginning Ayahuasca Travelers. Retrieved from https://reset.me/story/guide-beginning-ayahuasca-travelers/.

[25] Ferriss, T. The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Dr. Gabor Maté (#298). Retrieved from https://tim.blog/2018/06/04/the-tim-ferriss-show-transcripts-dr-gabor-mate/.

[26] Blue Morpho. Retreat Dates & Prices. Retrieved from https://www.bluemorphotours.com/dates-and-prices/.

[27] Temple of the Way of Light. Safety At The Temple. Retrieved from https://templeofthewayoflight.org/setting-and-safety/ayahuasca-ceremony-safety/.

[28] ayahuasca.nl. Safety & recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.ayahuasca.nl/safety.html.

[29] Weiss, S. (2018, Jul 27). Everything You Need to Avoid Before You Take Ayahuasca. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pawkek/what-not-to-eat-or-take-before-ayahuasca.

[30] admin. (2010, Apr 4). Foods and Medications to Avoid with MAOIs. Retrieved from http://www.ayahuasca.com/science/foods-and-meds-to-avoid-with-maois/.

[31] Hall-Flavin, D.K. (2018, Dec 18). MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/maois/faq-20058035.

[32] Temple of the Way of Light. FAQs. Retrieved from https://templeofthewayoflight.org/temple-info/faq/.

[33] Soul Herbs. Ayahuasca Ceremony. Retrieved from https://www.soul-herbs.com/ayahuasca-ceremony/.

[34] clueso87. Ayahuasca FAQ [Online forum post]. Message posted to https://www.reddit.com/r/Ayahuasca/comments/7bwdfy/ayahuasca_faq/.

[35] Narby, J. (2016, Dec 26). Is Ayahuasca an Antidote to Modern Life? Retrieved from https://chacruna.net/ayahuasca-antidote-modern-life/.

[36] Ginsberg, A., Burroughs, W.S. (2012). The Yage Letters. London, UK: Penguin.

[37] Shanon, B. (2002). The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

[38] White, J. (2019, Jun 1). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Ayahuasca Retreat. Retrieved from https://themindunleashed.com/2019/06/choosing-an-ayahuasca-retreat-ultimate-guide.html.

[39] Temple of the Way of Light. Holding A Responsible Ayahuasca Ceremony: Guest Guidelines. Retrieved from https://templeofthewayoflight.org/integrating-ayahuasca/ayahuasca-ceremony-guidelines/.

[40] Campos, Don José. (2011). The Shaman & Ayahuasca. Studio City, CA: Divine Arts.

[41] Morris, S. (2018, Aug 29). Briton, 19, died after taking hallucinogen in Colombia, inquest told. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/29/briton-19-dies-after-taking-hallucinogen-at-colombian-ritual.

[42] Anderson, B. (2013, Feb 19). Toé, the ‘Witchcraft Plant’ That’s Spoiling Ayahuasca Tourism. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/jpp98p/to-the-withcraft-plant-thats-spoiling-ayahuasca-tourism.

[43] Sinclair, E. (2017, Oct 30). Can People Really Die From Drinking Ayahuasca, as Announced in the Media? Retrieved from https://chacruna.net/can-people-really-die-from-drinking-ayahuasca-as-announced-in-the-media/.

[44] Sinclair, E. (2018, Sep 8). Should Ayahuasca Tourism in Peru Be Regulated? Retrieved from https://chacruna.net/should-ayahuasca-tourism-peru-be-regulated/.

[45] dos Santos, R.G., Strassman, R.J. (2011). Ayahuasca and psychosis. In R.G. dos Santos (Ed.), The Ethnopharmacology of Ayahuasca. Kerala, India: Transworld Research Network.

[46] Erowid.org. (2001). United Nations Drug Control Office’s FAX indicating Ayahuasca is not Controlled. Retrieved from https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/show_image.php?i=ayahuasca/images/archive/ayahuasca_law_undcp_fax1.jpg.

[47] Kathan, E. (2019). Santo Daime, Ayahuasca and the Spirit World. Retrieved from http://www.psychicgloss.com/articles/794.

[48] Reppe, L. (2016, Aug 11). My Ayahuasca Trip at the Santo Daime Church. Retrieved from https://blog.awkwardhuman.com/my-ayahuasca-trip-at-the-santo-daime-church-93bdaa62b83b.

[49] sosalop. Going with your spouse. Bad idea? [Online forum post]. Message posted to https://www.reddit.com/r/Ayahuasca/comments/89l4pg/going_with_your_spouse_bad_idea/.