What I learned from a shaman in Peru


When I went to Peru seeing a shaman was on my “to do” list and having ayahuasca was on my “maybe to do” list. The culture of mysticism in Peru is both alluring and something to research.

I ended up seeing three shamans during my month in Peru. Two were in Cusco, and one was in Aguas Calientes, the small town where I spent a night before climbing Machu Picchu.

Aguas Calientes, Peru (Photo credit: Heather Markel)

During my travels, I have been fascinated by how, when I have a question in mind, I end up meeting someone who has the answer for me. I drove to Huacachina wondering if I should try ayahuasca in Peru.

I’ve heard people have amazing epiphanies and soul-enriching experiences with ayahuasca, but it’s still a herbal psychedelic, and I wasn’t sure if I should take it. I met two people, one local who had used it in the past, and their two descriptions made me rethink the wisdom of drinking this brew. I decided this would be something I could talk about with the shaman I would be working with.

Center of Cusco, Peru.
Center of Cusco, Peru (Photo credit: Heather Markel)

My experience

The first shaman I saw was recommended to me by the guide on my free walking tour in Cusco. She worked in a herbal and medicinal plant store in Cusco, which unfortunately closed during the pandemic. I climbed a steep hill which with the high altitude had to be done in stages because I was so out of breath! After what seemed like hours of effort, I arrived at the store, only to find that the shaman was not there until the next day. I made an appointment and came back the next day, breathless and impatient.

We sat at a private table outside the store. She opened a tea towel and spread coca leaves on it. She chose five who she thought were representative of me, and told me what she saw before even asking me what I wanted to know or getting any information about me. I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that the world is my home and that I must continue to travel, to which my heart leaps with joy. Having chosen a full time travel life, it was wonderful to be validated. She also told me that my head and my heart had to work in harmony – this is something that I have started working on since I left my “normal life” to travel, and again, this. made me feel seen and recognized.

One thing I was uncomfortable with was getting a bottle of San Pedro cactus plant drops that she said would help my head and heart work together. I tried the drops several times and felt strange. Reading this I learned that they are hallucinogens. I stopped taking them, and the bottle accidentally spilled in my bag, so there you go!

The second shaman I saw was somewhat disappointing. I found it in a shaman’s shop on one of the main streets of Cusco. The price was almost as high as in America and too expensive. I complained and at least got a discount. She seemed a bit exhausted and I didn’t feel the same connection with her that I had with the Medicine Woman. Nonetheless, she also confirmed that I was on the right track with my life, after so much anxiety about changing it.

Train in Aguas Calientes, Peru.
Train in Aguas Calientes, Peru (Photo credit: Heather Markel)

The third shaman, in Aguas Calientes, was my favorite. A friend told me about him, but I had a hard time finding him. I walked up the street I was directed to, but couldn’t find the store he worked in. I tried two different days, looking right and left, very carefully and slowly the second time around. Still, I haven’t found it. I resigned to giving up, turned around and found the store right in front of me. Once inside, I immediately loved the energy and learned that the owner made most of the jewelry there. I bought a necklace representing Mother Earth and I still wear it today. I inquired about the shaman, Ignacio, and the owner called him. Ignacio arrived 10 minutes later. He only spoke Spanish. I could have had an interpreter, but I decided to fly away.

The other two shamans focused more on the readings, but Ignacio did a healing energy cleanse with me. His energy was so strong that when he placed a stone in my hand, I felt his pulse. I hadn’t told him anything about me and he made a point of doing some work on my back and neck, after which the pain from the herniated discs that I hadn’t told him about eased.

Ignacio taught me that I should spend more time in nature and listen to it, and we agreed that ayahuasca was not the way for me. (How ironic that I was gifted 2 years later in New Zealand, mostly surrounded by nature and learning.)

I was intrigued that three different shamans had such similar things to tell me on my life path without knowing anything about me. Now, 2 years after meeting them, much of what they told me still rings true. I was also happy to be guided by Ignacio not to take ayahuasca. This made my decision fair. If I had to repeat the experience, I would trust my intuition more, which would have meant not meeting the second shaman. Otherwise I would absolutely go back to the Herbal Medicine Woman and see Ignacio again, who truly felt like part of ancient Peru and in integrity with the land and its practices. Love that to my knowledge you can’t find it on a website, just by recommendation. I’m glad I worked with different types of shamans so I was able to have both a reading experience and a healing energy experience.

If you are planning a trip to Peru and want to do ayahuasca or meet a shaman, be sure to do your research. As in any country, there are honest people and less honest people.

Here are a few tips :

Ask for recommendations

Speak with people you know who have been to Peru and worked with a shaman to find someone you can trust.

Don’t do ayahuasca alone

Especially if you are traveling alone, you want to make sure you have a friend with you. When you do ayahuasca, you have no control over your body (this includes physical waste). You’ll also be in a high state for a while and will need to make sure you’re working with someone who isn’t taking advantage of you.

Realize Ayahuasca is sacred, but not everyone treats it this way

I have learned that the real way to use this herb is to undergo a 2 week strict cleanse which prepares your body for the experience. You should ideally work with a shaman who gets to know you personally to understand what dosage is right for you, as an individual. Sadly, a market has been created for westerners who wish to fly for their weekend fix of ayahuasca. While a lot of people have some amazing ideas from the experience, it’s still a substance that not everyone is doing well with. Make sure you do your research thoroughly before choosing who to trust.

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