Trouble in Paradise
Costa Rica's booming psychedelic market faces some growing pains
Eight years ago, Juliet and Daniel, a married couple from the UK, decided to sell everything they had and move to Costa Rica. Daniel had taken ayahuasca and seen a vision of them living in a tropical paradise. A few days later, they were watching TV and a show came on about moving to Costa Rica. It was a sign!
Juliet tells me: ‘Ayahuasca influenced the move to Costa Rica, especially my husband as he was shown a vision of a paradise setting. I think with the lack of assistance and aftercare to process the visions and what they mean, you only get half the story.. The move to Costa Rica was more emotional than a logical move and in retrospect, we definitely could have handled it differently.’
They searched the internet for opportunities to live and work in Costa Rica, and found a horse-riding business on the Caribbean coast, which somehow they agreed to buy with their entire savings – sending £30,000 to the seller without actually going to Costa Rica to check out the business.
This was, in retrospect, a bad idea.
When they flew to Costa Rica and travelled to its Caribbean coast, the woman who they bought the horse-business from told them unfortunately all eight horses had got sick and died. In addition, the area where the horses were taken for walks was rented, not theirs. So all the had to show for their £30,000 was a few tattered saddles.
They quickly ran out of money to rent rooms or buy food. An American acquaintance lent them some horses for their business and said they could sleep in his stable, so they put up tents in the stable and slept there, surrounded by their piss and shit. They lived in the stable for four months. The water was rancid, and they only ate what fruit Daniel could forage. They stopped speaking to each other.
Juliet eventually became so malnourished and ill that she flew back to the UK to see a GP. She was told she had an infection in her womb and might never be able to have children. Daniel stayed in Costa Rica to make his dream of paradise a reality. They argued over Skype. Juliet agreed to fly out to try and make it work, one last time. While there, the couple tried ayahuasca again. It was a very tough experience for Julia, though she did have a vision that she and Daniel would have a child.
Four months later, they returned to the UK for good, their dream of paradise over. But they did have a child, after all.
Juliet and Daniel are not alone in being drawn to the dream of Costa Rica. In many ways, it really is a paradise. It has beautiful beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coast, 25% of the country is protected rainforest, it has 6% of the world’s biodiversity (red macaws fly past my balcony every day), and it’s a peaceful, friendly place without any army, with some of the best environmental policies in the world, and with a national motto ‘Pura Vida’ (which actually comes from a 1956 Mexican film about a guy who wins the lottery).
Its reputation as a beautiful, safe and eco-friendly place has made it a popular destination to visit, move to, and retire in. Thousands of ‘digital nomads’, like me, moved here during the pandemic. And hundreds of thousands of Americans and Canadians have retired here – Costa Rica is consistently voted ‘best place to retire’.
In the last few years, Costa Rica has also attracted many psychedelic seekers like Daniel and Julia. There are around 80 psychedelic centres in Costa Rica, according to one estimate – 60 ayahuasca centres, and other centres offering mushroom and ibogaine retreats, making Costa Rica the second-most-popular country for psychedelic retreats after Peru.
The biggest centres are Soltara in Puntarenas and Rythmia near Tamarindo. The latter has been nicknamed the ‘Walmart of psychedelics’ for its practice of packing 100 or so guests into its ayahuasca retreats, each paying $5000 for a week. There are four retreats a month, so on a good month Rythmia can earn $2 million. Then there are many other smaller centres or private ceremonies. In Santa Teresa, the most popular beach-town for seeker-types, you can buy psychedelic chocolates in the supermarket.
All of this attracts the luxury psychedelic seeker who might not be up for the gnarliness of the Peruvian Amazon. Everyone from Megan Fox to Lord Evgeny Lebedev (owner of the Evening Standard) have blabbed about their life-changing psychedelic experiences in Costa Rica. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and podcaster Aubrey Marcus hired out the whole of Soltara for their crew to aya-bond. We don’t know why Prince Harry and Megan Markle came to Costa Rica over Christmas,, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they came for the aya. Ivanka Trump came here in February of last year, then subsequently asked some of my sources how to fund psychedelic research.
But there’s trouble in paradise. Recently, the Minister of Health threatened to close down some of the leading centres, including Rythmia, over health and safety concerns. This may explain why Rythmia, the most famous and successful ayahuasca retreat centre in the world, abruptly dropped all mention of ayahuasca from its website. More seriously for the country, there’s a rising wave of narco violence, and the infrastructure and environment is struggling to cope with the pace of red-hot pace of development.
More after the pay-wall.