The Totumo mud volcano (Volcán de Lodo El Totumo) is a quirky little day trip outside of Cartagena, which offers exactly what is says on the tin; you climb inside a volcano filled with delicious liquid-mud.
The Volcano is about one hour outside of Cartagena, with the journey taking you through the Bolivar region. The views on the way are pretty decent, but nothing compared to what the tourist agency will tell you they are.
When you arrive, don’t expet anything spectacular. The volcano, albeit 15 meters high, is not going to take your breath away. There is an on-going debate about whether the volcano is naturally occurring or a man-made tourist trap, but what’s for certain is that it is pretty ugly to look at, but it’s filled with naturally heated mud which is supposedly good for the skin.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun day out. Strange, but fun. I just think there are perhaps better ways to spend your time that using an entire day to spend 20 minutes in a mud bath. Here’s a step-by-step of our day:
- Leave the city at around 9a.m. – As we neared our destination, we were told to undress (we had swimming gear on under our clothes) whilst still on the bus, which was a little bit odd but the vibe of the day was to go with the (muddy) flow!
- Arrive half naked at 10a.m. – We were herded off the bus in our swimming gear, wearing flip flops and carrying a towel. We left the towels on a nearby bench but retained our flip flops for the gravelly walk over to the staircase. At the bottom of the stairs there’s an area to leave your sandals or flipflops (there will be a couple of local boys waiting to carry your flip flops over to the staircase by which you’ll descend, for a small tip of course!). The staircase is uneven and slippery, use the hand rail.
- Climb the famous Totumo Mud Volvano – When you reach the top, there may be a small queue to get in the mud pool. Meanwhile, you have a pretty good view of the lake. Here you can give your camera to a local man if you wish. It’s perfectly safe and for a tip of 3000 Colombian Pesos he will take some snaps of you in the mud and return the camera at the bottom. If you’re with a tour, the operator often takes the pictures, but you’ll still be expected to pay.
- Get in! – At the time we visited, the level of the mud was very low; apparently the level changes depending on thermal activity. This mean’t that when it was our turn to climb in there was a good 4 or 5 meter climb down a rickety ladder which was caked in mud. Once we were in the mud (which was a pretty comfortable temperature, but certainly not warm) we were immediately man-handled by a couple of local chaps who begin to give you a massage as your float on the surface of the mud. It’s really more of a brief rub-down but please note that this is entirely optional, despite the way you seemingly have no choice. Afterwards, the masseuse will find you to claim his payment, which he politely calls a tip. This was 3000 Colombian Pesos, at time of writing.
- Get out! – Back up the rickety ladder. At the top of the ladder, there is another unavoidable/optional service where a man will scrape the mud from your skin and clothes. This is actually quite helpful as the mud is heavy and you have another set of steps to climb down. To our surprise we didn’t even have to pay for this one! You may have to though, so ask.
- Get clean! – When you get to the bottom of the slippery steps your flip flops will have appeared there magically. A local boy will hand them back to you for the stony walk down to the river. In the river there will be ladies waiting there to wash you. Yes, you read correctly. They will strip your clothes off and wash you like a new born baby. Once you and the local lady are better acquainted, of course it would be rude not to give her a small tip. Something like C$3000 should do the trick. If you don’t like being naked in public or being touched by strangers this, too, is optional. Just say no, loudly, a couple of times. I just gave the boys with the flip flops a couple of coins as a tip. I’m glad I didn’t give them more as they basically demanded C$15,000 and gave me abuse when I refused.
- Get fed! – Once you’re clean and dry (don’t take the “clean” part too literally) you have the option of grabbing some local cuisine. The volcano site is surrounded by small stalls and tents containing bars and restaurants. Some tours include lunch, but if yours doesn’t meals here are more or less the same price as meals in Cartagena itself. Our tour stopped at the beach for a few hours on the way back to Cartagena, where we had the option of buying lunch at a local restaurant.
Overall, I would say that the trip to the El Totumo mud volcano is worth a day of your time, if you have a day to spare. My advice would be to book a tour with lunch included, take a couple of small bills for the extras and enjoy the ridiculous and often awkward experience. It was certainly an experience we won’t forget in a hurry.
We booked through Casa Viena Hostel on Calle San Andres. The cost at time of writing is C$30,000 without lunch (or C$40k with lunch) and they will pick you up from your hostel/hotel.
Breakdown of Costs
|Day Tour||C$30 – 40,000|
|Pictures Taken (Optional)||C$3000|
|Scrape Clean (Optional)||Freebie!|
|River Wash (Optional)||C$3000|
|Lunch||C$10 – 15,000|
|Total||C$49 – 64,000|