What Is a Peruvian Despacho Ceremony?

A verdant valley and river in La Merced, Peru. Experience a despacho ceremony with The Travel Yogi. Photo by Hans Luiggi.

When visiting Peru, you’ll be met by more than just Machu Picchu. Peru is filled with indigenous history, various cultural traditions, and breathtaking natural wonder. One sacred tradition of the Q’ero—a Quechua-speaking indigenous people of south-central Peru—is the despacho ceremony. The tradition allows participants to show gratitude for the guidance of the spiritual world. Learn about despacho ceremonies and how to partake ethically and respectfully.

Brief History: The Ancient Inca and The Q’ero 

Before we dig in, it is important to understand the tradition’s roots. Between 1400 and 1533 CE, the Incas thrived across modern-day Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, and Argentina. Spanning 770,000 square miles, it is estimated that 6-14 million people lived in the Inca civilization, making it the largest empire of its time! The Incas spoke the Quechua language and believed that mountain peaks, rivers, caves, springs, and other aspects of nature were the manifestation of gods, ancestors, and spirits (pretty cool, right?).

Today, the Q’ero are widely understood to be the last living direct descendants of the Incas.

An estimated 2,000 people live in Q’eros Nation today, through 75 miles of rugged terrain—one community of Q’ero lives at an elevation as high as 14,000 feet (a pretty legendary backyard, if you ask us).

The Q’ero are highly spiritual, and similar to the Inca, worship los Apus (spirits that take the form of mountains, lakes, or rivers) and Pachamama (Mother Earth). The Q’ero turn to los Apus for guidance and to Pachamama for sustenance. 

One of the ways that the Q’ero thank los Apus and Pachamama for their guidance is through the despacho ceremony. The ceremony is traditionally led by a Paqo, a shaman with a special gift to heal wounds in the soul and the physical world. Now that we’ve covered the roots of the tradition, let’s dive into the good stuff!

What Is a Peruvian Despacho Ceremony?

Despacho ceremonies can be held for many occasions—deaths, births, healing emotional or physical illness, restoring harmony, reestablishing balance, expressing gratitude, or when there is a specific request of the spiritual world. A despacho ceremony can also be done to manifest what we would like to happen in our lives or the lives of our loved ones. The ceremony connects participants to their power, love source, and wisdom.

In the words of Q’ero Elder Don Manuel Q’espi, “The despacho is a gift–a giving back of what we receive every day in our lives. We seek, through the despacho ceremony, to bridge the ordinary and non-ordinary realms; to establish new patterns of relationship and possibility.”

What to Expect During a Despacho Ceremony

  • At the beginning of the ceremony, the Paqo will open a sacred space
  • Next, they will begin to build a prayer offering—the despacho bundle—out of items that hold special significance. This can include metal charms, plant material, seeds, stones, candy, cookies, llama fat, starfish arms, and more 
  • The Paqo will choose items, as will all participants in the group. Before each item is added to the bundle, the Paqo will say a prayer over it, then place it in a well-balanced pattern. 
  • Once the offering is created, the Paqo carefully wraps the despacho bundle and secures it with a ribbon. 
  • The bundle will then be offered to the spirit world, by either being buried, burned, or dispatched into water. 
  • If the despacho is burned, only the Paqo is permitted to watch the burning; all participants should turn their backs out of respect. Seriously, no peeking!

How to Participate Ethically and Respectfully

Should I join a despacho ceremony? This is a great question! While most of the people reading this article are likely not Q’ero, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t respectfully join the Q’ero tradition. Begin by being honest with yourself. Am I capable of giving the ceremony the respect and faith it deserves? If you have the chance to join a despacho ceremony, consider it an honor. It is your responsibility to decide if you are up to participating ethically and respectfully.

The ceremony isn’t a spectacle to witness, but an experience to participate in. It’s not a performance, and it’s not a game. Participants who regard it as such can disrupt the balance of the tradition, and the ceremony can end up doing more harm than good.

If you don’t consider yourself spiritual or don’t think you can believe in the spiritual connection, it would be dishonorable to participate. For those who believe in spirituality or can participate with an open heart, the despacho ceremony can be joined considerately. Remember to practice humility and gratitude as you take part in order to connect to the purpose of the ceremony.

How To Prepare for a Peruvian Despacho Ceremony

If you’ve decided you have what it takes to respect a despacho ceremony, and have the opportunity to join one (lucky you!) you’ll need to prepare. Here are some ideas:

1. Connect With Your Higher Consciousness 

In preparing, the goal is to connect with your higher consciousness to adequately prepare your mind and body for the experience. This can be done by meditating, praying, cleansing oneself with incense, or listening to relaxing music.

2. Go Barefoot

Additionally, you might want to ditch your shoes. Despacho ceremonies are usually strongest when they take place outdoors (that’s where nature is, after all). To show respect to nature, it is advised to remove your shoes. This will also help you to physically connect with the earth better than if you have shoes on (we can’t feel the earth between a pair of converse).

The Q’ero consider all land sacred, meaning that the Paqo can create a waka (sacred temple) anywhere outside. This means the environment you’re in is a sacred space and should be treated as such.

Explore Peru With the Travel Yogi

Now that you know a bit more about what a Peruvian despacho ceremony is, you might be interested in joining one. The Travel Yogi offers an immersive Peru yoga adventure, where you’ll have the chance to join a despacho ceremony, among other enlightening experiences. Hike the famous Inca trail, spend the night at Machu Picchu, and get to know indigenous communities, traditions, and people. You’ll soak up Andean tradition every moment of your adventure. What are you waiting for? Sign up here!