Travel

Where to Travel for a Magic Mushroom Trip

Rethink what you knew about retreats and shrooms.

MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations

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.”

MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations

Mushrooms have, of course, existed in different cultures for thousands of years. After Nixon’s war on drugs, westerners travelled 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.

MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations

MycoMeditations, Jamaica

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.

MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations

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.

MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations
MycoMeditations

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.”

Synthesis Institute
Synthesis Institute
Synthesis Institute

Synthesis, Netherlands

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.

Synthesis Institute
Synthesis Institute
Synthesis Institute

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.

Synthesis Institute
Synthesis Institute
Synthesis Institute

“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.

Ryland Zweifel/iStock/Getty Images
Ryland Zweifel/iStock/Getty Images
Ryland Zweifel/iStock/Getty Images

Sanctum, Spain

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.”

acceleratorhams/iStock/Getty Images
acceleratorhams/iStock/Getty Images
acceleratorhams/iStock/Getty Images

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 grey 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.

Any substances referenced above are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The writer and anyone interviewed are not medical doctors, and their experience is based on personal use, the results of which may not be typical or intended. The legality of the substances varies by region, and is subject to change, and readers are encouraged to check their local laws before purchasing and using any substances referenced herein. Possessing, using, distributing, and/or selling these substances is illegal under US federal law as of the writing of this article, regardless of any conflicting state laws. Nothing in this article is or should be construed as advice regarding the legal status of the substance(s) or medical advice. You should consult a medical professional regarding matters pertaining to your health before starting any course of medical treatment. Any views expressed in this article regarding the substance(s) do not necessarily represent the views of Thrillist and/or Vox Media.

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Justin McDonnell is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Take a Submarine to the Bottom of the Great Lakes

You too can sink down to the watery grave-er, depths.

Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images

When the waves of Lake Huron closed over my head as I sank down to the bottom of the Great Lake, I admit I was a little panicky. I definitely thought about drowning. After all, I’d nearly drowned three times in my life.

Though the first two times I was too young to now recall, the third time was in Wisconsin and the sensation has stuck with me. I remember how, as a middle schooler, I got pulled deeper and deeper into a wave pool until every wave sucked me underneath just long enough to choke on a gurgly mouthful of water. Despite kicking and fighting to swim back to safety, I could feel the water overtaking me, bubbling up over my head as I sank down. The pool was choking me, I was suffocating, and the fear of death was right in my face. As you can probably guess, I was eventually saved. Someone noticed and pulled me out of the pool, and that relief was enormous.

But here I was again, as an adult, watching sediment from the bottom of the lake swirl up around me. But this time I wasn’t drowning. This time I was perfectly safe. This time I was in a submarine.

My small group and I were passengers on one of Viking Cruises’ newest itineraries, the Great Lakes Explorer. The expedition allows guests on the Viking Octantis ship to see one of the great lakes from the other side of the surface. Though guests can participate in science-research activities like microplastics research, bird-watching, and weather balloon launches, it’s also just really cool to dive in a submarine. Whether you’re overcoming your own childhood experiences or you’re just an adventurer at heart, here’s what to know about going on a submarine expedition in the Great Lakes.

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises

Boarding a submarine

These are-of course-yellow submarines. Can you guess their names? If you picked John, Paul, George, and Ringo… you’re absolutely right.

The Beatles can go down to about 1,000 feet and stay underwater for eight hours. Each side of the submarine has three very comfortable seats for passengers, surrounded by glass domes that allow optimal viewing at the dive site. It’s a small space (you can’t stand up straight), but you can hardly tell once you’re in the water. The seat platforms swivel so you can look out over the lake floor instead of staring at the pilot and other passengers.

The submarines are equipped with lights, cameras, and some handy claws to pick up anything valuable the pilot sees on the lakebed. They’re typically used as research vessels to take information back to the Octantis’ science program, which works in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA eventually plans to tack instruments to the bottoms of the submarines to get more detailed information about the water, the lakes, and the lakebed.

If you’re like me (that is, both claustrophobic and afraid of drowning), you’ll be happy to know that the subs are awash with safety features. Onboard, you’ll find directions on what to do if the pilot goes unconscious, supplemental oxygen hoods, a big green button to push if the sub needs to surface immediately, and a program that tells the submarine to surface if it doesn’t detect any activity from the pilot. Up above you, the sub is followed by a safety boat with a team that ensures the surrounding waters stay clear and everyone is safe beneath the surface. (So even when the safety boat radioed our pilot, Peppe from Sweden, and said, “You’re a little close to the rocks, but that’s as good a dive site as any,” I decided to trust the marine scientist.)

Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock

Sinking down to the depths

Here’s how the dive works. You take Viking-owned Zodiacs (military-grade rigid inflatable boats) to a predetermined dive site that the scientists onboard the ship picked out that morning. For now, the sites will always be in Canadian waters-because Viking is Norwegian, the Jones Act disallows them from deploying subs in the United States. To transfer from the Zodiac to the submarine, you have to hold onto a metal bar, climb out of the Zodiac, and sit down on the edge of the submarine hatch. You swing your legs into the hatch, then climb down a three-rung ladder into the middle of the sub to find your assigned seat.

Once everyone is in the sub, the pilot climbs in, closes the hatch, and then radios to the safety boat to make sure you’re clear to sink. With the all-clear, air is released from outside tanks on the submarine, and thrusters push the entire thing underwater.

For our dive, we went down about fifty feet to the floor of the lake. It had been raining all morning, which stirred up the sediment around us, making everything a mossy green colour that spotlights sparkled through to highlight the lakebed. I saw a few tiny fish and a ton of invasive zebra mussel shells. Depending on the weather and your dive site, you’re likely to see more. But even just exploring the floor of the Great Lakes, something almost no one in history has done before, is an amazing thing.

Sign me up!

If you want to take a submarine dive into the Great Lakes yourself, you have to be a passenger on the Viking Octantis or sister ship, Viking Polaris. As of this writing, no other companies offer passenger submarine trips down into the lakes-especially not in a military-grade exploration submarine that is worth $6 million each. The Great Lakes expedition itineraries start at about $6,500 and can be booked on the Viking website.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Hike, kayak, or get yourself a cinnamon roll afterwards

What you can see nearby depends on your dive site. On Octantis, the subs went down in Lake Huron and Lake Superior-my dive was in Lake Huron, surrounded by the stunning Georgian Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Canada. Here, you can kayak in the bay, hike through the surrounding landscape, and enjoy a Zodiac nature cruise.

Or if you can, try to take your submarine dive at Silver Islet in Ontario’s slice of Lake Superior. The small community is historic and completely off the grid, and the general store has some of the best cinnamon rolls you can find around the Great Lakes.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.

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