Attending an ayahuasca retreat is a big decision that should be approached with a great deal of consideration and respect. It's not the type of thing that you should just google and book the first place that pops up. To ensure that you have the most potential for a positive and healing experience, you need to do your due diligence.
If you're just starting to research ayahuasca retreats in Costa Rica, you'll see there are many to choose from. It might feel overwhelming when you start trying to figure out which is the right retreat for you. How does one go about finding the best ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica? There are so many variables that will influence your final decision. You'll find pricing ranging from $1000- $8000, groups ranging from 5 - 100, and varying degrees of facilitator experience.
You might find some centers boasting ridiculous 'miracle rates' to the accuracy of the second decimal just to get your attention and if you find yourself reading a 'best' list, ask yourself what connection the author has to the retreat in the #1 slot. There is a good chance they are the owner of the retreat or have a financial incentive or personal bias. What I can promise you is that no 'best' list has been written by a neutral party that attended every retreat in Costa Rica and ranked them based on experience. Even if that was the case, it wouldn't necessarily mean that whatever retreat they ranked as best overall would be the best for you.
This guide can help you cut through all the marketing tactics and curated Instagram pages to determine which retreat will really benefit you the most.
I do not believe there is one single ayahuasca retreat that is best for everyone. There are many unique life circumstances that one must take into consideration when choosing an ayahuasca retreat. Some of these factors include family life, career, finances, and schedule availability. I've created this list highlighting the 5 most relevant factors to consider when choosing an ayahuasca retreat because, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to find a retreat that will be able to best support you in your healing.
5 Most Important Factors in Finding the Best Ayahuasca Retreat in Costa Rica
1. Experience/Facilitators - The first thing is to determine how qualified the facilitators/shaman are to guide the ceremony. How long have they been doing the work? Where were they trained? What traditions do they follow? (the big 3 are Peruvian(Shipibo), Brazilian(Santo Diame), and Colombian(Yage) If the ceremonies follow Peruvian traditions, ask how many and which master plants have been dieted. What are the ceremonies like? How long are the ceremonies, is the music live or recorded? Are the same facilitators at every ceremony? Do the facilitators/shaman drink the medicine with the group? These are all great questions to ask if you can't find the information available on the website.
The facilitator should always drink the medicine at every ceremony. The whole function of a shaman is to bridge the spiritual gap between this world and beyond. If they are not drinking, it's likely because they aren't properly trained and would not be able to function as a guide under the effects of the medicine.
The music should always be live, not recorded. A recorded song can not invoke the spirits. When someone who is trained with the medicine sings during the ceremony, they are calling to the spirits of plants they've worked with or to spiritual allies for a specific purpose, sometimes for protection, for healing, for strength, etc. A playlist cannot communicate with the spirits.
2. Group Size - Ayahuasca retreats can range in size from 1 to 100 participants. That is not an exaggeration. Some retreats will really have ceremonies with up to or over 100 participants. People end up at ayahuasca retreats because they want to work through something. All that energy (and purging) is being released into a single energetic container and you will be sharing that space. Think about how many people you feel comfortable sitting with because it will have a huge impact on your experience. The ayahuasca experience is personal, yes, but has a collective element. Due to the nature of shared energy at the retreats, we often see our groups unintentionally work through specific themes during the ceremonies and because they are able to get to know one another on an individual basis, they are able to support each other as well as feel supported on their our own journey. It's a beautiful dynamic that is impossible to achieve when numbers begin to exceed 20 participants. You just can't get to know that many people in a meaningful way in a week.
An ideal range is between 10 - 20 participants. Less than 10 and a sense of community can get lost, more than 20 and there is too much energy to the point of being chaotic regardless of how many facilitators are on hand. More than 30 participants and profit is the priority at the sacrifice of the guest experience. More than 50 and well, you get the idea.
3. Prices/Costs - Costa Rica is very expensive and some costs associated with operating in this country cant be mitigated. Factors such as rent, staff salaries, utilities, food, transportation, fees, and medicine can't be reduced and must be considered when centers set their pricing structures. How many participants in a group could also impact that number. For example, if a retreat has small groups, there is less overall expense to operate but also less overall income to distribute toward those expenses. If a group takes 35 people, they might be able to offer a more economical price because they have a higher overall profit margin. However, there are certainly cases where the price of the retreat is not justifiable by any means and is driven solely for profit which can become pretty evident when you start to do the simple math of participants x average retreat price. There are many other factors that can impact pricing including accommodation types (shared, private, camping, standard, glamping, and luxury) and additional services offered (Yoga, massage, trips).
The standard (and fair) range for a 7-day ayahuasca retreat with 3 ceremonies in Costa Rica in 2023 is between $2500 - $5000.
More expensive does not equal a better experience. We are conditioned to think that a higher-priced item intrinsically has a greater value, while this is usually true to some degree, it is not always the case. There are a number of factors that could impact pricing.
Make sure you have clarity on what is included in the retreat price. Many retreats charge an additional fee for ceremonial work that is not factored into the list price.
4. Safety & Reputation - In regard to safety we consider not only physical but also emotional, and energetic safety. If you are considering an ayahuasca retreat it's very likely you've heard the horror stories of sexual abuse and even deaths occurring at retreat centers around the world. I wish I could say those stories were exaggerated but unfortunately, they are true and fairly commonplace in the psychedelic community, especially in Peru where the culture is very different from that in the West. Costa Rica is no exception and there have been stories of misconduct at various retreats. Check the reviews and filter from the lowest rating first. Then check other community resources, like Facebook ayahuasca groups and Reddit threads. Another thing to consider is unethical practices, which include pushing sales when people are in a very raw and vulnerable state. Vice even put out an article detailing multiple accounts of abuse and misconduct at one of the largest retreats in Costa Rica. All this is to say simply, do your due diligence. It might require a little digging, but the information is available if you look for it. Ayahuasca can strip you down into your most fragile state so it is extremely important that you feel completely safe, secure, and nurtured in the environment that you choose.
Speak to a real human before you book. There is an intuitive response when you speak with someone directly that can help you determine if a retreat is a good fit for you. The approach and intimacy of the booking process will reflect the approach and intimacy of the retreat.
Only book with a place that has a medical screening process and safety protocols in place.
Verify there is a least one woman facilitator or assistant on site and in the ceremonies even if you are a man. This will reveal what considerations have been taken overall to ensure the comfort and safety of all participants and what you can expect to receive, even if you are male. There should be a balance between masculine and feminine.
5. Extras - What additional or supportive therapies are available? While extras shouldn't be what determines if you do or do not attend a particular retreat, it is something to consider when deciding what experience you want to have. Retreats may include yoga, breathwork, meditation, massage, integration circles, other plant medicines, kambo, temazcal (sweat lodge), sound therapy, nature excursions, etc. Some retreats are all-inclusive while others let you choose and add on specific activities or therapies for an additional fee. Some include transportation, while others don't. All things to consider when factoring in pricing as well.
The retreat should always have ayahuasca at the heart. Make sure that you are comfortable with the structure and schedule of the retreat. Ayahuasca requires a lot of energy and you don't want to exhaust yourself. Always reserve time for processing and reflection.
5-MEO (Bufo Alvarius) and ayahuasca should not be combined. There is conflicting evidence of safety but there has been one death associated with 5MEO and ayahuasca use.
Avoid mixing plant medicines - this may be a little controversial since it has become fairly commonplace to offer San Pedro (Huachuma) at ayahuasca retreats, but it is our experience and opinion that when you go to retreat, you make a commitment and enter a relationship with the spirit of ayahuasca, and the integrity of that bond should be prioritized and respected through the journey from start to end.
I hope this guide helps you determine what you should be looking for in a retreat and clarify what is most important to you when choosing a retreat experience. If you have any questions regarding our ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica, please reach out.