Leishmaniases is a tropical disease caused by protozoa of the genus Leishmania for which the current treatment is expensive, besides increasing reports of parasite resistance. This study investigated the anti-Leishmania amazonensis activity of the essential oil from Aloysia gratissima (AgEO) and guaiol, the major sesquiterpene constituent in the oil. Our results showed that AgEO killed promastigotes and intracellular amastigotes at an IC50 of 25 and 0·16 µg mL−1, respectively, while guaiol killed amastigotes at an IC50 of 0·01 µg mL−1. Both AgEO and guaiol were safe for macrophages up to 100 µg mL−1, as evaluated by the dehydrogenase activity, membrane integrity and phagocytic capacity. AgEO and guaiol did not induce nitrite oxide (NO) in resting macrophages and inhibited the production of NO in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated macrophages. The ultrastructural analysis suggested that AgEO and guaiol act directly on parasites, affecting promastigotes kinetoplast, mitochondrial matrix and plasma membrane. Together, these results pointed out that AgEO and guaiol could be promising candidates to develop anti-Leishmania drugs.