Should You Take Ayahuasca When Travelling to Colombia?

Ayahuasca being brewed
Ayahuasca being brewed | © Apollo / Flickr
Photo of Chris Bell
19 April 2018

Ayahuasca, also known as yagé, is a traditional spiritual medicine used by many of the indigenous peoples of the Amazonian regions of South America. It is a powerful entheogenic brew and has caught on as a popular experience among travellers in recent years, due to its reputation for giving people powerful insights into themselves, and supposedly its ability to offer life-changing experiences. Ayahuasca tourism is a somewhat controversial new addition to Colombia’s tourism portfolio, so should you take ayahuasca when travelling to Colombia?

The simple answer to that question is: it’s entirely up to you. Ayahuasca is not illegal in Colombia and it really is entirely up to the individual and how comfortable they are with taking the substance. While some people wrongly call ayahuasca a drug, it is not classified as such and its effects are generally classed as more spiritual than recreational. All this being said, there are many things to be aware of if you are planning to take ayahuasca on a trip to Colombia.

Ayahuasca vine | © Apollo / Flickr

It is essential to remember that this substance is not a recreational drug and therefore, should not be taken recreationally, and should only be administered under the guidance of someone with knowledge of the substance, ideally a shaman or experienced user of ayahuasca. It is not a substance to be messed around with, as it contains a powerful mixture of different chemicals, including DMT. In 2014, a young British traveller died in the Colombian jungle region of Putumayo after taking ayahuasca for the second time, proving that this is not something to be played around with!

As with many different types of tourism, ayahuasca tourism carries its own specific risk, namely that it will be taken over by opportunistic vendors, keen to cash in on the trend and undercut their competition. These people may have no true knowledge of ayahuasca, and taking the substance with them could mean putting yourself at needless risk. Always read up on the person or persons offering you the experience, and go with local recommendations. There are also reputable ayahuasca retreats where participants also engage in spiritual exercises and specific diets.

A shaman preparing to administer ayahuasca | © Alan Kotok / Flickr

Diet is another thing to consider if you are planning to take ayahuasca on a visit to Colombia. It is not recommended to consume certain foods and drinks in the days leading up to taking ayahuasca. This list includes red meat, dairy, fatty foods, and alcohol. You are also advised to abstain from sex in the weeks beforehand. While retreats will advertise this diet, many people go into an ayahuasca experience too casually and have a bad time based on their failure to follow the correct diet.

One final element of an ayahuasca experience to consider is expectation management. Many people, after reading about the life-changing and transcendent impact ayahuasca has had on some people’s lives, end up feeling disappointed when their experience is nothing more than normal, or even slightly unpleasant (vomiting and diarrhea are common elements of an ayahuasca “trip”). The first time you take ayahuasca is unlikely to change your life, so be aware of that before entering a unique and personal situation.

Ayahuasca is made by brewing the vine with the chacruna leaf | © Apollo / Flickr

The ultimate answer to the question “should I take ayahuasca when travelling in Colombia?” is an entirely personal one. However, it is advisable to only do so if you are properly prepared, doing so with a reputable and well-known professional, are fully aware of the implications of taking it, and have followed the correct diet. Otherwise, consider avoiding ayahuasca and spending your money on something else.

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