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Uncensored Review of Soltara Ayahuasca Retreat Center

Soltara Healing Center is an all-inclusive plant medicine retreat center in Costa Rica that offers ayahuasca ceremonies grounded in the Shipibo tradition, and led by resident Shipibo healers. Located on the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula, just 90 minutes away from the beach town of Santa Teresa, Soltara offers seclusion from the hustle and bustle of seaside tourism, with access to a semi-private beach.

Due to its relaxed laws around the use of psychoactive plants, Costa Rica has become an ayahuasca retreat hot spot that’s so much easier for North Americans to get to than Peru, Colombia, or Ecuador, due to the abundance of direct flights.

At any given time, one can find different ayahuasca ceremonies taking place in Costa Rica, from local ceremonies, to privately booked groups to destination retreat centers, like Soltara. Some retreats are new, and run by people with far more enthusiasm for ayahuasca than knowledge or experience. Other retreats are run by old-school plant medicine people, with strong ties to traditional lineages. With a diversity of offers, lineages and facilitation styles to choose from, the key to having a great ayahuasca retreat is to do your research so you know what exactly you will be stepping into.

I dropped in on Soltara during my second ayahuasca reconnaissance mission in Costa Rica, and I must say, it was an immense joy to be in a psychedelic retreat where I felt like I was among peers.

My Ayahuasca Experience (a.k.a. Why Listen to Me?)

I’m an ayahuasca snob and perennial ayahuasca tourist. I’ve been drinking ayahuasca for over 15 years, have accrued approximately 150 ceremonies (from terrible to fantastic), and tasted wide variety of ayahuasca brews (from awful to exquisite).

My ayahuasca experience spans 30+ different shamans and facilitators, seven indigenous tribes, several Brazilian churches, and a host of neoshamanic circles, in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Europe, the US, and Asia.

I’ve also been to Peru three times on extended stays – to Cuzco and the Sacred Valley, Iquitos, the capital of ayahuasca tourism, and the area around Pucallpa, home to the Shipibo.

Through the lens of this diverse experience, I’ve broken down all the key areas that will impact the quality of your stay, which I hope helps you make the best choice of ayahuasca retreat for you.

Soltara's sky deck is a great place to lounge between ayahuasca ceremonies
Soltara’s sky deck is a great place to lounge between ayahuasca ceremonies

Why Go to Soltara?

The main draw of going to Soltara is that you want to experience a Shipibo style ayahuasca ceremony with real Maestros, and with considerable more comfort, ease, and travel convenience than in the Peruvian Amazon. And get in some beach time.

Go to Soltara if you want to:

  • Experience Shipibo style ayahuasca ceremonies without the discomfort of sweltering jungle heat and swarms of mosquitoes
  • Learn about Shipibo culture and have it explained to you by experienced gringo facilitators in English
  • Have Shipibo healers repair your energy field through the power of icaro
  • Eat better food than what’s typically offered for ayahuasca dietas in the Amazon (rice, beans, and green plantains)
  • Be in a country where most of the locals speak English
  • Enjoy the beach
  • Have air conditioning and First World accommodation
  • Feel like you are on vacation, rather than roughing it
  • Expand and lock in your transformation with a psychotherapist-led integration program
  • Experience ayahuasca in a country where it’s not illegal

Why Not Go to Soltara?

Soltara might not be the ideal ayahuasca retreat center for you if:

  • You prefer to go straight to the Peruvian Amazon, be immersed in Shipibo culture
  • You wish to do plant medicine dietas with other Master Plants, like bobinsana, chiric sanango and tobacco
  • You prefer to hear music all night long, be it a Spotify playlist or an all-night long live music journey
  • Your price sensitivity skews more towards budget travel than resort

Soltara Ayahuasca Retreat Center has access to a semi-private beach
Soltara Ayahuasca Retreat Center has access to a semi-private ocean beach – which you can’t get in the Amazon!

What I Loved About Soltara

I’ve been tracking the globalization of ayahuasca for some time, and have a dim view of non-native providers who make money from ayahuasca, while knowing very little about harm reduction, legality, health risks, medical marketing ethics or social justice issues.

At Soltara, I was impressed by what I discovered:

  • They have extremely knowledgeable core staff. In addition to having an Advisory Board of the top ayahuasca experts in the field (like Dennis McKenna and Dr. Gabor Maté), Soltara’s core staff was extremely knowledgeable and open to talking with me; many team members have spent years in the Peruvian Amazon themselves.

What a relief and joy it was to drop in with peers and be able to ask questions like:

“So what IS the difference, visually speaking, between black vine & cielo vine?”

In my not so humble opinion, any provider of psychoactive indigenous plants that can have a long-lasting impact on your body and mind, absolutely needs to have core staff that is knowledgeable about harm-reduction, legality, and culture. And unfortunately, many providers don’t.

  • No weird money issues beneath the surface. Profitability is always a concern with any business, especially one with such a high overhead like a high-end hotel resort. However, I did not catch any whiff of “How can we transform as many lives as possible AND make a lot of money while doing so?”

Which, sadly, I feel is an underlying driver in many ventures & providers that do not have a commitment to respecting culture or partnering with the indigenous, but rather focus on how ayahuasca can be used to “manifest what you want in life”.

  • Real Master healers on staff. I really needed a real shaman to patch my energy field back up… and this is exactly what the Shipibo Maestros can do.

In my prior ayahuasca retreat led by a gringo shaman, I had three semi-lucid nightmares in which I was attacked by negative entities. This is an occupational risk that comes with drinking ayahuasca with many different facilitators and shamans, some of them not so skilled or qualified.

Granted, I’ve been directly and blatantly attacked by negative entities after ceremony only one other time in 15 years of drinking ayahuasca. Still, it’s good to be able to get shamanic matters treated by a “professional shaman,” rather than talk about it with a psychotherapist.

The Ayahuasca

The ayahuasca Soltara served was a dark molasses, with a bitter plum after-taste that lingered in my taste buds long after the medicine went down the hatch. The tea felt heavier on the vine and tannins, making it a deeply purgative brew that the Shipibo seem to favor.

It’s the kind of medicine that snakes its way into the depths of your bowels so that it can wrap its tentacles around the most entrenched toxic impurities of body and mind hidden in the deepest Shadow of your soul, and violently eject all that no longer serves you in a violent, projectile blast. That kind of medicine.

It was not the “love and light” medicine favored by the Brazilians on the other side of the Amazon, oh no. But it’s the kind of medicine that is conducive to deep healing – healing trauma, healing physical disease. The kind I would choose to drink if I were faced with healing a chronic, debilitating disease.

I found this medicine to be slow-acting and difficult to process, with quite a body load, which I think was due to a tannin-heavy brew. Because of this, my desire to drink a second cup ended up being “zero” each night. On journeys two and three, I projectile-vomited before full visions had a chance to arise.

In the fourth ceremony, I finally figured out how to get this medicine to open up for me. I drank half a shot glass, instead of a full glass, which allowed me to hang out below the vomit threshold and control my urge to purge. It took my body over an hour to process the brew, which eventually opened up and allowed me to break through to visionary realms.

At Soltara Ayahuasca Retreat Center, ceremonies take place in a Peruvian-style maloca

At Soltara, ceremonies take place in a Peruvian-style maloca

The Shamans

Soltara has resident Shipibo Master healers that live on site, who rotate in from Peru every few months. Maestro Américo Lopez Sanchez and Maestra Olga Urquia Rengifo, a married couple, were the resident healers at the time of my stay.

You can read more about them here.

The Ceremonies

The four ceremonies were held in a Peruvian style maloca, in pitch black darkness. Mattresses were arranged in an outer circle, four mattresses were placed in the center for Maestro Américo and Maestra Olga, and the two facilitators.

The facilitation style was different than what I experienced in Peru. Rather than singing from a central location in the maloca, the Maestros would sing individual icaros to each participant, at the foot of their mattress, starting from opposite sides of the circle. Each participant would receive one icaro from Maestro Américo, and one icaro from Maestra Olga. Once everyone received their two icaros, the ceremony would close.

They did not have a dedicated opening prayer or closing prayer, which was surprising to me. You could totally miss the closing of the ceremony if you were in a deep visionary state, or fell asleep, which is what happened to me the first ceremony.

The first ceremony was a tester ceremony, whereby a lighter brew was served, to assess people’s responses. The tester medicine was extremely mild, so that I fell asleep and eventually woke up to an empty maloca around 3am.

After the first night, the medicine was boiled down to be twice as strong. The remaining three ceremonies followed the same facilitation format.

Retreat Programming

With the exception of early morning yoga and four integration talks, there wasn’t much else by way of programming. You have plenty of free time to read, lounge around, or hike down to the beach for a swim. This felt restful and spacious; without the mental clutter of heavy programming, it was easier to tune into my experience.

Both Rythmia and 1Heart Journeys were crammed with personal development programming, so that there was hardly any free time or space to just be and tune in. To me, to have to participate in back-to-back programming, in a sleep-deprived, psychedelic state, feels taxing in an “overscheduled gringo” kind of way.

Heavy programming in an ayahuasca retreat, to me, feels like it seeks to avoid the terror of having nothing to do (and thus having to face who you are). Or that it seeks to burn transformation and new neural pathways into one’s expanded psychedelic mind. Maybe it’s a little of both.

Accommodations

The accommodations I received was a First World hotel resort suite – sparkling clean, spacious, high-end, comfortable, with amazing balcony views and an ice-cold air conditioner.

Soltara also has more rustic cabins, which they call “eco-tambos”, that are nestled in the trees close to the maloca, that have no air conditioning and shared bathrooms. This is a more economical option than a suite.

The Food

The food was healthy, varied, and prepared in alignment with Shipibo dietary requirements – no salt, sugar, spices, over-ripe fruit, red meat or pork. Chicken, eggs and fish were on the menu. Coffee was not.

Being from Brazilian ayahuasca culture, where there pretty much is no dieta, I fantasized about how incredible the food would be with salt, seasoning (as well as avocados and hot sauce). Though bland and healthy, the menu was light-years better than anything you’d get in the Peruvian Amazon.
Soltara Ayahuasca Retreat Center offers healthy dieta-friendly food
Soltara offers healthy dieta-friendly food

Preparation & Onboarding

Soltara’s on-boarding process and preparation information was thorough and buttoned down. They sent out a medical intake form that was three pages long and very detailed, that guests needed to fill out prior to making travel arrangements and booking flights.

I thought this was both smart and necessary, since the risk of a guest lying about a contra-indicated medical condition significantly increases once they’ve financially invested in the trip, and especially if they’ve arrived in the country already. This medical screening process allows Soltara to assess any potential health risks sooner, and decline receiving an individual if dangerous contraindications are present.

Integration & Support

Included in your Soltara ayahuasca retreat is twelve months of ongoing integration group calls with a psychotherapist, who himself has had extensive ayahuasca experience in Peru, as well as one free private call. Additional private calls are available at a reduced rate.

To assist you in integrating your transformational ayahuasca experience with the default world, Soltara provides a thoughtful integration workbook, called The Hero’s Journal, and sends out 3 months of resource-filled integration support emails.

Social Responsibility

Soltara’s social responsibility commitment goes back to their time in Peru, where the founders were part of another center. Working with advisor Dennis McKenna, there are social and ecological development programs in Costa Rica. These include:

  • Permaculture and the creation of an ethnobotanical garden
  • Specialized retreat programs and promotions for veterans
  • Creating a platform for intercultural dialogues and indigenous voices.

Honestly, given that ayahuasca and this way of working ceremonially with it was shared with the world by indigenous people, any center that does not “give back” in a meaningful way is, in my honest opinion, out of integrity.

Soltara works with experienced & qualified Shipibo plant medicine healers & ayahuasca ceremony facilitators
Soltara works with experienced & qualified Shipibo plant medicine healers & ayahuasca ceremony facilitators

Final Verdict

Soltara is probably the best way to experience Shipibo-style ayahuasca healing without going to Peru. Soltara offers a solid, lineage-based ayahuasca experience grounded in the Shipibo tradition and supported by knowledgeable, down-to-earth staff who are long past their honeymoon stage with ayahuasca and possess a sober view of what it can and cannot do for you.

No miracle snake oil is being hawked here, nor were there neo-shamanic enhancements just for the tourists. Just solid Shipibo wisdom on what you need to do to receive the most from the plants. Soltara is a great springboard for you to get a taste of this ancient indigenous healing modality, in First World comfort, before deciding if you are ready to take the plunge into Amazon jungle, where serious plant medicine work is done.


DISCLAIMER: The accuracy of the information provided is based on my observations at the time of review – August, 2019.

At any given point, management, shamans and facilitators, programming, or medicine quality might change, thereby changing the accuracy of this review.

Please read the retreat review disclosure to learn more about retreat variables, my review methodology, my approach to addressing concerns with a plant medicine provider, as well as my affiliate relationships.


About the author, Lorna

Lorna Liana is a new media strategist and lifestyle business coach to visionary entrepreneurs. She travels the world while running her business as a digital nomad. Lorna's boutique agency provides “done for you” web design, development and online marketing services for social ventures, sustainable brands, transformational coaches and new paradigm thought leaders. She is also a personal development junkie, and 20 year practitioner of shamanism, with extensive training in Tibetan Bon Shamanism and the ayahuasca traditions of the Amazon Basin.

A self-professed ayahuasca snob and perennial ayahuasca tourist, Lorna has been drinking ayahuasca since 2004. She's been in approximately 150 ayahuasca ceremonies (from terrible to fantastic), and tasted wide variety of ayahuasca brews (from awful to exquisite).

Her ayahuasca experience spans 30+ different shamans and facilitators, 7 indigenous tribes, several Brazilian churches, and a host of neo-shamanic circles, in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Europe, the US, and Asia.

Through this widely-varied background, she hopes to shed some perspective on the globalization of ayahuasca.

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