When I went to Peru, seeing a shaman was on my “must do” list, and taking ayahuasca was on my “maybe do” list. The culture of mysticism in Peru is both alluring, and something to do your research on.
I ended up seeing three shamans during my month in Peru. Two were in Cusco, and one was in Aguas Calientes, the small town where I spent a night before climbing Machu Picchu.
During my travels, I’ve been fascinated at how, when I have a question on my mind, I end up meeting someone that has the answer for me. I traveled to Huacachina, wondering whether I should try ayahuasca while in Peru.
I’ve heard that people have amazing epiphanies and soul-enriching experiences with ayahuasca, but it’s still a plant-based psychedelic, and I felt unsure whether to take it. I met two people, one a local who had used it in the past, and both of their descriptions made me rethink the wisdom of me drinking this brew. I decided it would be something I could speak about with the shaman I’d be working with.
The first shaman I saw was recommended to me by the guide of my free walking tour in Cusco. She worked in a medicinal herb and plant shop in Cusco, which sadly closed during the pandemic. I walked up a steep hill, which, with the high altitude, had to be done in stages because I was so winded! After what felt like hours of effort, I arrived at the shop, only to find that the shaman wasn’t there until the next day. I booked an appointment and returned the following day, breathless, and eager.
We sat at a private table outside the shop. She opened a cloth and spread coca leaves on top. She chose five of them, which she said were representative of me, and explained what she saw before even asking me what I wanted to know, or getting any information about me. I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that the world is my home, and I must continue traveling, at which my heart leaped with joy. Having chosen a life of full-time travel, it felt wonderful to be validated. She also told me my head and heart must work in harmony — this is something I’ve begun working on since quitting my “normal life” to travel, and again, made me feel seen and acknowledged.
One thing I was uncomfortable with was getting a bottle of San Pedro cactus plant drops which she said would help my head and heart work together. I tried the drops a couple of times and felt strange. Reading up on it, I learned they are hallucinogenic. I stopped taking them, and the bottle coincidentally spilled in my bag, so there goes that!
The second shaman I saw was somewhat disappointing. I found her through a shaman shop on one of Cusco’s main streets. The price was almost as much as it would be in America and too expensive. I complained and got a discount, at the very least. She seemed a bit exhausted, and I didn’t feel the same connection to her that I had with the medicine woman. Nonetheless, she also confirmed that I was on the right path with my life, after so much anxiety about changing it.
The third shaman, in Aguas Calientes, was my favorite. A friend told me about him, but I had trouble finding him. I walked up the street I was directed to, but couldn’t find the shop he worked in. I tried on 2 separate days, looking right and left, very carefully and slowly the second time. Still, I couldn’t find it. I resigned to give up, turned around, and found the store right in front of me. Once inside, I immediately loved the energy and learned the owner made most of the jewelry there. I purchased a necklace representing Mother Earth, and still wear it today. I inquired about the shaman, Ignacio, and the owner called him. Ignacio arrived 10 minutes later. He spoke only Spanish. I could have had an interpreter, but decided to wing it.
The other two shamans focused more on readings, but Ignacio did a healing energy cleansing with me. His energy was so strong that when he placed a stone in my hand, I felt its pulse. I hadn’t told him anything about myself, and he made a point of doing some work on my back and neck, after which the pain from the herniated discs I hadn’t told him about eased.
Ignacio taught me that I must spend more time in nature and listen to it, and we agreed ayahuasca is not the path for me. (How ironic that I was later gifted 2 years in New Zealand, mostly surrounded by nature and learning from it.)
I was intrigued that three different shamans had such similar things to tell me about my life path without knowing anything about me. Now, 2 years since meeting them, much of what they told me still rings true. I was also happy to be guided by Ignacio not to take ayahuasca. It made my decision feel right. If I were to repeat the experience, I would put more faith in my intuition, which would have meant not meeting with the second shaman. Otherwise, I would absolutely go back to the plant medicine woman and see Ignacio again, who truly felt like he was part of ancient Peru and in integrity with the land and his practices. I love that, to my knowledge, you can’t find him on a website, only by recommendation. I’m glad I worked with different types of shamans, so I got to experience both a reading and a healing energy experience.
If you plan a trip to Peru and want to do ayahuasca or meet with a shaman, make sure to do your research. As in any country, there are honest people and less honest people.
Here are a few tips:
Ask For Recommendations
Speak with people you know who have been to Peru and worked with a shaman to find someone trustworthy.
Don’t Do Ayahuasca Alone
Especially if you’re a solo, female traveler, you want to make sure you have a buddy with you. When you do ayahuasca, you have no control over your body (that includes physical waste). You’ll also be in a euphoric state for a while, and need to make sure you’re working with someone who doesn’t take advantage of you.
Realize That Ayahuasca Is Sacred, But Not Everyone Treats It That Way
I learned that the true way to use this plant is by undergoing a strict 2-week cleanse that gets your body ready for the experience. You should ideally work with a shaman who gets to know you personally to understand what dosage is right for you, as an individual. Unfortunately, a market has been created for westerners who want to fly in for their weekend ayahuasca fix. Though many people have amazing insights from the experience, it’s still a substance that not everyone does well with. Make sure to carefully research before you choose who to put your trust in.