Spiritual tourism

Spiritual tourism in Ecuador

8.7 Spiritual tourism and the abuse of cultural traditions


In a busy world were more people feel stressed, ancient, and exotic ways to ‘cure’ this stress are growing quickly in popularity. One of these exotic ways is participation in spiritual ceremonies with special plant extracts. The two most popular in South America are Ayahuasca and San Pedro Ceremonies. During the first ceremony participants drink an extract from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, often combined with shrubs that contain DMT. The base for the San Pedro Ceremony is an extract from the San Pedro Cactus. San Pedro contains mescaline, a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid. Traditionally these ceremonies were for special occasions and guided by experienced indigenous shamans. But the interest from the western world has made many ceremonies more mainstream, easily accessible, and commercial. The tourist industry is now making good money selling the ‘Sacred Plant Ceremonies’. Their marketing campaign is great: “Our natural and spiritual plant ceremonies will cure your stress and other (mental) problems”. The plant extracts are sold as a medicine, instead of a drug. Spiritual or not, the plant extracts have all the symptoms of a drug. And what if the ‘medicine’ doesn’t work? No worries, you were not ready yet, just come back another time…

The example above shows how tourism can abuse an ancient tradition. The growing use of these plant extracts by tourists doesn’t only damage nature, but could potentially make it more difficult for the indigenous people to find enough supply for their ceremonies. People should be very careful, well informed, and well prepared if they want to participate in any spiritual ceremony. They should make sure that it’s performed in a sustainable way, not for commercial purposes.

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