Mayantuyacu is a plant healing center located in the Peruvian Amazon several hours journey from the city of Pucallpa. It sits on a picturesque stream where near-boiling hot springs blend with cool water flowing down to the Ucayali River. The founder and “maestro” of Mayantuyacu is Juan Flores, who National Geographic called “one of the more famous curanderos in Peru” in a December 2017 article. Maestro Flores has been written about by Jeremy Narby, Robert Tindall, and others, and he is the subject of the documentary Tonkiri from Jim Sanders and André Clément. The extraordinary beauty of Mayantuyacu combined with the reputation of its maestro has made it one of the most renowned Ayahuasca centers in the world. With interest in Mayantuyacu booming, I was inspired to write some practical tips to help new visitors better prepare and adapt to the unique culture of the center.
The guidelines below are based on my experiences at Mayantuyacu and at times I veer into personal opinion. You should consult with Mayantuyacu staff regarding any serious questions or issues. Once you’re there, you can visit Maestro’s office at the top of the hill and speak with him directly. Another excellent resource for information at Mayantuyacu is Maestro’s foreign students, who stay for weeks or months at a time and often speak English. You will know them because they are part of the regular round of singers in Ayahuasca ceremony.
Why are you going?
People travel to Mayantuyacu for a variety of reasons. Some seek treatment for serious afflictions and others come to connect with plants and cleanse their mind and body. There are students studying Amazonian plant healing in depth and others who come to Mayantuyacu to experience Ayahuasca for the first time. You may be someone who feels healthy in life and wonder why you are being called to visit a plant healing center. To this, I say that the modern world is sick and none of us can avoid taking on some of that sickness. Mayantuyacu teaches a better way—based on love, humility, interconnection, and respect for the natural order—and visitors take this way of being back home where it is sorely needed.
There are patients who have successfully treated cancer at Mayantuyacu, but some diseases are too advanced for a cure through plant medicines. An instructive story can be found in the personal history of Maestro, who once seriously injured his leg in a hunter’s trap. His life was saved by modern medical care, but his leg only recovered when he treated it with medicine he made from a Came Renaco tree that grew on the present site of Mayantuyacu. Plant medicine is most reliable for prevention and recovery. Visitors seeking help with major ailments or disease should consult with Mayantuyacu to determine whether a visit is advisable.
Mayantuyacu is LGBTQ friendly.
Planning your visit
The website of Mayantuyacu has various useful information in Spanish. Mayantuyacu recommends that visitors stay for at least 15 days, but they do make exceptions and allow shorter stays. Keep in mind that coming from the north it will take time for you to adjust to the Amazonian climate and the clean diet offered at the center. In the first few days, you may feel sick and physically exhausted as your body acclimatizes and purges toxins. A stay of two weeks or longer will guarantee that you get the most out of your visit.
The website of Mayantuyacu has contact information (currently, the email is firstname.lastname@example.org). The preferred language of communication is Spanish. Once you are ready for the trip, Mayantuyacu will have you fill out a questionnaire. It is important that you disclose any medical issues and medication you are taking.
Preparing for your visit
Many ask whether a visit necessitates taking the vaccinations that many doctors recommend for a trip to Amazon. If your only stop in the Amazon is Mayantuyacu, vaccinations are not necessary. It is a place you will go to get better, not to get sick.
There are many opinions on how to best prepare for Ayahuasca ceremony, including eating a healthy, mostly vegetarian diet, and cessation of alcohol and any medication. Some people and traditions recommend sexual abstinence and not drinking coffee. The cessation of medication is most important and must be done weeks before participating in tobacco or Ayahuasca ceremonies. If there is a medication you cannot stop taking, you must consult with Mayantuyacu as to whether it is safe for you to participate in ceremonies.
Living, as many of us do, in cultures that have lost their connection to the natural order, psychological ailments such as anxiety and depression are endemic, as are the pharmaceuticals prescribed to mask their symptoms. A visit to Mayantuyacu can permanently cure these problems by unveiling meaning and purpose in your life and teaching you how to adopt a healthier lifestyle. It is extremely important that you cease taking antidepressants and similar medications well before coming to Mayantuyacu as they are known to react adversely with Ayahuasca. You may be willing to take a risk for your own healing, but remember that your death or serious injury would be a setback for Mayantuyacu in its mission to heal many others.
Regarding diet, the sooner you begin eating clean the more you will get out of your visit to Mayantuyacu. Avoid salt, sugar, spicy and processed foods, and eat mostly vegetables and grains. Chicken and fish is ok. At the very least, eat clean and stop drinking alcohol two days before your arrival.
Most of Mayantuyacu’s staff does not speak English, but there will be people who can translate for you. It is worth taking the time to learn a little Spanish. There are free apps that can teach you a lot in little time.
Packing your bag
When packing for Mayantuyacu, imagine you are going camping. In the rainy season, which corresponds roughly with the north’s fall and winter, torrential downpours can come every day. Clothes that dry quickly, a poncho and rain boots will make your life easier. In general, it is about 90 F (33 C) during the day and about 70 F (21 C) at night. That means t-shirts and shorts during the day, and long pants and perhaps a sweatshirt or other extra layer at night. Bring a swimsuit to take advantage of Mayantuyacu’s incredible variety of swimming holes.
Shoes that you can slip in and out of easily are good for visits to the bathroom during Ayahuasca ceremony. Many people choose to wear white to ceremony, but this is not required. Do bring a ceremony outfit that you don’t wear during the day so that it stays dry and clean. Likewise, it is good to keep a clean outfit for your trip home. You can hand wash your clothes at Mayantuyacu and many do.
Bring a water bottle. A flashlight is also an essential item and it should have a dim setting so that you can use it to get around in Ayahuasca ceremonies without disturbing others. Bring a journal to write in. In the dining building, there is a library of books left by visitors.
You are going to the Amazon and there will be bugs. Big ones that crawl on you and small ones that bite you. Bring a non-toxic bug repellant and perhaps some lotion to treat the bites you will inevitably incur. I found that if you don’t scratch mosquito bites, they soon go away.
Bring some soles to tip the canoe pilot and to buy crafts from the Shipibo artisans who regularly visit Mayantuyacu.
Mayantuyacu will provide you with a pillow, sheets, and a blanket.
Traveling to and from Mayantuyacu
Mayantuyacu operates an office in Pucallpa. Visitors flying into Pucallpa are picked up at the airport and taken to the office. At this time, you will pay for your visit with cash or bank transfer, if you have not already arranged a bank transfer. Mayantuyacu currently costs US$100 a day. You will also need to pay for the several hours' journey to Mayantuyacu, which costs about 100 soles depending on how many other visitors ride with you.
There are two ways to and from Mayantuyacu: all the way in by car if there has been dry weather for a couple of days; or by car, motorized canoe, and a one-hour uphill hike through the jungle if the weather is rainy. Rain boots are useful for the hike and can be purchased in the town where you board the canoe. The canoe pilot is paid an additional 20 soles or so.
The rooms at Mayantuyacu are simple and often open to the outside and you will sleep under a mosquito net. Keep everything off the ground to keep it dry. Bugs will pass through your room and things can get a bit muddy when it’s rainy. But the simplicity is a benefit because it helps you better connect with the jungle environment, which is therapeutic and should be an aim of your visit. Be self-reliant as much as you can and friendly to the staff. You are all in it together.
There is running water at Mayantuyacu. Water comes from the hot springs and is good to drink. Put toilet paper and feminine products in the trash, not the toilet. There are showers in various buildings, including on the first floor of the large building across the bridge from the maloca (ceremony building). There is an area below the dining building where water is siphoned from the river and you can bathe behind a screen and wash your clothes here.
Food at Mayantuyacu is simple, with no salt or dairy. Occasionally, chicken or fish may be offered. There is often fruit available in the dining building if you would like a snack. There is tea and instant coffee.
For many, Mayantuyacu is a sacred place where the plants and the divine come together to heal humanity, so you should be as respectful as you might be in visiting a more conventional holy site.
It is not unusual to meet a stranger at Mayantuyacu and find you have a mutual friend or some other kind of unlikely connection. Synchronicity, which pushes through the veil whenever consciousness is being healed, is an omnipresent phenomenon at Mayantuyacu. But despite the bond you feel with other visitors, Mayantuyacu is not a singles' club. There may be unattached women or men who are there to heal sexual trauma or strengthen their relationships back home. Give people the peace and quiet they need to heal.
Maestro says that the plants teach humility, and humility should be something for which you strive during your visit. A big ego and demand for attention will get in the way of your and others' healing. Wait, you might be thinking, I am sure that I am the “chosen one." That may be so, but know there are many chosen ones at this juncture in history being called to cooperate and save our species from itself. Without humility, your spiritual advancement will be limited.
On the first or second morning after your arrival, you will come to the maloca for a tobacco ceremony that is a purgative and prepares your body to receive Ayahuasca and other plant medicine. They ask that you arrive promptly at 7 am. The ceremony will likely be led by one of Maestro’s apprentices. You will drink a cup of tobacco-infused water and then commence drinking water to bring yourself to purge. Drink a lot of water. You may purge sufficiently after five minutes or it might take several hours to get everything out. If you are not purging, you may be given a second cup. At the end of the ceremony, Maestro or one of his apprecentices will perform a soplado healing in which they blow rose water and tobacco smoke on you.
Visiting Maestro, plant diets, and mapacho
A good time to visit Maestro for a consultation is sometime after the tobacco ceremony. Recruit a translator if you don’t speak any Spanish. He has an office in his home at the top of the hill and will welcome you in upon seeing you.
He will ask you why you have come to Mayantuyacu and answer any questions you have. Guests staying longer than a week will be given another plant medicine to take during their stay. Many of the medicines are made from the bark of trees that grow in the area. You will take a cup of the liquid three times a day. While these plant medicines are not psychedelic, you may feel certain effects. I took Tamamuri, known as a whole body and mind healer, which was somewhat sedative. Other medicines may be stimulating. Trust in Maestro to prescribe you exactly what you need. In addition to his more than 50 years of experience as a healer, he is highly intuitive and has a direct line of communication with the plants.
Maestro also operates a bodega out of his office. If you are a cigarette smoker, by all means buy some mapacho cigarettes to smoke while you are at Mayantuyacu. Mapacho is the name for a more potent strain of tobacco used by Amazonian healers, and it is also for sale at the office in Pucallpa. Mapacho smoke is used to activate Ayahuasca and for soplado healing during ceremony and tobacco is generally viewed as an important plant that helps regulate other plants. Mapacho has no chemicals or additives but is strong and should not be inhaled deeply, much like a cigar. At Mayantuyacu, non-smokers are often inspired to smoke mapachos, but keep in mind that mapacho has a large dose of nicotine and is addictive.
Ayahuasca ceremonies occur in the evening every two or three days. There is no dinner on the night of a ceremony.
Arrive to the maloca by 8:30 pm and stand in the doorway until one of the staff tells you where to sit. Palo santo wood is burned to create a fragrant smoke that cleanses the space and participants. At 9 pm the Maestro will arrive and begin the ceremony. A cup of Ayahuasca is brought to everyone and then the lights are turned off and there is silence. After a time, Maestro begins singing an icaro to call up the plant spirits. The a cappella singing will continue in a circle around the room with pre-selected singers that include Maestro’s assistants and students as well as guest shamans. Keep as silent as you can during the ceremony.
If you don't feel the effects of the Ayahuasca, you are welcome to ask Maestro for a second cup. Wait for 45 minutes to an hour after you drank the first cup as it may take time to take effect, but do go before the third hour. If you feel the impulse to have a second cup, just go rather than debating. Wait until the Maestro is done singing and sit down in front of him. He will give you as much as he thinks you need.
Maestro makes a pure and subtle medicine. At other Ayahuasca centers, the medicine may be supplemented with Toé or other plants to guarantee a psychedelic punch for Ayahuasca tourists. Such practices are dangerous. At Mayantuyacu it may take several ceremonies before you have the kind of visionary psychedelic experience you’ve read about. But even if your night is mild you can be sure that Maestro’s medicine is healing you. What matters most is not the ceremony, but how it changes you for the better in the weeks and months after your stay at Mayantuyacu.
Don’t try and force matters by taking a third cup. The Ayahuasca vine is increasingly rare and Maestro once said in an interview that he believed Ayahuasca was going to disappear after completing its mission to heal humanity. The less you take the more will be available for others, including for the indigenous people of the Amazon who have less access to their traditional medicine as a result of international interest in Ayahuasca.
You may have an intense experience on Ayahuasca and travel to dark corners of your psyche as part of your healing experience. Do not resist. Jump into the monster’s mouth with faith that Ayahuasca is showing you what you need to heal, and will not give you more than what you can take. Drink some water and listen to the icaros if you are feeling overwhelmed. During my most difficult moments, I’ve actually found it helpful to think of being in a dentist’s chair undergoing an uncomfortable procedure. In that situation, you would remain still in the chair until the doctor was done with their work. It should be the same with Ayahuasca.
Don’t resist purging. In Maestro’s native language of Asháninka, Ayahuasca is called Camarampi, which roughly translates to “purging snakes.” A purge removes something negative from your being forever. It is a myth that purging lessens the effects of Ayahuasca. My strongest Ayahuasca experiences have been after a purge and the release that it brings.
Around midnight, Maestro’s apprentices visit each person and perform the soplado in which rose water and mapacho smoke is blown on participants. Ceremony then continues as long as people feel the medicine, usually to about 2 am.
After soplado, the floor is open for any participant to sing. If you think you might want to offer a song in gratitude to the plants, prepare one in advance. You can learn one of Maestro’s icaros, which can be found here, or another icaro. You can also sing a more conventional song or one you have especially composed. Just make sure that whatever you sing is soothing because some people may feel the medicine late into the night. Signal that you are about to sing by taking an audible intake of breath.
When the Ayahuasca wears off, you may want to engage in conversations with others. Make sure you whisper so that you don’t disturb participants still feeling the medicine.
An important part of the healing process at Mayantuyacu is taking the time for reflection and rest. The center is ideally equipped for this purpose. You can rest in a hammock in the maloca, chat with other visitors, or explore the river.
There are waterfalls and a myriad of swimming holes up the river of varying temperatures. Walking up the river requires some clamoring over rocks and you should take care and wear shoes. In bare feet, you will slip easily on wet rocks.
Write in a journal and take time to yourself. You can also get to know the jungle, which is reaching out to you in ceremony, through hikes and engaging with plants.
Other than the ceremonies, there is no set programming at Mayantuyacu. The philosophy of Maestro is to get out of the way and let the plants do their work.
Integration continues after you leave Mayantuyacu. If you are heading straight home, take a few more days off before resuming your normal life. Go for long walks, meditate or do yoga, and continue to eat well. It is a great opportunity to begin new beneficial practices and break bad habits. Jordana Grader has written guides to integration that can be found here.
In your walks up the river, you will notice various jungle huts, which are called tambos. Maestro’s students often stay in tambos. The isolation helps them build a connection to the plants and inspires them to compose their own icaros. People staying in tambo eat a much lighter diet so that the plant medicines have a stronger effect. They return to Mayantuyacu for ceremonies and may avoid interacting with others as they focus on bringing the spirit of the forest into ceremony. They typically spend ceremony nights in their regular room.
If you are interested in staying in a tambo, speak to Maestro about it and then let the kitchen know which number tambo you will be staying in. Boys will run your breakfast and lunch up the river—there is no dinner—and they will make sure you are equipped with water, toilet paper, candles, and matches. Tip them with a mapacho if you have some.