Ayahuasca Retreat Criteria – How do you find the right one for you?


So you’ve heard all the amazing accounts of people having their lives changed by Ayahuasca, and you want to experience that for yourself but you’re not sure which one to choose, right?

Here are some things to consider:

Does the Ayahuasca retreat center have a good reputation?

This is absolutely essential, and it’s the primary reason why AyaAdvisors exists!


A safety warning sign

To be safe, you need to make sure that the place has a good reputation because it’s downright reckless to take a mind-altering substance from just any person who offers it to you.

And it’s sad but true that some people have been taken advantage of financially, sexually, or otherwise by taking Ayahuasca from random passers by in very ‘Ayahuasca-touristy’ places like Iquitos. (Although I'm sure there still many great Ayahuasca retreat centers there)

So if I were starting from scratch, I would look at the top 10 list that’s front and center on the homepage. It’s likely that several of them will fit your criteria, in which case you can dig a little deeper for any nuances that might help you decide.

And I wouldn’t stop at just looking at the number of ratings or the average rating, but rather, I’d dig deep into the reviews to get a sense of what people are saying.

Review Authenticity

Quote: The authentic self is soul made visible. Photo by Aslam Sheikh from PexelsWe do our best to ensure that no retreat centers are padding their reviews with fluff, but ultimately, it’s up to you the reader to get a sense for whether a review is authentic or not.

For me, a review that basically just says “It was great! Totally recommended,” doesn't necessarily mean that it’s inauthentic, but it’s certainly not very helpful. And personally, I give far more credence to reviews that go into great detail about what exactly they liked and which areas there are for improvement.

On the flip side, some people tend to go into excruciating detail, but that’s when skimming becomes a handy skill to learn 😉

Anyway, the more reviews the better because then you can have more assurance that the overall consensus is that the place is or isn’t a good choice.

Reputation & Negative Reviews

Whatever you do, good or bad, someone will always have something negative to sayOne final note on reputation relates to negative reviews. It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it – there will be someone that doesn’t like what you’ve done. It’s just human nature. So, as such, it’s normal for a retreat center to have a small percentage of negative reviews. BUT I would of course be very wary of negative reviews that are all saying the same thing.

And in fact, because reviews tend to skew waaaay positive on AyaAdvisors (and it’s great that people are having great experiences), I probably wouldn’t even consider personally attending a retreat center that has less than an 4-star average, and probably more like a 4.5-star average. But that’s just a personal preference.

Point being: Some negative reviews are fine, a lot aren’t, and if all the negative ones are consistently pointing specific down-sides, I’d take notice.

Do they offer the right balance of accommodation to price that you’re looking for?

Rocks balanced on top of each other on a sea shore with the sun setting in the background

Retreat centers provide a wide range of accommodations and prices to match.

It’s natural to want more for less, but it only takes a small understanding to realize that to offer luxurious accommodations can be incredibly expensive.

And that’s even more true in remote locations. And of course that cost get passed along to you and I, the consumers.

So to judge a center solely on cost would be blind to what they’re offering in return, and that also refers to the number of staff they have, relative to the number guests per retreat, which I’ll touch on shortly.

A door, marked private, with vines growing around itOther accommodation factors to consider is whether or not you get a private room.

Are you comfortable sharing a room with someone, or do you feel like you’ll need more privacy to process all the things that may come up in your ceremonies?

And if you do want a private room, be willing to pay more for it.

At least for me, even with a private room in the same building, I’m apparently a light sleeper and found myself being woken up by people coming and going.

So if I were to do it again, I would probably give preference to a place that can not only offer a private room but also rooms in entirely different buildings.

Or maybe just a place that uses construction methods that have good sound insulation (which isn’t at all common in Ecuador, for example).

Do you really connect with what they’re saying and their style?

Un-cited quote: Always trust your instincts, they are messages from your soul.

Trust your instincts!

Even if a place has rave reviews, if you’re not ‘feeling’ their approach to certain things, move on.

There are plenty of fish in the sea, and for you to get the most out of your plant medicine experience, it’s best to find the retreat center that juuust right for you.

Similarly, if everything seems on the up-and-up but you get to a point of speaking with someone on-staff there about any further questions you may have, and they seem gruff or uncaring, I would personally drop them like a bad habit (and have).

Ok, bad habits can be hard to drop sometimes, but you get my meaning 😉

Do they have a good guest-to-staff ratio?

This is especially important in the actual ceremonies.

Because after all, a place could have hundreds of staff members, but if only 2 are present as helpers during the ceremonies, that’s what counts the most!

I have a unique perspective into this one after working at an Ayahuasca retreat center myself for a while, and I definitely understand the difficulty of staffing helpers for this purpose.

Our Maloka before CeremonyBecause sometimes, ceremonies are super peaceful, in which case the staff are just twiddling their thumbs.

But at other times, you could have 10 people having a rough time simultaneously.

And in cases like that, staff can become overrun and simply can’t help everyone through their turbulence.

This can leave a retreat participant feeling unimportant or ignored in an especially vulnerable mind state.

ayahuasca cup carved from the Noya Rao tree with Noya rao leaves around it, waiting for the ceremony to beginAnd there again, to expect an Ayahuasca retreat center to have more staff means that we as consumers are willing to pay more for the extra costs of employing those extra staff.

But at the same time, we want everything as cheap as possible.

So as with so many things, there’s a balance to be had.

Where that balance is for you is totally up to you, but I hope that you’ll at least consider it when making your decision.

In fact, this is one reason why some people prefer to go with smaller retreat centers (more personal attention).

Whereas other people would feel like they’re getting a higher quality of experience at a well-established larger retreat center.

Personally, I recommend going to a place that has at least 1 helper for every 3 or 4 guests, max (and that includes the shaman(s)).

So say for example there are 2 shamans in a ceremony and 4 helpers. If that’s the case, I would expect there to be no more than 24 guests in that ceremony.

And really, 2-3 guests per helper/shaman would be even better.

This isn’t set in stone of course, but I speak from experience.

When the waters get rough, especially if there are a lot of newbies in the group, it’s important to have enough helpers.

Otherwise, things can get rather chaotic, which is distracting at best and could even put a negative spin on your own experience.

That’s not the end of the world (and in fact, it might be the lesson you need), but it’s not ideal or pleasant

...unless perhaps you have an abundance of patience and understanding.

In which case, good for you. I’m still getting there, ha ha.

Secondary factors for an Ayahuasca Retreat

If all of the above are kosher but you still can’t decide between a few finalists, here are some secondary factors to consider.

What kind of extras do they have?

Do they have hot tubs? Massages? Reiki? Yoga? A weight room?

Some people might love to have some of these extras, and others might just find it a tempting distraction.

For me personally, I was immensely happy that I chose a place with hot tubs that’s in a location in Ecuador that doesn’t really have any mosquito issues.

A bubbling hot tub overlooking a huge wooded area next to a sea shore

By contrast, I once hiked out into the Ecuadorian Amazon with a group of people and had a couple ceremonies in the actual jungle.

And even with essential oil to try to keep them at bay, I had so many mosquito bights on the backs of my exposed hands that it was basically completely red.

I’m still glad I had that experience as a whole at least once, but I don’t wish to ever do that again.

And that’s not even mentioning the knee-high mud and a hike that pushed me to the point of almost passing out, which never happens!

And luckily, I chose to bring a hammock to sleep in.

Otherwise, the rats that were running around definitely my room at night would’ve made me shy away from sleeping on the floor (since there weren’t enough beds for everyone).

So I guess you could say that I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and I can understand the pros and cons of each.

But at least for me, a mostly bug-free journey is best.

And I have zero guilt for wanting a luxury like a hot tub, which surprisingly, some people cast judgment about as though it detracts from the experience somehow.

And I have to say that, at least for me, it actually enhanced the experience!

There are few things in life better than a nice hot soak in a hot tub after a San Pedro ceremony in particular.

Ho-ly cow! My body melts just thinking about it, haha!

More importantly, it offered me a nice semi-private place to just look out over the mountains and process my thoughts and emotions.

So my advice would be to ignore the naysayers and spring for an Ayahuasca retreat center with some niceties if it suits you (assuming everything else checks out, of course).

What other costs to attending are there?

The word "expenses" is shown on the face of a calculatorIs airfare expensive?

Is a visa necessary?

Are vaccinations necessary?

Will you need any special gear?

These are just a few 'hidden costs' you might not've considered, but they do add up.

Can you stay extra nights?

Young beautiful woman relaxing in hammock in a tropical resortI have to say that being able to arrive at least a day early to settle in before any Ayahuasca retreat starts is highly advisable.

And I would schedule at least a day extra at the end too. If for no other reason that because you will undoubtedly have a LOT to think about.

And if you suddenly throw yourself back into your daily grind without a chance to properly process everything you just experienced, you might find your integration process (which is the important part!) more difficult or less effective.

Anyway, I hope this helps you choose the retreat center that’s right for you, but if you have any other questions or suggestions for other people to consider, please feel to leave them in the comments below.

Image of Tim Gulley - Found of AyaAdvisors
Tim G.

January 1, 2020 |

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