Is Peru’s Psychedelic Potion a Cure or a Curse?
Despite the risks, foreigners are converging on Iquitos, a city of 500,000 in Peru’s northeastern Amazon, paying up to $2,500 a week to drink the elixir. Carmen Rojas, the head of the local tourism office, says that she knows of 22 certified jungle lodges that offer ayahuasca. But local tour operators speak of dozens more, including almost 100 ayahuasca centers along one 60-mile stretch of highway. They estimate that as many as 80,000 people a year come to Iquitos for ayahuasca.
One operator, Pulse Tours, says that its clients are mainly Americans and Canadians but also include people from as far away as Australia, China, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Some longtime ayahuasca proponents in Iquitos lament the recent influx of tourism dollars, which they feel has corrupted the ritual and put some foreigners at risk from fly-by-night operators in the burgeoning industry.
“People have got way too careless about all of this,” said Howard Lawler, 68, a Kentucky native who runs Spirit Quest Shamanic Sanctuary, one of the longest-running ayahuasca centers here. “It is never to be taken for any recreational purpose. It is a very serious medicine.”