Traveling for Transformation: The Rise of Psychotourism
Psychotourism (psychedelic tourism) gives new meaning to the word “trip.” 🗺️
We're in a psychedelic renaissance. Laws around psychoactive substances are beginning to relax, and a constant stream of new evidence emerges that suggests psychedelics like magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and peyote could be beneficial for a range of mental disorders that continue to wreak havoc on humanity.
There's also far less stigma surrounding psychedelics now compared to a decade ago.
This resurgence has propelled psychedelics to unparalleled prominence. Driven by curiosity and the promise of transformative experiences, many are venturing into this world. While there's no definitive data on the number of psychotourists, the influx of new psychedelic retreat centers is a testament to their growing popularity.
One study looked into drug use in travelers to Southeast Asia and found that more than 50% of travelers with a mean age of 25.3 years consumed a psychoactive substance of some form. A questionnaire distributed in Southeast Asia to 430 travelers from around the world discovered that 66.2% of the people asked consumed cannabis, LSD, or magic mushrooms during the trip.
Another research paper, "Reflecting on Drug Tourism and its Future Challenges," outlined data from the World Drug Report. Between 2009 and 2017, drug use increased by 61 million users. The researchers outlined that because of the evident change in drug policies worldwide, there was an "increase in demand by drug tourists."
An airport survey of 1715 British visitors to the Balearic island of Ibiza discovered that 57.4% of the travelers consumed illicit substances during their holiday (mostly cocaine and MDMA).
Although these reports don't outline the use of psychedelics specifically, it's clear from the data that a substantial percentage of travelers to certain destinations are open to consuming psychoactive substances.
Common entheogens and the most popular destinations:
Ayahuasca — Peru, Brazil, Colombia, & El Salvador
Bufo Toad Venom — Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica
Iboga — Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica
Kambo Frog Medicine (Not Psychedelic) — Peru, Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador
Psilocybin Mushrooms — Jamaica, The Bahamas, Mexico, the Netherlands, Costa Rica
San Pedro & Peyote Cacti — Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica
Take a deep dive into the world of psychedelics by subscribing to Tripsitter 🍄🌵 Consider a paid subscription if you want to support our work.
Is Psychotourism Legal?
Although laws vary dramatically depending on the country, most psychotourism retreat centers fall into a legal gray area.
Yes, some psychedelics are legal in some countries, but in most cases, these centers are allowed to exist merely because the local police don't enforce prohibitions.
Sometimes, this is because these substances have traditional significance; other times, it's because local governments don't want to deter this new tourism boom.
If you plan on traveling to consume a psychedelic or psychoactive substance, it's important to thoroughly research the laws surrounding the substance you want to consume to fully understand and weigh the risks before you depart.
Ethical Concerns Around the Psychotourism Industry
Tales from the past prove that travel to remote regions can inflict harm on small communities. Foreign viruses destroy remote tribes, retreats replace small villages, and cultures are irreversibly damaged by appropriation.
You may think this wouldn't happen when "open-minded" psychedelic users travel to remote regions. History proves this isn't the case.
In the 1950s, Robert Gordon Wasson traveled to the small village of Huautla de Jiménez in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, to visit the curandera Maria Sabina. He visited to partake in one of her traditional magic mushroom ceremonies.
Upon Wasson's return to the United States, he published an article titled "Seeking the Magic Mushroom" in LIFE Magazine. This article quickly grew in popularity, and hundreds of people went to the remote village to partake in Maria's mushroom ceremonies.
To cut a long story short, the influx of foreigners to the village made the locals extremely upset. This led to them burning down Maria Sabina's house and banishing her from her lifelong home — leaving her and her family with nothing.
This is just one example of how psychotourism could be potentially harmful.
Here are some of the ethical issues that could pop up as the industry grows larger:
1. Appropriation & Commodification of Cultural Practices
Much of the psychotourism industry revolves around indigenous people's cultural and spiritual practices. Although this growing industry could benefit these people in some ways, it could also be problematic.
We could see the commodification of traditional practices. Indigenous heritage is often seen as "public domain," and historically, westerners have appropriated artifacts, cultural practices, and traditional medicines for profit.
Without the correct strategies to protect indigenous communities worldwide, the psychotourism industry could cause significant cultural, spiritual, and economic problems.
For example, appropriation and commodification of the Wixárika community's traditional practices are already causing substantial harm.
Another example is the sacred peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii). This cactus takes more than ten years to mature. Sustainable harvesting — something the indigenous people have been doing for centuries — is important for the species' survival. Unfortunately, too many "outsiders" are entering the sacred peyote fields of the Chihuahuan Desert and taking them without regard.
If psychotourism grows and guides in Mexico keep allowing tourists to harvest and consume the peyote cactus, we could see the demise of the species and the death of a 5000-year-old cultural practice.
2. Exploitation of Vulnerable Communities
The exploitation of vulnerable communities is a serious concern if the psychotourism industry expands. People are already traveling to remote regions to seek out communities with a history of cultural psychedelic use.
Tourists searching for true ayahuasca experiences often head to remote parts of the Amazon, where tribes consume the psychedelic brew as they have done for over 1,000 years. Although a tourist or two turning up to these tribes is relatively harmless, we could see these communities become exploited as psychedelic interests continue to surge.
We may see small communities, such as those in the Amazon Rainforest and remote parts of Mexico, get exploited for profit. Future organizations that may offer "true cultural psychedelic experiences" could use these small communities as a way to profit. Money-hungry psychotourism consultants could overlook the preservation of vulnerable communities.
Similar things have happened in the adventure tourism industry. There are huge ethical concerns surrounding the use of Sherpas by the adventure tourism industry for pursuits such as summiting Mount Everest. Without Sherpas, summiting the high peaks of Nepal would be far more difficult.
Adventure tourism companies pay sherpas to create passages, set ropes, install ladders over crevasses, and carry equipment. The average tourist can pay over $100,000 to climb Everest, and around 800 people make an attempt each season — that's a lot of money. However, the average Sherpa makes just $3,000 to $5,000 per season.
If this level of exploitation is happening in the adventure tourism industry, we should be worried about the psychotourism industry, too.
3. Harm To Tourists
With the increase in profit potential from psychedelic tourism, more businesses selling "psychedelic experiences" will appear. Undoubtedly, many ethical practitioners with the customer's best interests at heart will be established over the coming years.
However, there will also be many who care solely about money or personal image.
There will always be grifters taking advantage of new industries. When psychedelic retreats and guided sessions become popular, pseudo-shamans often step up to cash in.
The problem is that they lack the tools and skills to guide someone safely through a psychedelic experience. Others are more blatantly nefarious and take advantage of retreat attendees in other ways. Both situations pose a serious risk to the psychedelic explorer.
This issue appears to be especially common with Iboga and psilocybin and guides who want to make quick and easy money.
Another risk psychotourism imposes on tourists comes long after the psychedelic journey — when they return home. Psychedelics have proven effective at combatting various mental illnesses. However, the most important part of the psychedelic-assisted therapy process is what comes after the trip, during the integration stage.
If people return home without the proper support or integration resources, they could end up worsening their condition rather than improving it.
Like most entheogens, ayahuasca works best when administered by a professional who understands the mystical aspects of the brew. This is where the Peruvian shamans come in — they not only make and administer the ayahuasca you consume but also protect and guide you through the experience in a way nobody else can. Traditional knowledge involving the proper use of ayahuasca has been passed down from shaman to shaman for centuries.
Other entheogenic plants and fungi used at retreat centers carry the same risk as well — such as the San Pedro cactus (which contains the psychedelic compound mescaline), Bufo toad venom (contains 5-MeO-DMT), and psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
Examining 9 of the Most Popular Psychotourism Destinations
Now that we've gotten the ethical and safety concerns out of the way let's explore the current hotspots for psychedelic tourism and what makes each of them popular.
Deciding where to travel depends on factors like how far you're willing to travel, how much money you're able to spend, and what substance you're seeking.
Peru is the most famous destination for ayahuasca experiences.
Ayahuasca has been used by indigenous groups in Peru (such as the Shipibo) for centuries. This medicine is created by combining two plants found in the Amazon rainforest — the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and chacruna (Psychotria viridis). Other plants are sometimes used instead of or on top of chacruna, depending on the shaman preparing the medicine.
There are many psychedelic retreat centers in Peru to choose from, most of which are located in the Amazon rainforest near the jungle city of Iquitos.
2. Costa Rica
Although the laws surrounding psychedelics in Costa Rica are blurry at best, it seems that the government doesn't enforce them. This has led to dozens of retreat centers popping up across the country, specializing in psilocybin, Iboga, and sometimes ayahuasca.
You can also find plenty of yoga retreat centers, wellness centers, and meditation retreats here, all of which complement the psychotourism industry.
One of the main advantages of Costa Rica is its accessibility and stunning natural landscape — featuring high mountain peaks, white sandy beaches, and lush tropical rainforests.
Psychedelics have long held a place in traditional Nepalese tradition. These shamanic traditions live on today in the form of psychedelic retreat centers.
Most centers in Nepal focus on the use of psilocybin-containing mushrooms. Sometimes, you can find ayahuasca retreats, but this is not where the tradition of ayahuasca comes from.
You can also find practitioners who use the famous charas hashish in the foothills of the Himalayas.
There are even a few tour guides who'll take you into the jungles of Nepal to visit members of the Gurung tribe. This indigenous group of people harvests psychedelic honey from the steep cliffs of the Himalayas. This honey has been traditionally harvested for centuries using rope ladders hung over immense, sheer drops of over 300 meters.
This psychedelic honey, also known as "mad honey," contains pollen from a specific Rhododendron flower species containing a psychoactive toxin called grayanotoxin. The locals consume a teaspoon of this honey daily for its medicinal properties.
The honey causes dizziness, delirium, and euphoria when taken in higher doses.
Nepal is a rich hub for tourists who are interested in psychedelics. There are several modern retreats designed for psychedelic tourists, but also plenty of tours for the person who wants to experience local shamanic cultures and traditions that have existed in the country for centuries.
Mexico has been a hub for people searching for psychedelic experiences since the 1960s. Mexico has a rich cultural heritage of psychedelic use. Substances such as psilocybin in the form of psychedelic mushrooms and mescaline in the form of the peyote cactus have been used for centuries by the indigenous people of certain regions.
Psychedelics are easily accessible for tourists because the substances are ingrained in the indigenous culture. Although psilocybin is illegal in Mexico, Article 195 of the Federal Penal Code specifies that people using mushrooms for traditional spiritual practices cannot be prosecuted.
Regardless of the laws, it's possible to find guides that will take tourists to consume peyote or psilocybin mushrooms in traditional rituals or ceremonies. Several psilocybin retreats in Mexico offer psychedelic-assisted therapy. These retreats are technically legal because they function in a "ceremonial and sacramental context."
Mexico is also one of the only parts of the world where the venom of the Bufo alvarius toad (a rich source of 5-MeO-DMT) remains legal. There are many retreat centers and psychedelic coaches specializing in the use of toad venom as a result.
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii), an important traditional plant medicine and a vulnerable species, is only legal for consumption by the indigenous Wixárika people.
Psychotourists looking to go to Mexico should be aware that there are a lot of fake guides and pseudo-shamans here.
There are also ethical concerns surrounding the use of the peyote cactus by people outside of the Wixárika community. In order to respect the Wixárika and protect the future of peyote, it's recommended you avoid seeking travel to Mexico to consume the cactus. A related mescaline-producing cactus called San Pedro (Echinopsis pachanoi) is a better option because it grows relatively quickly and isn't endangered.
Although it's not traditionally used in Mexico, you'll also find ayahuasca retreats. The psychedelic brew is completely legal in Mexico.
Magic mushrooms are completely unrestricted in Jamaica, resulting in the development of a healthy psychotourism industry.
Several different psilocybin retreats have popped up across the Caribbean island. These retreats offer people a holiday-style experience with a twist. They're often located along the beautiful coastlines of the island and provide meditation, yoga, mushroom experiences, and various other natural therapies.
Jamaica also has a range of tours going up into the mountains to see how the Rastafarian people live. You can head up to the Rasta villages and into the wild ganja fields to explore. These tours often include home-cooked meals, an introduction to local medicinal herbs, and a view into the religion and way of life of the Rastafarian people.
6. The Netherlands
The Netherlands (Holland) is a country in Europe that borders Belgium and Germany. This liberal country is famous for its laid-back attitude and relaxed drug policies.
In Holland, most drugs controlled elsewhere in Europe are also illegal here. However, in 1976, the Dutch government decriminalized using, possessing, and selling "soft drugs" such as cannabis and psilocybin in certain forms.
These so-called "soft" psychoactive herbs are easy to get a hold of in "smart shops" located in the major cities of Holland, such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
These smart shops sell a range of psychoactive substances, including psilocybin-containing truffles, drug test kits, trip stoppers, and paraphernalia, as well as medicinal herbs, plants, and fungi.
Because of the relaxed laws here, many retreat centers and psychedelic coaches operate here. Most serve only psilocybin, but you can sometimes find other psychedelic sessions involving ayahuasca or ibogaine.
7. The Bahamas
The Bahamas offers a variety of opportunities for the psychotourist. Much like in Jamaica, magic mushrooms are legal to grow, sell, and consume in the Bahamas.
Because of these relaxed laws and the beautiful Caribbean landscape, psilocybin retreats have been popping up across the chain of islands. In many of these retreats, it's possible to undergo psilocybin-assisted therapy. There are also retreats that help people overcome addiction through the use of psilocybin and ibogaine.
Ibogaine is legal in the Bahamas.
Ibogaine is the naturally occurring compound found in Iboga — a psychoactive African shrub. Historically used as a medicinal and ceremonial herb by indigenous tribes in West Africa, it's believed that it has the ability to reduce withdrawal symptoms from opiates and eliminate drug cravings.
Addiction centers are popping up across the Bahamas that utilize ibogaine or psilocybin. These centers have helped people with alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine, and other addictions successfully rehabilitate after quitting.
Brazil is famous for ayahuasca. This psychedelic brew is completely legal in Brazil, and there are tons of retreat centers specializing in ayahuasca scattered all over the country.
Many of these retreats offer "traditional" experiences where ayahuasca is consumed with the guidance of a shaman, as it has been for thousands of years.
Some retreats offer full ayahuasca workshops with massages, yoga, and other activities. These places usually offer some kind of therapy alongside the experience and help their clients get to the roots of their depression, anxiety, or addiction.
Ayahuasca is a traditional and unrestricted substance in Colombia. Here, it's referred to as Yagé.
Several retreats in the country offer ayahuasca experiences alongside yoga, meditation, and therapy. It's also possible to meet a guide and head out to the indigenous communities that use ayahuasca in the traditional way.
Some places in Colombia also offer traditional "mushroom ceremonies." These ceremonies involve psilocybin-containing mushrooms, tobacco smoke, shamanic chants, and occasionally alcohol. However, psilocybin is illegal in the country, so these experiences aren't easily accessible or advertised.
If We Lose the Amazon, Plant Medicine Goes With It (Tripsitter)
Psychedelic Laws & Regulations Around the World (Tripsitter)
Help Us Grow 🌱
Tripsitter was built by a community of psychedelic advocates — but it's people like you that allow us to thrive.