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From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: Shamanic Tourism in Iquitos, Peru

Fotiou, Evgenia. From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: Shamanic Tourism in Iquitos, Peru. PhD Dissertation in Anthropology. University of Wisconsin, 2010.

This dissertation examines the cultural construction of ayahuasca (an Amazonian hallucinogen) and shamanism, their manifestations in the western imagination and experience, and their localized experience in the city of Iquitos, Peru, in the context of the phenomenon of shamanic tourism. Shamanic tourism has flourished in the last few years and is promoted internationally by several agents both local and western. The authors embarked on this research in order to answer two questions: first, what are the motives of westerners who participate in ayahuasca ceremonies, and second, how do they conceptualize and integrate their experiences in their existing worldview. Iquitos, Peru was chosen as a research site because as a gateway to the eco- and shamanic tourism serves as a location where different cultural constructions of ayahuasca co-exist, namely the urban mestizo and western, it can offer a better perspective on the appropriation of ayahuasca by westerners.

The author places the phenomenon of shamanic tourism within the historical context of the relationship of the West with the exotic and spiritual “other”, a history that has gone hand in hand with colonialism and exploitative relationships. She argues that shamanic tourism is not an anomaly but is consistent with the nature of shamanism, which has historically been about intercultural exchange, as shamanic knowledge and experience has been sought cross-culturally. In addition, in the West, esoteric knowledge has often been sought in faraway places, thus this intercultural exchange is also consistent with Western tradition. The research has shown that western interest in ayahuasca is much more than a pretext for drug use but rather is often perceived as a pilgrimage and should be looked at in the context of a new paradigm, or rather a shift in the discourse about plant hallucinogens, a discourse that tackles them as sacraments, in sharp contrast to chemical drugs. Ritual in this context is instrumental but not as something that reproduces social structure; rather it fosters self transformation while at the same time challenging the participants’ very cultural constructs and basic assumptions about the world.

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Morgan Maher is an artist, writer, designer and researcher exploring food, medicine, plants, art and music.


  1. Natalie Connors says

    I am a 60 year old woman..who is finally ready to face the pain and the fear of dying! I’m a working woman holding the same job for almost 40 years..most of myco workers and even some friends could not fathom that Im going for hard work and healing!.This is something just for me. I’ve been praying and begging God to help and this is the answer I have recieved..I can’t wait..Im nervous and very excited..even sleeping in a hammock ..not exactly a 4 star hotel!! Thank you for having this imformation available ..I have been readind the Stan Grof and Terrance Macenna sp and anything I can get my hands on. I support whole heartly the work that is being done on behalf of saving rain forstts as well as world awarness!!. My psycoligist husband is very intreated too! he is a healer and this is something new to him.I would love to get on a mailing list for any info. I think Mother God will guide me thru some tough facing my fears,,and I m grateful to the soul vine and death divine teachers. ( at this point I dont know exactly what it will be like..but I already want to bring my 19yr daughter to heal HER as well. I have total respest for this journey thanks and drop me a line..sorry for my ” chattiness’ Im just so enthused!! yours truly…Natalie

  2. “I would love to get on a mailing list for any info.”


    The forums at ( are a good source of information, and the experiences people have at South American shamanic centers is a frequent topic of discussion. You may want to check them out.

  3. I’m heading to Anaconda Cosmica on June 2nd. I’ll spend 10 days at the center before I return to the states.

  4. Jake says

    hi i was wondering with all the interest it seems in ayahusaca, are there any groups/tribes/organisations involved in the conservation of the plant species that produce ayahuasca, if so are there any details of where i could help?

  5. garry pollack says

    When I read that…U R finally ready to face the pain and the fear of dying! & then that U woiked @ the same job 40 years! No, U were finally ready to face the pain and the fear of never having lived! Epicurus says:“Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And once it does come, we no longer exist.” What really concerns us is life—unlived!!! Hope U discovered this some time back in 2011!

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