Cartagena, the cruise ship port and gem of Colombia’s Caribbean coast is famous for its beautifully coloured buildings surrounded by history, architecture and archaeology. Well maintained with a historical center packed full of gourmet restaurants, clothing boutiques and emerald stores, the city of Cartagena is most definitely for those who prefer a more comfortable style of travel. Let’s take a minute to step outside of the upscale features of the city of Cartagena and look into a more unique and slightly dirtier activity this area of Colombia offers. The mud baths of El Totumo Volcano.
El Totumo Volcano is situated about 1 hours’ drive from Cartagena. The Volcano rises about 15 meters above the ground and is accessible by a staircase which leads to the crater. The mud filled crater can hold around 15 people who bathe in the dense warm mud with optional massages from attendants. The folklore of the volcano is that at one point it spewed fire, ashes and lava. Then, a local priest sprinkled holy water into it and turned it into mud which is now rumoured to have healing powers. You will have to be your own judge.
Our journey to El Totumo Volcano, one of the top things to do in Cartagena, started early in the morning at 7:30 with a drive through the Santa Catalina district of Colombia which provides sweeping views of this tropical region. When we pulled up to the Volcano, I’ll be honest…I was a little underwhelmed. It was a little smaller than I expected and even maybe looked a little bit… in my opinion, manmade. Whatever though, I was there. I was committed. If nothing else, it would be a funny experience.
We were ushered into a small building containing change rooms with some lockers to store our belongings. Next we paid our entrance fees. We were able to give our phones to attendants who would take pictures of us while we were in the mud for just $3,000 pesos ($1.50 USD). I loved this! It was great to have them there to take pictures with our phones and not have to ask the awkward question, “Will you take a quick picture of me?” Also these guys can use any camera and any phone and amazingly enough, they remember which belongs to whom (as they hold 6 or 7 cameras in their hands at once).
Once in our swim suits we marched up the staircase of the ‘volcano’ and took our first looks into the magical mud bath we were about to climb into. There were two ladders into the volcano and once inside, we could see the framing of the volcano….but who’s judging anyways? One by one we descended the ladder into the mud which felt odd. It wasn’t overly warm, it was thick enough to float in, but not sink, but not be on top of…I don’t know…I am assuming this is what astronauts feel like in 0 gravity.
There were some attendants (men) in the volcano mud waiting to give ‘massages’ for $3,000 pesos each. We had been warned before entering the volcano…you can’t see their hands under the mud and there are rumours of fingers ‘slipping’. So I entered the Volcano basically screaming ‘no gracias…no gracias…no, no, no, no, no….gracias…no quiero’. Ladies and gentlemen, I am helping you.
I was amazed at how many people they could fit into this little volcano pool. More and more people from different tour groups entered the volcano. When you’re in this weird consistency of mud, you basically have no control over what you’re doing. You may be perfectly balanced but as soon as someone new bumps into you…away you go and you can’t stop. My hands, feet, knees, elbows, and toes were going places they shouldn’t as more people joined the volcano circus. There is just no option for movement hence there is a lot of immediate bonding amongst travelers. We had a lot of fun flip flopping around the volcano but when it was time to get out…I was ok with it. I headed out first, climbing to the top of the crater where there was someone to help squeegee the mud off of me…and take pictures.
From here we were guided from the ‘volcano’ to a nearby lake where some women directed us one by one into the lake. This was a surprise and they did not take no for an answer. They simply grabbed you and took you with them into the water. Once deep enough in the lake they told us to sit down and began splashing water in our faces with plastic bowls. They were cleaning us and thoroughly at that. They were cleaning our hair, arms and even ears…yes, I think I even had a finger in my ear. Before I knew it, the woman had even taken off my bikini top…what?…what just happened. She was cleaning the mud from my bathing suit, as well as me. I just could not stop laughing. A few seconds later BOOM, she had managed to strip me of my bikini bottoms as well. I don’t even know how she managed it but I was naked amongst other tourists in the lake. Also suffering the same fate. Boy’s…don’t think you are exempt from this either, they took everyone’s clothes for a wash.
After a lot of laughing at the shock of fellow mud bathers arriving in the lake and being thoroughly stripped and cleaned, we managed to get our swim suits back on and headed back to the building where our lockers were. There were showers here which we used to clean off any leftover mud and change rooms for us to switch into our dry clothes. After having some complimentary fresh fruit, we got our phones and cameras back, paid our attendants and washers with cash and headed back into the bus for our ride home.
Did I feel the magical healing powers of this lava turned mud via holy water…probably not. I did laugh a lot at the entire process of slipping around a ‘volcano’ with 15 others and I laughed even more at the washing event which followed. Upon reflection I had a pretty good time during my morning spent at El Totumo Volcano. If you are not in a rush and have a little extra time to spend in Cartagena I believe the experience to be fun and quirky. If it is not for you then there are lots of other things to do around Cartagena. It was definitely not spa relaxing but something you won’t regret doing…once. Let me know how it goes for you.
Elaine J. Masters says
Good for you! That’s an experience you won’t forget. It’s a local thing, sounds like, and tourism supports the village.
I loved my mud bath experience in Israel but my bathing suit was never the same again after it. Did you find that as well?
Kimberly Erin says
I thought of that so I wore a black bikini top! ahahah solution! where did you do your mud bath?
Hitch-Hikers Handbook says
We have visited some mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan, but they were much smaller and you couldn’t go inside. I would love to experience this one, as I love mud baths (had my first one in Kyrgyzstan last year and it was great! :)
Kimberly Erin says
smaller than 1 meters?!!?!? does that even make them volcanoes? ahaha
This looks like a blast! And such a different thing to do! Not many people can say they’ve bathed in mud in a volcano!
Haha oh my god what an experience! Thanks for your honest opinion on this volcano bathing trip. I’m not sure if I’d like to try it. But the photos look great ;)
Natasha Amar says
This experience of being stripped naked without expecting it was hilarious! Makes you realize how differently modesty is viewed in different cultures!
Kimberly Erin says
AHAH It might have been my favorite part just because it was so genuinely surprising and funny. loved it
the phone attendants definitively did a good job with the photos and that is a great idea since you can;t really take cameras into the mud ;)
I am so jealous you got to do visit the tar pits. Hopefully someday!!!
We ultimately skipped this (we had to get to Medellin quickly to meet some friends) as others who had been were pretty underwhelmed…
I think your final sentence leaves me not regretting the decision either ;-)
Just wondering, as an aside, how safe your trip was to Medellin? Which areas are safe and what are some great things to do there. Traveling with 3 other friends in April.
Anna @ shenANNAgans says
Immediate bonding with fellow travellers, totally an experience you won’t forget, you can be like ‘remember that one time we were coated in gooey, slimy mud and I touched your…. ‘ Such a fun post, I’d do it for sure. :)
Some great mud bath fun… quite crazy but good you guys had fun… this is a weird volcano though having no fire or lava…
Karla (Karla Around The World) says
The Magical factor was really intriguing, but I guess the magic is the fun experience that you will have with the other visitors.
You had a fun muddy experience there, girl. It migt not be relaxing but doing it with funny people will make it more awesome I guess.
Cai Dominguez says
I should experience this someday. This soooo cool! Is that 3k pesos I think that’s expensive.
Trisha Velarmino - P.S. I'm On My Way says
Hey Cai! Kimberly is referring to Colombian pesos. They start counting with $500.00 COP so $3,000 COP sounds expensive! But in reality, it’s only equivalent to $1.50 USD, which is very cheap given this is a fantastic activity!
This looks like so much fun! I want to be covered in mud! I’ll also pass on the massage, too haha!
Joe Ankenbauer says
I love places like this. I’ve been to a few different mud pits and love them! So relaxing
Marta Cunha Grilo says
I took a mud bath back in Brazil and it’s amazing. My skin was super soft after that. And that was pretty cheap!
[email protected] says
That am sure is a life time experience. I will be in Colombia soon and goes without saying, I can’t wait to do this. $3,000 pesos seems quite legit for this experience. Thanks for sharing.
We did not have time to do this when we were in Cartagena. I still regret it to this day. Looks like such a fun experience!
UK Travel Visas says
Wow, this is great! I’ve always wanted to try something like this. Mud bath looks amazing.
KIM! this blog made me laugh out loud. What an experencie was that… hahaha!
Love your website! Hope to see you somewhere soon, maybe Azia?? ;-)