Where to Travel for a Magic Mushroom Retreat
Take a transformative trip.
I’m sitting inside a shamanic sweat lodge called a temazcal in Oaxaca, Mexico. Its earthen walls surround me as I sink my feet into damp soil. A shaman burns herbs sacred to his people, chanting words I can’t understand, and the air smells of smoky sage and tobacco. It has an intoxicating effect, dizzying but not unpleasant. Later that evening, a smiling old woman shows me to the adobe hut where I’ll sleep. She reaches into a bag and pulls out a great big handful of dried shrooms. When I chew, they taste pungent and earthy. Then I wait for them to take effect.
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 evergreen forest. Stray mountain dogs join, as if to take in the view. I realize I’ve never been happier.
This trip isn’t my first experience with psychedelics. I dabbled in my teens, with mixed results that were often fun and occasionally frightening. It wasn’t until this healing experience in Mexico that I started to consider the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin. And I’m not the only one.
There are two things of relevance to point out here. First, mushrooms of all kinds have become incredibly popular, whether you’re interested in their health benefits or enjoying them as food. Second, we seem to have entered a psychedelic renaissance. Both Oregon and Colorado have voted to legalize magic mushrooms over the last few years. Oregon’s therapeutic psilocybin program will go into effect in January 2023, while Colorado’s voters recently approved a ballot measure that will legalize a few different psychedelic compounds, in addition to two found in mushrooms. Mushrooms and other psychedelics have also been decriminalized in a slew of cities and states around the country. The craze has even made it to our screens at home, with Michael Pollan’s bestselling book How to Change Your Mind, which explores the science of psychedelics, hitting Netflix last summer. There’s really no denying it: Society is embracing the magic of the shrooms.
The reason for this might—in part—be attributed to the public health situation over the past few years. “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.”
Until magic mushrooms are legal to take in your area, you may need to seek out perception-challenging experiences in other countries, as westerners have been doing since Nixon’s war on drugs. Historically, Mexico is one such country; though mushrooms are technically illegal there, there’s one key exception, which states that they can be used as part of indigenous ceremonies and customs. Take Huautla de Jiménez in Oaxaca, one of the country’s Pueblo Mágicos turned hippie mecca. It’s part of a thriving (if problematic) tourist trade, where Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are said to have sought psychedelic, spiritual refuge. However, it’s not necessarily the most ethical way to partake.
But the options for the safe use of shrooms have continued to evolve. Of course, magic mushrooms aren’t exactly new, even with the current increase in public interest; they’ve been utilized in different cultures for thousands of years. But while using mushrooms is ancient knowledge, the science around psilocybin—and the places where you can legally use it—have changed. More and more, retreats around the world have been offering wellness experiences that employ medical or psychology experts to help you use mushrooms in a safe, supervised setting. The goal for these sessions is less about fun and more about personal growth and introspection.
From a luxury resort in Jamaica to medically supervised sessions in a Netherlands nature preserve, these retreats provide a therapeutic way to experience the benefits of shrooms—without overtouristing indigenous communities. Here are the best places to make that journey of the mind.
In the '60s, backpackers flocked to Mrs. Brown's Tea Shop in Negril, Jamaica, where she served up steaming hot cups of psychedelic enlightenment. These days, you can sign up for a full-fledged psilocybin wellness retreat in Jamaica instead. It’s one of the few countries where shrooms aren’t illegal; according to MycoMeditations, one of the longest-running retreat centers of its kind, “rather than technically being listed as legal by the government, psilocybin is simply unregulated.” Due to psilocybin's unregulated nature, it's especially important to work with a reputable retreat center like MycoMeditations if you want to take some shrooms, rather than going it alone.
Set in a postcard-worthy location, where lush jungle meets white sands and the brazenly blue Caribbean Sea, MycoMeditations has offered a transformational experience to more than a thousand seekers. They individually evaluate each guest before the retreat, ensuring they feel it’s safe for each person to participate. The resort prides itself on an evidenced-based approach, adapting best practices for psychedelic therapy from institutions like Johns Hopkins and Imperial College London.
Guests can choose between three retreat packages, which range from private seafront guesthouses to fully staffed luxury villas. Prices range from $4,300 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.”
Here’s how it works: Guests arrive on a Friday afternoon, “often tired, a little bit scared—wondering what the week ahead holds,” Townsend explains. They’re invited to open up in a group session the next morning, discussing often-emotional topics like their childhood and their relationship with their parents, as well as their intentions for the retreat.
In the afternoon, it’s time to begin the first mushroom trip. These sessions take place outdoors in nature, under shade, with music, yoga mats, recliners, eye masks, and the salty sea breeze.
After two more sessions—between integrative therapy and relaxing days by the ocean—guests are “absolutely transformed,” according to Townsend.
Though many aren’t aware, the Netherlands’s once-liberal drug laws have tightened up considerably in recent years. Tourists may soon be banned from the infamous weed cafes in Amsterdam, the same ones 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 city. However, there are loopholes.
While the government has banned over 100 different species of mushroom, they didn’t criminalize the fungi in sclerotium (truffle) form. Plenty of mushrooms produce non-psychedelic truffles, but since truffles containing psilocybin is still legal in the Netherlands, it’s still possible to have a legal psychedelic experience in the country. You can choose from dozens of retreats, some of which are run by The Psychedelic Society. These run the gamut between hippie-ish outdoor ceremonies and retreats 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 camp, even going so far as to collaborate with leading universities, coordinating opportunities for people to take part in psychedelic research. Luckily, this doesn’t mean you’re in for lab coat-clad facilitators and sterile surroundings if you choose to attend a retreat. You’ll find yourself in homey, comfortable surroundings where you can safely explore your consciousness in the hands of trained professionals.
Synthesis offers legal and medically supervised sessions as part of its Expansion program at two locations. The 40-acre Venwoude estate is set in the Lage Vuursche nature sanctuary. Alternatively, there’s the “Lighthouse” location in a converted church in the coastal town of Zandvoort. At both locations, trips take place in open, light-filled rooms, where guests are spaced out comfortably and given eye masks and audio playlists to accompany their experience.
“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.”
The Expansion program offers the full package, with three talk sessions prior to arrival, a five-day experiential retreat with two psychedelic ceremonies, and three post-retreat integration sessions in the weeks following.
These hallucinogenic healing retreats don’t come cheap (the Expansion program costs $6,497 for a group session, and significantly more for a one-on-one experience). But since they’re held in sumptuous, design-forward locations and staffed by trained psychotherapists, you may find you’re willing to pay more for comfort and peace of mind—and a bit of luxury on the side.
Mexico has its fair share of iffy opportunities to procure and use psilocybin, whether they’re illegal, exploitative, or unsafe (or all of the above). In contrast to these, the Buena Vida is refreshingly thoughtful. The female-led retreat focuses on ceremony, working with Mexican and Indigenous leaders and facilitators, as well as a local shaman who ensures the retreat is acting in accordance with the law around using shrooms for ceremonial purposes. Buena Vida’s venues staff is entirely Mexican, and the retreat contributes to the community nonprofit Entreamigos on a monthly basis, as well as the international group of medicine women Mujeres de la Luna.
It’s this intentionality and ceremony-focused approach that makes Buena Vida unique. “We design our entire retreat to be held in the way of the divine feminine: intuitive, heart-centered, compassionate and nurturing,” says founder and director Amanda Schendel. “Our retreats as a whole are designed to take guests on a journey from their intellect into their heart and intuitive space.”
The retreats take place in the Tulum jungle or coastal Sayulita, where you can find lush greenery, or in the case of Sayulita-based resorts, views of the turquoise sea. These stunning settings, along with massages and healthy meals, provide a relaxing environment well-suited to deep, intentional tripping. “The psilocybin medicine can be much more effective when our central nervous system is calmed, our energy is centered, and our minds are surrendered to the process,” explains Schendel. “All of our workshops, classes and integration circles are focused on getting ourselves into this state.”
The Buena Vida’s approach is definitely more on the woo-woo side of things, offering activities like yoga, ecstatic dance, sound baths, reiki, along with a few psilocybin sessions. When it comes time to actually use the mushrooms, says Schendel, “ceremony, ritual, and sacred use of this medicine is vitally important to us.” She explains that “ceremonies are filled with live medicine music from around the globe, sound bath instruments like crystal singing bowls and Shruti box. We also use the handpan, Native American flute, rattle, shamanic drumming, and guitar in each ceremony to set the container of healing vibrations around our guests.”
Visitors have three group retreat options to choose from, though they’ll have to undergo a screening as part of the application process to ensure they’ll be able to participate safely. Tulum jungle-based Grounded Retreats (starting at $3,333) are the most cost-effective option, with accommodations described as “clean and simple.” For those looking for luxury and those coastal Sayulita views, Healing Retreats are the move, starting at $4,200 for a five-day session and $6,000 for seven days. Both retreats are capped at 15 people and always have four to five leaders to ensure everyone gets attention. If you’re looking to spend more time working on yourself, you can also sign up for the smaller group Expansion Retreat (starting at $8,999), which features three months of guided work that include an in-person retreat led by Schendel in Sayulita.
You can never predict what your personal experience will be, of course, but after hosting more than 600 guests, Schendel says, “We've had almost unbelievably positive feedback over the years from past guests. Most report a feeling of openness, creativity, and a spark of hope in their lives.”