ALL PHOTOS: NATHANIEL JANOWITZ
A sierra town in Mexico has become a unique tourist destination for people who want to get high on shrooms. But not all the locals are happy.
SAN JOSE DEL PACIFICO, Mexico — When you step into the midday sun in this small Mexican town, you do so with the knowledge that anyone, at any time, could be tripping on shrooms.
It could be the middle-aged local walking down the town’s main drag, the grandmother quietly watching the street from a rocking chair on her small property, or one of the dozens of young backpackers mainly from Europe, South America and North America, descending on the town each day. But especially, the backpackers. Next to the reception at one of the many backpacker hostels in town is a hand-painted sign that reads in English: “Here you can buy magic mushrooms.”
So Zaid, a 20-year-old backpacker from England, did. “I just think this town is really cool. I think it’s amazing,” he said, about ten minutes after eating the shrooms. “I wasn’t sure of how legal it was. But looking into it, it was just like a place that’s not really policed by the police. The normal laws don’t count.”
Zaid is more or less right. Because Mexico exempts the use and sale of certain sacred plants and fungi, like peyote and psilocybin mushrooms, when used in Indigenous practices, mushrooms are de facto legal. There are no cops, and the economy has adapted accordingly.
Conveniently located just a few hours in between the tourist hubs of Oaxaca City and famed beaches like Zipolite and Puerto Escondido, San Jose del Pacifico has become a global epicenter of mushroom tourism. But not everyone is sure how long this can last.
It’s an odd sensation wandering through town. A constant stream of outsiders from around the world ascend to the tiny sierra town of roughly 700 people, where many of the locals happily sell shrooms to people who go to mushroom-themed shops, and go to sleep in mushroom-themed lodges.
San Jose del Pacifico has simply become a magic mushroom town, with the local government estimating that 50 percent of the town’s inhabitants work in tourism, and somewhere from 15,000-20,000 tourists annually. Tourists either go into the surrounding nature or stay in their accommodations to trip. Some congregate on the upper edge of town where a recently constructed mirador provides breathtaking views of the region, while others venture into the forest beyond to connect with nature, meditate, and explore.
Maria, a 28-year-old psychologist from Barcelona, and her German boyfriend who were picking dirt off their fresh mushrooms, described the vibe in San Jose del Pacifico as “awkward”. She admitted that she was having an internal struggle about whether she was participating in something that “remains authentic here, or that is overexploited for the tourist’s vision.”
Then, she ate the shrooms, and by the next day, Maria’s attitude had changed. She said that when she first arrived here, she had been “rejecting” everything. She’d gone into the trip with “an intention for the mushrooms. Literally, I want to take the stick out of my ass. I feel this need to control a lot of the time. Maybe it was the door to just start, stop judging, just be,” said Maria, who didn’t want to give her full name for fear of being identified back home.
Not everyone is pleased with the town’s ever-increasing tourism. On the outskirts of San Jose del Pacifico, down a small hill from highway 175 that passes through town, lives Bufrano Pinacho, 73.
“I don’t trust tourism,” said Pinacho. “There’s no trust in the town, even with the same townspeople, there’s no trust. Everyone does what they want.” Pinacho hardly interacts with many of the townspeople, and only goes into San Jose del Pacifico occasionally “to buy stuff sometimes.”
But he seemed like an outlier. Of the dozen or so locals who spoke with VICE World News that didn’t work in tourism, Bufrano was the only one who was firmly against it. He said that’s because the locals “are spoiled” by the tourists and “money is their god.”
Published: September 22, 2022
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News