Although many people come to Peru to see the wonder that is Machu Picchu, many others journey here for mystical purposes. They journey intent on trying, among other things, Ayahusaca or San Pedro. These plants have been used by the local people for thousands of years, mainly for healing purposes. I had my own personal interest in this aspect of Peruvian life, so I decided to learn more about the cactus called San Pedro (echinopsis pachanoi).
How popular exactly is San Pedro?
San Pedro is indeed famous here. For locals it definitely has uses extending beyond its aesthetic qualities as an attractive addition to the garden. It is native mainly to the Andean regions of Peru and Ecuador, growing at an altitude of between two- and three thousand meters, and has been here for religious and medicinal purposes for over 3000 years. San Pedro is considered to be a unique drug which, beyond healing, can allow a person to ascend to a higher state of consciousness. San Pedro ceremonies are treated as a special, mystical experience, during which you can relax, embark on an introspective journey of self discovery, and uncover additional layers of energy.
These ceremonies are held all across Peru, but most commonly in the northern jungle around Iquitos and in Cusco region, including the cities of Urubamba, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. One good place I can recommend in Ollantaytambo is the hostel “Full Moon Lodge.” Here they involve you in the process of preparing the cactus, from cutting to cooking, before administering the ceremony. Afterward, they take you to a serene location in the nearby mountains, lending the ceremony more mysticism and authenticity.
Things to consider before choosing a San Pedro ceremony!
Are you curious about how San Pedro is going to affect you? Well, it’s different for everybody, an individual experience. The spectrum is quite broad: on the lower end, some people become ill and cry, while at the other, people are consumed with inner peace and happiness. The variables are many: personality, attitude, physical condition. The dosage is also, of course, an important factor, and the way the cactus is prepared will impact your experience. The potency of the drink will correlate to how long the cactus was boiled and its active components leeched into the water. Finally, the shaman or guide that conducts the ceremony will influence how it affects you. Shamans commonly hold these ceremonies but that’s not always the case. So before you set sail into the wonderful unknown, make sure you do a little background check on the who, what, where, and how, and whether the person conducting the ceremony is reliable. Who this person is is very important–they will supervise the entire experience, which usually lasts between 6 and 10 hours.
San Pedro gains in popularity by the year. Unfortunately these ceremonies are often devolving into a quick money making venture and lose the authentic traditional and cultural foundation that was practiced by native peoples for thousands of years. That’s why I recommend you do your research: try and find somewhere where the people running the show have a genuine connection to their roots and want to offer a genuine spiritual experience.
The price of these ceremonies varies vastly, but in Cusco and Ollantaytambo you may find them available for 150 – 300 soles.