Machu Picchu has always been held sacred, but spiritual tourism has burgeoned in recent years. Luxury hotels near what are now highly-impressive ruins are increasingly calling upon Andean shamans to cleanse their guests spiritually, renew wedding vows and lead ceremonies that give gratitude to Mother Earth.
Even during the Incan empire, shamans didn’t perform marriages.
Customers can interact with shamans as part of a group or individually. One example is the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge’s Mystical Ceremony, a package that features a private cleansing ceremony, an hour of meditation and an aromatherapy massage.
At the Sumaq Machu Picchu hotel, shaman, Willko Apasa takes guests on early morning hikes to explore the sacred side of Machu Picchu, leaving them with a better understanding of Incan customs.
Along with the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel and the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, the Sumaq hosts a “Payment to the Earth” ritual conducted by a shaman which thanks Pachamama – Mother Earth.
Guests share their deepest aspirations with the apus – mountain gods – by blowing on three coca leaves and making a burnt offering of cereals, confetti, herbs, sweets and wool.
Coca is a traditional Peruvian symbol of community and respect. Some rituals see it chewed, which is to be avoided if you have an upcoming drugs test at work. This ritual is part of daily life for many locals. The ceremony lasts for 40 minutes.
Outside of five star hotels, one of the major attractions of psychedelic tourism in Peru is ayahuasca tea.
This tea centres on a thick liquid that is a plant mixture prepared by shamans and imbibed as part of a spiritual ritual. After taking it, you may experience hours of mind-altering visions.
Or you might puke. It has been praised by Tori Amos, Paul Simon and Sting, although a bad trip is dreadful and it was connected to the death of a US teenager.
Ayahuasca contains the hallucinogen, dimethyltryptamine. While legal in Peru and other south American nations, it’s not in almost all Western countries.
Pilgrims aim to confront demons such as depression or alcoholism, or perhaps just get high. Thousands of dollars can be shelled out in the process.
Shamans are unlicensed, and there have been tales of negligence, theft, assault and even rape.
In the case of the American teenager, the “shaman” had a criminal record and often allowed clients to make their own way back to their huts while under the influence as he watched soap operas.
Cover photo by Tony Makepeace