Are Ayahuasca Retreats Worth It? My Awakening Experience in Costa Rica

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By Matthew Joseph

“Nervous, excited, anxious and every other emotion I have ever felt before,” I told the ayahuasca retreat facilitator, Scott, who was asking about my feelings for my first ceremony.

He whispered back, “Let go of all expectations, let the medicine do its work, and enjoy the process.” I nodded, still feeling quite nervous, but prepared. 

The room was silent, and two candles were the only things separating us from complete darkness. I sat cross-legged in the center of the ceremonial hut, face to face with the healer Silvia.

I could feel the warmth and compassion in her smile as she blessed the glass of liquid and leaned closer to hand it to me. As I took the cup, I set my intentions for the night, asked the Mother to be gentle, released all expectations, and drank.

The liquid had the consistency of motor oil and tasted (as I can only imagine) just as foul. I thanked Maestra Silvia, stood up, and walked back to my mattress that lay at the edge of the room.

The only prep left to do was to get comfortable, focus on my breath, and express gratitude for the opportunity. The rest was out of my hands.

What came next would be determined by the mystical and infinite power of the plant medicine I travelled so far to experience, ayahuasca.

What is Ayahuasca?

Now, what the heck is ayahuasca, how do you pronounce it, and why would anyone choose to drink something that tastes like a diesel truck smoothie as part of a retreat?

Without getting incredibly technical, ayahuasca (I-Uh-Was-Kah) is an Amazonian plant medicine tea made from two or more plants – typically the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the chacruna leaf  (Psychotria Viridis) – containing the psychoactive chemical dimethyltryptamine (DMT). 

Indigenous healers in South America have drunk plant medicine for centuries as a means of spiritual healing, treatment of illness, communication, and much more.

Soltara Ayahuasca Retreat Guests

More recently, there has been a surge in popularity among Westerners seeking ayahuasca as an alternative to Western medicine, using it for psychological healing, personal growth, and expansion of consciousness, often during retreats. This type of work intrigued me. 

Why I Chose an Ayahuasca Retreat

I was 24 years old, feeling more lost than ever, questioning the meaning of life at every turn and yearning for a purpose. I wanted to be more connected with family and less concerned with materialistic possessions or social media. But most of all, I wanted to be happy with who I was.

Never having partaken in an ayahuasca retreat ceremony before, I desired a space that emphasized the safety of its participants and honoured the use of it through indigenous Amazonian healers and their way of working with the medicine. It was that burning desire for change that ultimately led me across the world to Soltara Healing Center in Costa Rica.

Ayahuasca Retreat Hut

Ayahuasca Retreats in Costa Rica

I was one of thirteen individuals who had embarked on this adventure of extreme proportions at Soltara Healing Center, an all-inclusive ayahuasca retreats centre in the jungles of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.

Soltara offered a safe and loving environment to experience plant medicine in the traditions of the indigenous Shipibo people of Peru. 

Sitting atop a seaside cliff overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya, the retreat center is surrounded by a luscious rainforest where the sounds of diverse wildlife synchronized to form a natural symphony. The meals were sourced locally, tasting as fresh and delicious as nature intended.

Soltara Sunset

The staff was as loving a people I have ever come into contact with and the healer’s songs, also known as icaros, will forever hold a place in my heart.

In combination with modalities such as massage, yoga, and breath-work, Soltara retreats create the optimal environment in which to proceed with confidence in the consumption of ayahuasca.  

Ayahuasca Ceremonies

My four ceremonies were a combination of the most painful yet enlightening moments of my life. Physically the medicine induced an array of effects ranging from weightlessness and euphoria to a heavy flu-like nausea.

These feelings pushed my mind into moments of conflict; bringing every negative thought I had about myself to the surface and forcing me to reframe them.

Ayahuasca brought to life every spec along the emotional spectrum with intense magnification. I was able to feel wretched depression, immeasurable love, and everything in between with full force. 

My eyes were filled with arrangements of gorgeous geometric patterns and colourful tapestries. Visions of my past were put on display like a projector screen, and religious deities greeted me with arms wide open. The impact the medicine had on me spiritually, however, was the most transformative.

Soltara Heros Journal

I was able to comprehend concepts and feel emotions that were previously unfamiliar. Gratitude for life and the opportunity to experience all that it has to offer became as clear to me as the ground I walk on. Family, friends, nature, and love replaced money, titles, validation, and superficial interactions at the forefront of my life’s desires. 

The medicine let me see clear that spending time building meaningful relationships and being receptive to a wide range of new experiences is where my values should lie in order to truly live a fulfilling life.

Drinking ayahuasca was a rollercoaster with some unbelievable highs and insidious lows. Facilitator Scott’s advice I now see transcends the ayahuasca retreats experience to life itself: enjoy the process.  

Matthew Bio Photo

Matthew Joseph seeks to inspire that desire for new experiences, like Ayahuasca Retreats, in his readers. Whether through travel, music, conversation, or a thought-provoking book, Matthew plans on enjoying everything life has to offer.

Images above courtesy Soltara Healing Center Ayahuasca Retreats

Ready for Your Own Ayahuasca Retreat?

Ayahuasca retreats are a form of spiritual or therapeutic tourism that involves participating in traditional shamanic ceremonies using a potent psychedelic brew called Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca is made from the Ayahuasca vine and other plant ingredients and has been used for centuries by indigenous communities in the Amazon basin for medicinal, religious, and spiritual purposes. Here are some key points to know about Ayahuasca retreats:

  1. Ceremonies: Ayahuasca ceremonies typically involve drinking the brew and then lying down or sitting in a ceremonial space, usually led by a shaman or experienced guide. The brew’s effects can last several hours and may include hallucinations, purging, and intense emotional experiences.
  2. Benefits: Ayahuasca retreats are believed to have numerous benefits, such as promoting self-awareness, healing trauma, and spiritual growth. The brew is also sometimes used for medicinal purposes, such as treating addiction, depression, or anxiety.
  3. Risks: Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic that can be unpredictable in its effects, and there are risks associated with participating in ceremonies. Possible risks include physical discomfort, psychological distress, and interaction with medications or pre-existing health conditions. It is essential to research retreat centers and shaman carefully before participating in a ceremony and to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or underlying health conditions.
  4. Preparations: Ayahuasca retreats typically involve a preparation period, which may include dietary restrictions, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and meditation or other practices to prepare the mind and body for the ceremony. Participants may also receive counselling or guidance from the shaman or guides to set intentions and prepare for the experience.
  5. Locations: Ayahuasca retreats are most commonly found in South America, particularly in Peru and Brazil, where indigenous communities have long used Ayahuasca as part of their spiritual and cultural practices. However, Ayahuasca retreats can also be found in other regions of the world, such as Europe and North America.

Ayahuasca retreats can be a transformative and powerful experience for those seeking spiritual or therapeutic growth. However, it is essential to approach the experience carefully and research retreat centres carefully to ensure the ceremony is conducted safely and responsibly.

Soltara Healing Center, Costa Rica

“Under the guidance of indigenous Peruvian Shipibo healers, we combine plant medicine ceremony, supportive embodiment practices, and a unique integration program to empower each guest in their healing over the long term. Our decades of combined experience holding ceremony and doing medicine work allow you to experience in-depth healing in a safe and loving environment. Immersed in the tropical forest and with stunning ocean views, we offer retreats of varying lengths, along with retreats featuring special guests, allowing you to find what works for you in order to step fully into your authentic self.”

Rythmia Life Advancement Center, Costa Rica

“Experience four profound and soul-merging plant medicine ceremonies throughout your stay. Led by respected shamans and healers, each ceremony is tailored to help you recieve your miracle. To date, Rythmia has conducted over 32,000 individual ceremonial experiences. Ceremonies are led by our experienced shamans who have been trained in the Colombian tradition by Taita Juanito and other well-respected teacher shamans.”

Gaia Sagrada Eco-Lodge & Retreat Center, Ecuador

“When you come to the Ayahuasca ceremony, be ready for an eye opening experience. Ayahuasca takes you into the universe within you and shows you many things about yourself, your life, and the world. You can focus on your intention and purpose for the ceremony and Ayahuasca always responds. Ayahuasca is very sentient and is paying attention to what you need. Sometimes Ayahuasca has something different to show you than what you had originally intended to work on, as Ayahuasca knows what you need to focus on first in your life in order to clear the way for the other things you want to address.”

Spirit Vine Ayahuasca Retreat Center, Brazil

“Spirit Vine is the “home of ayahuasca”, created with the dedicated purpose to host ayahuasca retreats in Brazil. Every aspect of the retreat is well considered and planned for you to achieve a state of harmony. Every month we receive people from all over the world who feel the call of the jungle. You will meet other like-minded individuals interested in personal development and aligning with their essence.”

Ayahuasca Foundation, Peru

“Retreats are led by an indigenous curandero from the Shipibo culture. The curandero, don Ronor, learned from his father and grandfather, a vegtalisto and an ayahuasquero. He is the youngest of three brothers who are all experienced healers. He has a humility that brings a calm gratitude to his presence.He has extensive plant dietas with noya rao, bobinsana, marusa, chiric sanango, and chullachaqui. Don Ronor is constantly developing his own understanding and methods for healing, learning more icaros through his intimate connections to his dietas and plant spirit guides. He is also a father and his wife and children are usually with him on retreats, providing a wonderful light to the group experience. He works hard to provide the greatest level of healing, always wanting to prepare and administer as many remedies as he can during the ayahuasca retreat.”

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