TRAVELING TO PERU

Peru: All About the Country, Traveling There, Experiencing Ayahuasca, And More

Elio Geusa

Elio Geusa

february 05, 2023

What you will be learning

For anyone who is planning a trip to Peru, whether it’s to join an ayahuasca retreat or for any other reason, this article will give you a good overview of Peru as an outsider on their way in. You will learn about Peru’s diverse climate and landscapes, its growing economy and rich culture, as well as Peru’s booming tourism industry, the native Shipibo tribe, their use of ayahuasca in ceremony, and a few helpful insights if you are coming to experience ayahuasca.

Despite being one of the 20 largest countries in the world geographically, with over 30 million inhabitants and speaking one of the world’s most used languages, many travelers to Peru know very little about the country. The country’s history is as rich as any other’s in the world from ancient times up to the present day and there is much to do, see, and experience throughout the country, both relating to and not relating to ayahuasca ceremonies.

 

Peru’s Amazing Geography and Climate

Peru has wildly diverse climate. Located just south of the equator in northwestern South America, it is surrounded by Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and the Pacific Ocean. Unlike the overwhelming majority of countries on planet Earth, Peru’s geography is amazingly diverse: its unique landscapes include a sharply contrasting array of geographic features, including everything from lush tropical jungles to snowy mountains, arid drylands to warm tropical beaches. Peru is one of 17 so-called megadiverse countries, known to be a “biodiversity hotspot”, an area of the world rich with diversity of life where an unusually large number of species live. These areas of the world are considered by conservationists to be the most important ecosystems to preserve and protect, and Peru is consistently identified among such lists, signifying the extraordinary amount of biodiversity contained within the borders of Peru.

Incredibly, the following outdoor scenes below are all from inside Peru, each landscape only several hundred kilometers away from the others.

 

 

Due to the extraordinary diversity of land and climate in the country, trying to define Peru’s weather in simple terms is practically impossible. Because of its geography, Peru has polar and tropical climates coexisting in close proximity to one another with wildly different weather patterns and cycles associated with these regions. Two notably different weather patterns and climates can coexist in Peru as little as 100 kilometers apart from each other. As a picture tells a thousand words, below you can see a map showing just how diverse Peru’s climate truly is:

Koppen-Geiger Map PER present.svg

 

Economy and Culture In Peru

Economically Peru fares slightly above average compared to many other countries. Its Human Development Index of .77 puts it in an average to above average classification, despite a large percentage of its population living in poverty. Peru has one of the world’s fastest growing economies which centered around mining, agriculture, tourism, and fishing.

Like many Central and South American countries, Peru’s rich culture is based in a deeply multiethnic heritage influenced by centuries of immigration from the farthest reaches of the world. Native Peruvians have mixed with Spanish former colonists, former slaves from Africa, European immigrants from Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, as well as East Asian immigrants from China and Japan. It is a complex melting pot of cultures which has given rise to a wealth of art, cuisine, and creative human expression visible throughout Peruvian society.

 

Peru’s All-Important Tourism Industry

Travel to Peru has increased dramatically in the last several decades and is now growing faster than travel to any other South American country. As a result of this boom of interest in visiting the country, the Peruvian tourism industry is the third largest sector of the country’s economy.

Citizens from a considerable number of countries can enter Peru as tourists without acquiring a visa before entry. Visitors from many neighboring countries, including Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Equador, and others, as well as citizens of the countries of Australia, Russia, Japan, North American countries, Shengen zone countries of the European Union, and Thailand, as well as many other countries, can travel visa free in Peru for varying amounts of time, depending on the country.

Clouds around the mountains of the Inca Trail in Peru
The amazing Inca Trail winding its way through the mountains of Peru.

Adventure tourism and eco-tourism are major attractions for travelers coming to Peru – anything related to the massive biodiversity and wealth of geographical features is a popular draw for foreigners to come to Peru. This includes trekking, rafting, surfing, kayaking, horse riding, paragliding, wildlife tours, nature walks, and even agricultural tours of farms such as coffee plantations.

Trekking is most popular in the area of Cusco, because of its access to Machu Picchu. Trekkers travel along the Inca Trail, a well-known and well established hiking route, from outside of Cusco to the area of Machu Picchu. Depending on a trekker’s commitment, the hike can be a day-trip by starting closer to Macchu Picchu, or it can be a four or five day trek which passes through amazing natural environments such as cloud forests and tundra en route to Macchu Picchu. Trekking is also popular in the Ancash regions of the Andes, just north of the Capital of Lima.

River rafting is popular around Lima and Cusco, as well as other areas of the country. The deserts closer to the coast are home to desert adventure sports such as sandboarding and dune buggy riding, in particular the oasis area of Huacachina, approximately 200 miles south of Lima.

A surfer sitting on the beach and looking at the waves.
A surfer contemplates his next ride in the waves of Peru.

Surfing has become very popular in Peru due to its expansive coastline, warm ocean water and direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean. While there are endless waves up and down the cost of the country, the most well recognized surf spots in Peru are centered around the Lima area in the center of the country, and on the north coast close to the border of Ecuador. For the more adventurous surfers of the world, Peru is a country that, with some time, patience and persistence, will reveal yet undiscovered surf spots well off the beaten path.

Perhaps the most well-known physical attraction in Peru is Machu Picchu itself. The old stone ruins in the Andes mountains have probably contributed more than anything else to putting Peru into the minds of people worldwide. Its far-flung location appeals to hikers and trekkers, but its mystery and majesty appeal to people from many other walks of life, including people with an appreciation for ancient history, construction, and culture. Machu Picchu is thought to be an abandoned estate of a previous Incan ruler around the time of the first European colonizers to the area.

 

Iquitos

For all travel relating to the jungles of Pereu, Iquitos is perhaps the best place to start as it serves as a well-located base and point of entry into the Peruvian Amazon. Located in the northeast of the country, Iquitos has the unique distinction of being the largest city in the world that is not accessible by roads, with planes and boats being the main means of entering and exiting the city and accessing the surrounding region.

Iquitos, Peru
Iquitos, Peru

Despite being the capital of the expansive Loreto region of Peru, which covers much of the northern Peruvian Amazon, Iquitos is a relatively small city of less than half a million people. The city’s previous periods of wealth in times past from booms in the rubber and oil industries provided a great deal of investment into the city, as well as attracting people from all over the world to work. In sharp contrast to those days of industry and investment, today the area around Iquitos is among the poorest in Peru.

Iquitos is widely considered to be the best place to find jungle tours into the Pereuvian Amazon. Guided boat tours are a popular means of entering into the jungle to view wildlife and tropical jungle ecology. There is much more to do in and around Iquitos. You can learn more about the city’s history, culture, and things to do here.

Of course, ayahuasca is another attraction that brings travelers to Iquitos, as its close proximity to the native Shipibo practitioners in the region make ayahuasca retreats and ceremonies accessible and transparent. The Shipibo-Conibo are a people historically located not far from the city of Iquitos, who have developed and continue to maintain a rich practice of health care using indigenous plant medicines, as well as song, ritual, and ceremony.

 

The Shipibo People

The Shipibo-Conibo are a relatively small tribe, numbering in the tens of thousands, but they have become increasingly well known worldwide in concert with an increased recognition of their excellence in preparing and administering ayahuasca, as well as other master plant medicines. Unconquered by the force of the Incan Empire, and unconverted by Christian missionaries, the Shipibo have managed to preserve and maintain many of their indigenous beliefs and practices in their matriarchal society throughout the centuries to the present day.

The majority of Shipibo-Conibo people are centered in and around the banks of the Ucayali River, with some of the more urban and modernized people living in and around local villages and in the highly indigenous area of Pucallpa. The Shipibo’s traditional home lands along the Ucayali River are increasingly under pressure from resource exploitation, as well as increasing drought and flooding. Oil and gas speculation has found its way into the areas traditionally inhabited by the Shipibo-Conibo nation, which has created conflict regarding land rights and the preservation of native indigenous property rights. Long-standing fruit trees in the area have recently been decimated by periods of low rainfall and draught followed by heavy flooding, which has had a negative impact on the food availability of the Shipibo people. Food scarcity is now a real concern for the Shipibo in the near to mid-term future.

Central to the Shipibo belief system, and evident in their health practices, is the idea that all of existence has a tendency toward harmony, or an optimal state of being. By removing things that block this natural tendency, natural healing can and will occur on its own as a result of this natural flow of all things toward self-optimization. This belief is practiced through, among other things, the use of ayahuasca as a means of removing interferences and blockages in our mental, emotional, and spiritual states of being. The plant medicine is a purifying curative which facilitates the natural tendency of all life to seek its own optimal state of being.

Importantly, the practice of using ayahuasca in such a context is now also studied and recognized in the academic tradition of Western medicine. In addition to the wealth of research available through organizations such as MAPS, ayahuasca use has specifically been investigated for its long-term effects on the well-being and quality of life of Western people, as well as the effect of reducing psychopathology in users, among other academic insights carried out in recent years.

Chemically, for those who would like a more scientific explanation of its action, ayahuasca is a combination of two or more naturally growing plants found in the Amazonian rainforest. It action is a result of the absorption of dimethyltriptamine, extracted from the plant matter of psychotria viridis, the effects of which are made orally available and prolonged with the addition of a monoamine oxidase inhibitor provided most commonly by banisteeriopsis caapi.

Dimethyltriptamine, or DMT, is a psychoplastogen – a small molecule that produces rapid and sustained neuroplasticity, the ability of brain cells to grow or reorganize and create neural new pathways that result in changes in a person’s behaviors, beliefs, emotions, thought patterns, or values. For example, neuroplasticity allows neurons to create new channels of communication called neuron pathways, which communicate sensory, hormonal, mechanical, behavioral, cognitive, and other data that forms the basis of our experiences in life. In other words, neuroplasticity refers to our brain’s way of writing and rewiring itself according to our experiences, and psychoplastogens such as DMT influence and affect how and how much our brains can wire and rewire themselves. To learn a great deal more about this subject, be sure to read our primer on DMT and neuroplasticity.

For a variety of complex reasons, there is a great divergence of opinion around the world amongst different cultures and generations regarding the use of plant medicines such as ayahuasca. For many Westerners, for example, hallucinogens may be associated with the hippie counterculture of the decade of the 1960s, or for others perhaps associated with the modern era of psychedelic dance festivals.

Traditional tapestry of the Shipibo people of Peru
Traditional tapestry of the Shipibo people of Peru

For traditional curanderos – plant medicine practitioners – in the Shipibo culture, ayahuasca is a means of gaining experiential insight into the nature of reality. Shipibo use ayahuasca to see the very fabric of creation, the patterns of which are evident in their textiles, pottery, and other traditionally made wares. Ayahuasca is a window into the infinite, a fundamental part of their cosmology, wherein the remnants of a unified world once fractured into the sky, the earth, and the water worlds, is visible in the patterns of nature that reveal themselves when using ayahuasca.

As much as one who has not taken ayahuasca might desire a simple and understandable description of taking such a plant medicine, the uniqueness of the experience makes doing so a challenge. Descriptors such as ‘insightful’, ‘revelatory’, ‘emotionally liberating’, ‘intense’, ‘other-worldly’, and similar adjectives are common, and for good reason. Ayahuasca can evoke in people profound realizations regarding the nature of existence, the root causes of decisions they have made in life, deep insights into their motivations, truths about their hopes and aspirations, and heightened connectivity to their emotions, their environment, and their life goals and purpose.

In the spirit of the Shipibo cosmology, one can think of ayahuasca as a means removing the emotional, spiritual, and existential blockages that inevitably build up within us, in order to facilitate the natural tendency of all things to organize into a state of harmony. It is for this reason that the Shipibo tradition prescribes for people to follow a rigorous and strict lifestyle of clean eating and abstinence from all hedonistic activity in the days leading up to using ayahuasca. Preparation for the ayahuasca experience is often overlooked and underappreciated, but its importance is fundamental for accomplishing the objective of using ayahuasca as a spiritual purgative, a purifier that removes obstacles in our way, making room for a more harmonious existence.

 

Experiencing Ayahuasca

Iquitos being the logical starting point for an ayahuasca experience, the most common means of arrival is by airplane, landing at Coronel FAP Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport (airport codes IQT/SPQT) in Iquitos. From there, your retreat or ceremony host will likely arrange transport for you or provide transport of their own from Iquitos to as close as possible to the retreat center or ceremony location. This trip is usually a few hours, depending on where you are in Iquitos and where you are going outside of the city.

An ayahuasca retreat structure in the jungle of Iquitos, Peru
You will spend time and make memories here when you arrive for your AYA Healing Retreat!

The last leg of the journey may be a short hike from the road into the location where you are staying for the course of your ayahuasca experience. Of course, this journey from start to finish is not quite as simple as driving door to door or taking a single bus from one town to another, but like many of life’s most interesting experience, the extra effort required is indicative of the significance that the experience on the other side has in store for participants.

Because of Iquitos’s proximity to the Peruvian Amazon, it makes a great deal of sense for many travelers to avail one or more other experiences while they are there, particularly if time and budget allow. For many travelers to the area around the Ucayali River, it is a commitment of time and money to arrive from far away and they are wise to do what they can to experience all that the region has to offer during their time there.

Some ayahuasca retreats in and around Iquitos offer jungle walks as part of their experience, and others have relationships with travel and tour companies who generally can be trusted to provide a quality service for attendees of ayahuasca ceremonies. The increased attention put on the area around Iquitos in recent years, in part as a result of ayahuasca’s rise in popularity, has resulted in pressure being put on the local ecology, and an effort is in place to be mindful and conscious of this concern. Travelers are encouraged to tread lightly and maintain a high level of respect for the harmony of the ecosystem which they are visiting. It goes without saying that the majestic power of the Amazon is a powerful setting and a natural compliment to such a potentially profound experience as an ayahuasca ceremony, the powerful ingredients of which are of course indigenous to the equally powerful native ecosystem.

In Conclusion

A basic cultural and historical awareness of Peru, Iquitos, and the Shipibo people, as well as of ayahuasca itself, is valuable for anyone wishing to experience ayahuasca from an informed perspective. While you are booking and planning your retreat, and preparing for your experience, we encourage you to read further to build up further context and appreciation for the place you will visit and the experience you will have there.

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