As of November 1st, residents of all American states will be permitted to enter Costa Rica if they have the appropriate paperwork and proof of a negative COVID-19 test; Canadians are already welcome with correct paperwork. The United States Embassy posted on Monday that those wanting to visit Costa Rica should reconsider given the strikes and traffic blockades, as well as the increase in COVID cases. But there is one tourist group that is already filling up hotels and tours: Ayahuasca Tourism.
Known as the tea, the vine, or la purga, ayahuasca has become popular among those seeking a higher consciousness, or perhaps help in recovering from addiction, anxiety or depression. Ayahuasca ceremonies are now part of wellness-based travel, and Costa Rica has at least 20 different facilities offering such ceremonies. One such facility explains, “Ayahuasca is a doorway to inner worlds that allows access to higher states of consciousness and experiences of spiritual awakening.” This is heady stuff, just what the world needs now as we emerge from a pandemic and economic collapse at once.
The term ayahuasca is from the Quechuan language of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. Aya means spirit or soul in Quechua, and huasca means woody vine. The tea is made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub, combined with mashed Banisteriopsis caapi vines, that are boiled in water by a shaman (curandero in Spanish), then strained to create a brown tea with powerful hallucinogenic properties. When combined, these two plants form a powerful psychedelic brew that affects the central nervous system, leading to an altered state of consciousness than can include hallucinations, out-of-body experiences and euphoria. The chemical DMT is the active ingredient of the tea.
The ceremonies usually occur at night, in a space that has been prepared and blessed by the shaman, who will also serve as the guide during the ceremony, often with an assistant. Everyone drinks a small cup of the ayahuasca that was specially prepared by the shaman, and waits for the magic to begin. Effects begin in 20-60 minutes, and can last up to six hours. The shaman monitors the participants, who are usually reclining on cots. People report re-experiencing long-forgotten memories, as well as intense euphoria, and strong visual and auditory hallucinations, and sometimes profound fear and paranoia. Almost everyone experiences vomiting, some with diarrhea. It is believed that this purging releases pent-up emotions and negative energy.
Commented one ayahuasca advocate, “They say that ayahuasca is like twenty years of psychotherapy.”
People who have consumed ayahuasca report having mystical or religious experiences, as well as spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, and deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can be. They often feel they are reborn, or spiritually re-awakened. And it seems that the indigenous people of several South American countries have been aware of this transformative brew for 1,000 years or more.
In 2019, an archeologist found in a cave in Bolivia, a 1,000 year-old shamanic pouch made from three fox snouts, carefully sewn together, containing the remnants of almost the exact same combination of leaves and vines used in modern ayahuasca ceremonies. Also found was other evidence of the ceremony which seems to have followed the ayahuasca consumption – the same ceremony 1,000 years ago as today, it seems.
Participants are usually instructed to prepare in advance for the ayahuasca experience, by eating vegetarian food for several weeks, and avoiding cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and sex, in order to free the body of toxins. It is common for both blood pressure and heartrate to increase after drinking ayahuasca. Some people have had frightening and overwhelming physical reactions to the tea, and there have even been a few deaths reported. Most facilities offering the ceremonies do not have medical staff on site, so ayauasca tourism may be considered in the same category as whitewater rafting, surfing, and other high risk activities.
For those wanting a psychedelic experience that might be life-altering, Costa Rica may have what you are looking for, and ayahuasca is legal, although not something necessarily celebrated by Ticos. Prices are not cheap, ranging from $1,500 to $2,000 and up, depending on length of stay and menu of ceremonies selected. As always, one should carefully research the program selected, as well as the facility. You could embark upon a new life, free from emotional baggage and challenges from your past
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