Where to Travel for a Magic Mushroom Trip
Rethink what you knew about retreats and shrooms.
I’m sitting in a shamanic sweat lodge made of mud, called a temazcal, in Oaxaca. A shaman burns herbs sacred to his people, and chants words indecipherable to my ears. As I sink my feet into wet soil, the warmth of the stone fire is comforting. The air, spiked with burning sage and tobacco, creates an intoxicating effect that's dizzying, but not unpleasant. Later that evening, a smiling, old woman shows us to the adobe hut where we’ll sleep. She reaches into a bag and pulls out a great big handful of dried shrooms.
After chewing on their pungent, earthy flavor, I wait. The trip kicks in around sunset. I watch the sky swirl with otherworldly shades of neon pink, orange, and purple, as mist gathers over an endless forest of evergreens. Stray mountain dogs join to watch. I realize I’ve never felt happier.
I’d dabbled with psychedelics in my teens with mixed results. It was often fun and occasionally frightening. It wasn’t until I took this healing trip to Mexico that I started to consider the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin. And I’m not the only one.
We seem to be in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance. Magic mushrooms are legalized in Oregon (availability starting in 2023), and Washington looks set to follow. As How to Change Your Mind—Michael Pollan’s bestseller about the science of psychedelics—takes a trip to Netflix, society is reembracing the magic of the shrooms.
“We saw an enormous spike in interest during the pandemic,” explains Lauren Katalinich at The Psychedelic Society. “[COVID] forced us to confront our lives without the usual distractions. It was a really challenging time, and people were looking for answers.”
Mushrooms have, of course, existed in different cultures for thousands of years. After Nixon's war on drugs, westerners traveled to other countries in search of perception-challenging experiences. One such place is Mexico, which has 111 pueblos mágicos. Though unfortunately there’s not exactly a correlation between magic towns and magic mushrooms, some towns have attracted types of people who think outside the box.
Huautla de Jimenez is one such pueblo mágico transformed into a hippie mecca. It’s part of a thriving (if problematic) tourist trade, where Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger once sought spiritual refuge. While mushrooms are technically illegal in Mexico, law enforcement ignores indigenous cultures' use of them.
Using mushrooms is ancient knowledge, to be sure. But as the science around psilocybin mushrooms evolves—and places where you can legally use them—so has the opportunity to try them in safe, supervised settings. More retreats around the world are creating a wellness experience that employs medical or psychology experts for the trip.
From bucolic cottages in the Netherlands to five-star luxury resorts in Jamaica, these retreats provide a therapeutic way to experience the benefits of shrooms—and without overtouristing indigenous communities. Here are the best places to make that journey of the mind.
During the '60s, backpackers flocked to Negrill and Mrs. Brown's Tea Shop, where she served up steaming hot cups of psychedelic enlightenment. As one of the few countries where shrooms are still legal, Jamaica is now better-known for its psilocybin wellness retreats.
MycoMeditations is the longest-running of its kind. Set in a postcard-worthy location, where lush jungle meets white sands and the brazenly-blue Caribbean Sea, thousands have visited in search of a transformational experience.
The resort prides itself on an evidenced-based approach, adapting best practices for psychedelic therapy from institutions like Jon Hopkins and Imperial College London. They psychologically evaluate all guests, refusing around 20 percent of applications.
You have the choice of three retreat packages, from simple seafront lodgings to concierge poolside villas. Prices range from $6,400 to $9,700 per person for double occupancy. Over the course of a week, guests receive three psilocybin sessions alongside group therapy and massages.
“When people look at the cost, they might say, ‘Well, that's expensive,’” says CEO and lead facilitator Justin Townsend. “But that’s one week in Jamaica compared to maybe decades of dysfunction and not living life to the full. That cost is relative.”
Guests arrive on a Friday afternoon, “often tired, a little bit scared—wondering what the week ahead holds,” he adds. In a group session the next morning, they are invited to talk about their childhood, their relationship with their parents, any major events in their lives, and what their intentions are for the coming week. It’s an often-emotion unburdening of heaviness and sometimes secrets.
By afternoon, guests are ready to begin the first mushroom trip. Sessions take place outside in nature, under shade, with music, yoga mats, recliners, eye masks, and a salt-breeze floating in from the Caribbean Sea.
After two more sessions—between integrative therapy and relaxing days by the ocean—guests are “absolutely transformed,” according to Townsend.
“It's incredible. The housekeeping staff say they look like the living dead when they arrive, and they’re completely alive again by the time they leave, in tears, saying goodbye.”
Once a cavalcade of vice, Amsterdam’s liberal drug laws have tightened up in recent years. Tourists are set to be banned from its infamous weed cafes, the same cafes that freely dispensed magic mushrooms before they were outlawed a decade ago. It’s part of a move to dispel drug tourism in the picturesque, compact city. However, there are loopholes.
While the government banned over 100 different species of mushroom, they didn’t criminalize the fungi in sclerotium (truffle) form.
As one of the few countries where psilocybin is still legal—naturally occurring in truffles—the Netherlands offers dozens of retreats, with some run by The Psychedelic Society.
Some are hippie-ish, shamanic ceremonies held outdoors in the flat, verdant countryside. Others are based on the latest scientific research, the closest thing you’ll get to integrative psychedelic therapy outside of a clinical setting.
Synthesis belongs to the latter. In fact, the Synthesis Institute actively collaborates with leading universities, coordinating opportunities for people to take part in psychedelic research. That doesn’t mean you’ll be surrounded by white lab coats while tripping balls. Instead, you can relax, knowing you can safely explore your consciousness in the hands of trained professionals.
Synthesis offers legal and medically supervised sessions at two locations: Lage Vuursche, a 40-acre estate, and at a converted church on the pastoral dunes of Zandvoort. Set in open-plan, light-filled rooms, guests are spaced out comfortably and given eye-masks and audio playlists to accompany their trip.
“As psychedelic research expands globally, it confirms what psychologists and neuroscientists have believed for decades,” says a spokesperson of the retreat. “A psychedelic experience facilitated in a safe setting, supported by preparation and integration, has the potential to offer relief to those suffering from psychological illnesses and processing past experiences.”
Their Expansion programme offers the full package, with three talk sessions prior to arrival, a five-day experiential retreat with two psychedelic ceremonies, followed by three post-retreat integration sessions in the weeks immediately after.
These hallucinogenic healing retreats don’t come cheap (this one’s $6,497 for a group session, and significantly more for a one-on-one experience). Held in sumptuous, design-forward locations, and staffed by trained psychotherapists, people increasingly are willing to pay more for peace of mind—and a bit of luxury on the side.
If you're looking for a psilocybin session on a shoestring budget, consider Sanctum in Spain. Set on the granulated-sugary sands of El Campello, a drowsy fishing village 20 minutes from Alicante, the resort offers integrative sessions for as little as $303 for a one-day solo retreat. The price might seem suspiciously low compared with others on this list, but don’t fret. No one is going to hand you a fistful of shrooms and leave you to detangle the mysteries of the mind alone.
Founded by British-born Graham Jack, Sanctum’s mission is to democratize the healing experience of magic mushrooms. He cured his 30-year-long depression with plant medicine and established this retreat “to help other people locate the keys to their own self-development,” as he says.
“We want this profound experience to be accessible to everyone,” Graham explains. “At the beginning of any resurgent movement, there will always be people ready to exploit others in need. We do not take this approach."
Sessions are only offered on a one-to-one basis, which chaffs against (the admittedly nascent) scientific opinion. But, as Graham puts it, “Group sessions have their place, but if you really want to gain the most benefit from a plant teacher session, it’s better to travel solo. Someone else’s challenging journey can really interrupt your flow.”
All guests are screened for suitability beforehand. As retreats go, this sits on the more esoteric end of the spectrum—the practitioners aren’t trained in psychology. They do, however, have hundreds of guided sessions under their belts. The experience is underscored by meditative breathwork and follow-up integrative coaching. Their motto ‘shift happens’ encapsulates the journey.
Now, it should be said there’s a legal gray area around indigenous plant medicine in Spain—they’re tolerated, but there are rules. The sale of psilocybin is prohibited, but cultivation and possession are legal. That’s why finding a legit retreat like this one is advisable.