Psychedelic Retreat Guide: How to Choose the Right Retreat For You

Psychedelic journeys can be a way to radically reinvent yourself. After a psychedelic experience, you might find mental ease where you previously struggled. You might see yourself and the world around you more clearly. Maybe you’ll even feel the trees breathing around you. All of these accounts probably sound familiar  because you’ve either ingested plant medicines, heard stories, or read one of the clinical trials from Johns Hopkins or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

So now you’re curious—if one unassisted journey could affect a life so profoundly, what might be possible if you immersed yourself in a psychedelic retreat? If you could use a plant medicine that best suits your intentions, in the company of experts, amid like-minded people, isolated from daily tasks—what unexplored depths could you reach?

Your experience will vary greatly based on  the medicine you consume, the environment of the psychedelic retreat center, and the skillset of the people who run it. So choose wisely. And allow Third Wave to be your guide.

What are psychedelic retreats and why do people attend them?

Psychedelic retreats are generally multi-day experiences where you join groups of people in taking an entheogenic substance under the guidance of a facilitator or shaman. Retreats can range from a few days to several weeks. In terms of location, you can find retreat centers worldwide—in countries where psychedelics are illegal, legal, and decriminalized. In terms of price point, you might think psychedelic retreats are impossibly expensive—and they can be—but you can also find relatively affordable day retreat options starting at a few hundred dollars.

In recent years, psychedelic tourism has grown all over the world. Countries like Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia are pioneering this new kind of tourism. But the US and Canada are home to several psychedelic wellness retreats as well.

Westerners are increasingly searching for such retreats with the hope that multiple guided journeys in beautiful settings will help them transcend physical and mental suffering. You might feel the same and want to attend a retreat to overcome your chronic pain, depression, anxiety, addiction, or PTSD. However, you might also be among the growing body of “well” people who seek psychedelics to better themselves and find answers to life’s existential questions.

What to ask when looking for a psychedelic retreat that’s right for you

What are you hoping to achieve from your psychedelic experience? This is a critical point to reflect upon, as your answer will determine what kind of retreat you should attend. By their very nature, psychedelic retreats vary wildly in structure and quality. Additionally, they are generally unregulated, which means you’ll find dishonest actors and inexperienced guides who can cause more harm than good. Exploring your inner psyche through ego dissolving compounds is a vulnerable and uncomfortable experience at times. As such, you must choose your medicine wisely and your retreat guide with even greater care. To do so, you need to be clear on your own intentions and find a retreat center that aligns with your goals and values. Complete extensive research to vet potential providers.

1. What are my goals for going on a psychedelic retreat?

Before you start diving into retreat locations, it’s imperative to gain clarity on your intention. These are some of the most common reasons why people seek guided psychedelic experiences:

  • Heal unresolved trauma
  • Shed limiting beliefs and rigid thought patterns
  • Strengthen relationships
  • Support spiritual and personal growth
  • Optimize human performance and productivity
  • Enhance creativity
  • Discover purpose and meaning
  • Seek well-being, balance, and awareness
  • Find alternative relief for depression and anxiety
  • Curiosity about what the experience feels like

If your intention is to find support for a condition like depression, then it would be best to identify a retreat center that specializes in helping participants with that symptom. Perhaps the center even has a medical doctor as part of their team to better support you. Alternatively, if you are looking to develop creativity, you might look for a center that includes artistic expression as part of the integration process.

Your personal goals should inform your selection of the retreat.

2. How far am I willing to travel to a psychedelic retreat?

Ask yourself:

  • Am I ready to cross international waters to attend a psychedelic retreat?
  • How far am I willing to travel?
  • Will I travel by plane or car?

Your answer will either eliminate or vastly broaden your retreat center options—that is, until you answer the following question.

3. What is my price range?

Your budget will determine how far you can go, for how long, and the level of amenities you’ll receive when you get there. If you want to travel internationally to places like South America or Europe, you must consider the travel expenses in addition to the retreat cost. Aside from flights and transportation, you’ll likely spend around $3,000 on a weeklong retreat. For longer experiences or private retreats that offer luxury amenities, you could be looking at a $10,000 bill or more. Some international retreat centers may provide financing options, but that is not the norm.

You can also find psychedelic retreats in the US. Even though psychedelics are federally banned, members of three American churches (the Native American Church, the Uniao Do Vegetal, and Santo Daime) can legally consume psychedelics under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In addition to churches, you can find retreat centers in places like Denver, where psilocybin is decriminalized.

US retreats might be more affordable because they’re closer to home. However, prices will vary depending on the provider and accommodations. For shorter retreats, you might be able to spend less than $1,000 if you don’t need to travel.

4. What should I know about legality and risk?

You can find legal US psychedelic retreat centers, but most operate in the gray area. Why? In the US, ketamine is the only permissible psychedelic medicine. Other psychedelic substances like ayahuasca, DMT, ibogaine, LSD, and psilocybin are federally illegal. Despite growing public acceptance, you are still taking a slight risk by attending a retreat in a country where these substances are banned. That said, various cities worldwide have decriminalized psychedelics. Plus, Oregon recently legalized psilocybin for psychedelic therapy use. That means you should see more compliant US retreat centers popping up very soon.

In the meantime, organizations worldwide have found legal avenues to offer guided ayahuasca and psilocybin experiences, among other plant medicines. In Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia, ayahuasca is either legal or accepted as a religious sacrament by many indigenous peoples. In Jamaica, magic mushroom retreats are not technically legal, but the authorities do not prosecute people for using them. In Amsterdam, psychedelics are also unlawful, but you can purchase magic truffles over the counter and find several retreat centers in the area.

So before you pick a city, state, or country, choose your comfort level surrounding the laws in that area. Once you decide, it’s time to start vetting the providers.

5. Who is leading the psychedelic retreat and what are their credentials?

If you want to attend a psychedelic retreat to heal from psychological or physical distress, choosing a provider who can hold space for your needs is essential. That means finding someone with a detailed resume, excellent reviews, and, most importantly—humility.

Any retreat leader who promises to heal you right away is lying. In fact, anyone who takes responsibility for your healing is also being disingenuous. Psychedelic retreat guides can only hold space through set and setting to empower your own self-healing.

So, ask around. Look at reviews from credible resources like Third Wave’s psychedelic directory. See if you can find other people who have participated in the ceremonies before. If possible, speak with the guides or shamans directly and ask about their qualifications, process, and guidelines. And if you’re not entirely convinced or feel something might be off but can’t quite put your finger on it, move on. You need to feel 100% safe to release your ego and fully dissolve into the psychedelic experience.

6. How do I know if the retreat is safe?

Most people who run these retreats have honest intentions. They want to nurture a safe space for you to heal through the power of these entheogenic substances. But psychedelic retreat facilitators, even shamans, are still human. They are imperfect and, occasionally, dangerous.

For instance, there are instances of sexual abuse perpetrated by the shamans who have been entrusted to safeguard a participant’s body and mind. On a less nefarious note, though still harmful, some organizations are negligent and do not properly screen or prepare participants for the complexities of psychedelic journeying. This could lead to a “bad trip” or a challenging experience that exacerbates the same symptoms that the participant was hoping to heal.

So how do you know if a psychedelic retreat is safe? You do copious amounts of background research. You look for trusted organizations like Third Wave that have taken the time to vet these providers. And perhaps, you bring a trusted friend or—if you’re female—attend a women-only retreat like some retreat centers offer to increase your comfort level.

7. What does the prep, experience, and post-experience look like?

Psychedelic retreat preparation, the experience, and post-experience integration will vary from center to center. But every retreat you attend should include all three elements to support optimal healing.

For example, Symbiosis Retreats by Kaivalya Kollective begins the intake and screening process weeks before you arrive at its center in Mexico. Symbiosis also invites you to multiple Zoom calls where they explain how you can best prepare for your 5-MeO-DMT journeys based on your goals and intentions. Preparation practices can also include physical detoxification practices like:

  • Following a vegetarian or vegan diet
  • Detoxing from sugar and caffeine
  • Abstaining from sex, drugs, and alcohol
  • Eliminating supplements or medications (under medical supervision)

During your stay at centers like Symbiosis, you can expect to receive at least two to three psychedelic ceremonies, guided by a lead facilitator or shaman, and additional guides that support the process. Some retreat centers also offer classically trained medical doctors or nurses to monitor participants during the ceremonies. Throughout the experiences, you can also expect music ranging from sacred melodies to American classics like Pink Floyd.

After the experiences, you’ll likely engage in group discussions, journaling, and aligned activities like yoga, dance, mindfulness practices, and breathwork. But integration shouldn’t end at the facility. After the retreat, you may be feeling like you solved the crisis that brought you there. But retaining the spiritual lessons you learned in the jungle can be challenging in the real world.

That’s why most retreat centers take a hands-on approach by offering psychedelic integration calls with staff therapists to guide you through the transition when you return home. Centers, like Paititi Institute in Peru offer comprehensive post-retreat resources like online community engagement, podcasts, articles, courses and a personalized healing program with live support. Many organizations also recommend you use psychotherapy as a means to continue the integration process.

Psychedelic retreat guide for specific plant medicines

How to choose the best ayahuasca retreats

Ayahuasca retreats, like 1Heart Journeys, have become increasingly popular among Westerners who seek this ancient plant-based medicine for transformation. Ayahuasca retreats are generally spiritual and often guided by healers from South America, where the plant originates. You may seek this mystical brew to heal from trauma, depression, or anxiety, or you may be seeking greater clarity, improved mental health, or personal development.

Whatever your intention, it’s important to remember that ayahuasca can be intensely emotional and physically uncomfortable. It’s common to purge during ceremonies. So you need to be 100% comfortable with the location and the people you’re journeying with. For the ideal experience, you may want to be close to nature.

According to Third Wave’s ayahuasca retreat guide:

“Ayahuasca’s native Amazonia remains popular for a number of reasons. It represents life, prehistory, psychedelic pilgrimage, and, for many tourists, an entirely “novel, exotic experience.” As the “proper set and setting,” the Amazon supports the healing process. As one visitor put it: “Beyond the ayahuasca ceremonies, there was the lesson the people of the jungle teach simply by existing as living examples of a genuine peace and simplicity.”

How to choose the best psilocybin mushroom retreat

Like ayahuasca, magic mushrooms also have a sacred history and appear abundantly  in nature. In fact, psychedelic research from Imperial College London indicates that one psilocybin experience is enough to vastly improve your connection to the natural world. For these reasons, it also makes sense that a critical pillar of a psilocybin retreat would be an outdoor setting.

Psilocybin mushrooms are more than a gateway to the natural world, however. They’ve been used in therapeutic settings to treat various ailments, including obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction.

For the most profound experience, you may want to look for a psilocybin mushroom retreat center that offers direct access to the outdoors while still allowing you to tailor your setting to whatever feels right.

How to choose the best 5-MEO-DMT retreat

For centuries, people have been taking 5-MeO-DMT as a tool for personal and spiritual growth. A 2019 survey found that most people use 5-MeO-DMT today to explore ineffable realms and generally experience intense mystical-type visions as well as ego death. While most people report a positive experience, some describe 5-MeO-DMT as absolutely terrifying.

Unlike most psychedelic journeys, 5-MeO-DMT effects come on strong within 30 seconds and last only about 15 minutes. During that time, your mind will be traveling far and fast. People describe 5-MeO-DMT as indescribably more potent than any psychedelic they’ve taken. That’s why it’s so essential to find an expert facilitator who can hold a safe space for you to catapult into a new dimension.

It’s also essential to choose a retreat center that understands the chemistry of this drug and how it can interact with your body’s receptors. 5-MeO-DMT appears to be relatively safe, but it is contraindicated with medications like MAOIs and antidepressants (as are many other psychedelic substances).

To minimize the risks, it’s best to start slow and find a highly engaged and experienced facilitator who can prepare, guide, and help you integrate the experience afterward. It’s also important to consider the sustainability issues surrounding 5-MeO-DMT, which is extracted from the endangered Sonoran Desert toad. For the most ethical usage, look for a retreat center that sources synthetic 5-MeO-DMT instead. Synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is both affordable and renewable.

How to choose the best iboga retreat

You may be curious about iboga for its ability to deliver profound insights, a deeper connection to the natural world, and healing from depression and anxiety. Like many other psychedelics, iboga has a long history of ceremonial and religious use. Unlike other psychedelics, however, iboga has a unique history as a detoxification and addiction aid.

In 1981, a European manufacturer produced iboga extract to help treat heroin addicts in Denmark. Since then, thousands of iboga treatment centers have emerged, especially in Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Costa Rica, where it’s legal to possess and distribute the substance.

Iboga has become increasingly well known for its transformative properties, but the experience isn’t always easy. During an iboga journey, you will have an intense psychedelic experience with vivid hallucinations. You’ll also feel iboga’s effects for up to 72 hours.

It’s important to note that the Iboga plant has become an endangered plant species due to its increasing global usage. As a result, you may want to consider other psychedelics before opting for the iboga experience.

That said, if you feel iboga is the best medicine to help you achieve your wellness goals, it’s critical to spend copious amounts of time researching iboga retreat centers. Legitimate organizations will conduct an exhaustive intake process, ensuring you’re mentally prepared for the three-day ceremony and that you’re not taking medications that might negatively interact with the drug. For a complete list of drug interactions, and the benefits and risks of iboga, check out Third Wave’s ultimate guide.

How to choose the best San Pedro retreat

San Pedro, one of the longest-studied psychedelics, has been a critical element to the spiritual ceremonies of indigenous cultures for centuries. For many people, the San Pedro experience enhances empathy and human connection (similar to MDMA), promoting radical introspection, healing, and awe.

Interestingly, San Pedro’s psychedelic properties are illegal to consumers in the US, but you can legally grow the plant itself in your garden. You can also find San Pedro plants in abundance in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

As a substance deeply rooted in indigenous shamanic ceremonies, it is imperative that you find a legitimate guide who truly understands and respects the medicine. Authentic indigenous healers may be difficult to find unless you’re ready to traverse the jungle. But you can find an experienced San Pedro guide that navigates across traditional and modern modalities. Ultimately, the guide you choose should align with your intentions, your personality, and your preferences.

In addition to finding the right guide, you must also consider the location. Do you want to cultivate a more “authentic” jungle experience in Ecuador or Peru? Would you prefer a beach setting in Mexico? Or would you rather have a more Western experience in Europe?

Once you answer these questions, you can begin looking for vetted San Pedro retreat centers.

The Bottom Line

To help guide you through the exhaustive and worthwhile process of vetting psychedelic retreat centers, Third Wave has created our own psychedelic directory for you to find curated offerings. Our team has verified or rigorously vetted all retreat centers and organizers, so you can confidently consider them as viable options to pursue your own transformative experience. We will continually add more high-quality retreat centers and organizers, so be sure to bookmark the directory and share it with loved ones who need it the most.

Safe travels.