Peruvians from all classes and walks of life still believe in the power of brujos (witchdoctors), shamanes (shamans) and curanderos (curers) to resolve myriad problems: sickness, broken hearts, business ventures, bad luck, and spiritual threats.
Using charms, talismans, and a variety of plants, herbs, tobaccos, and potions, including the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus or ayahuasca vine, shamans work with the afflicted during sessions that normally begin late at night and last until dawn. Chanting, blowing smoke, spraying liquids, waving leaves, rubbing the body with herbs and stones, chanting and dancing can all play a part in the healing.
Witchcraft is practiced in numerous small villages in the coast, highland, and jungle areas throughout Peru. Visitors to the country are most likely to experience the work of shamans first-hand during an ayahuasca ceremony, which are offered at many Amazon jungle lodges in Loreto and Ucayali especially.
During these ceremonies, a liquid that is made of the macerated and boiled sections of the ayahuasca vine, often combined with the leaves of other plants, is imbibed. This brew generally induces vomiting and diarrhoea ... but also has a hallucinatory effect, which proponents claim takes one on a cleansing and cathartic psychological journey.
For Peruvians, the best-known and respected shamans are to be found in Las Huaringas near Huancabamba, in the mountainous interior of the province of Piura.
The lakes in the area, located at almost 4,000m (13,000 ft) above sea level in the Huamani Cordillera, are believed to have potent curative powers and ceremonies often involve a dip in their ice-cold waters.
Located some six hours by car from the cities of Piura and Chiclayo, and three hours from Jaen, few foreigners make the pilgrimage to Huaringas; but for those that do, the reward is a remarkable cultural experience, in beautiful Andean surroundings.