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

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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