I feel like volcanos are my Pokémon. In Costa Rica, I hiked a volcano then waded in the naturally heated hot springs. I boarded down a volcano made of compressed ash in Nicaragua on little more than a thin, metal toboggan. I seem to “catch ‘em all” when it comes to volcano-centric experiences, but never before had I been given a mud massage IN a volcano.
Generally, when you think of volcanos, what’s called to mind are things like majestic peaks, spewing fire, virginal sacrifices…not so much getting mud massaged by a Colombian man. Am I the only weirdo/pervert who immediately thought that sounded like fun?! In fact, the moment I saw fellow wanderer, Room + Wild, post a photo her chest-deep in mud, it was scored on my heart as a bucket list item that I needed to experience. In fact, it was the main attraction that inspired my most recent adventure to Cartagena, Colombia.
Kelly, my travelling companion, translator, and reluctant (but obliging) personal photographer, and I booked the excursion through El Viajero Hostel where we were staying. We were picked up by a van from our hostel around 2pm, having opted out of the package that involved an earlier pick-up time and lunch since we wanted to (over)indulge in ceviche at the nearby, Anthony Bourdain approved La Cevicheria.
El Totumo or Volcano de Lodo El Totumo, is a mud volcano known for it’s therapeutic qualities that is located about a hour’s ride out of Cartagena (a easy day trip from the vibrant city) in the municipality of Santa Catalina.
There are two stories you can believe about how El Totumo came to be:
One, the lore is that it used to be a natural volcano, spewing fire and the whole bit, until a local priest declared that it was the devil’s work and turned the fire into mud by sprinkling holy water on it.
The second theory is that it was man-made by the locals as a tourist trap to bring money into the little town surrounding it. Also it’s probably pretty amusing to watch silly foreigners pay money to swan about in a vat of mud.
Considering that the resident Colombians spread out folding chairs at the bottom of the staircase to watch people descend out of the volcano like their own personal reality show, I’m more inclined to believe the later. What better form of entertainment is there?
Upon arrival at the village by El Totumo, we were ushered into changing rooms complete with nearby lockers where we were told to leave everything but the bathing suits on our bodies and our phones that we handed over to a local who would take photos of the experience.
Clad in only our bathing suits, we ascended the roughly made staircase up the volcano, holding the wooden handrails to steady ourselves in the strong wind. From the top, we could see the little town and nearby lagoon from 50-foot high and down a couple feet into the mud-filled pit with 15 or so tourists, inelegantly flopping around, laughing, and conversing in a mish mash of languages.
I freaked out a tiny, little bit when initially I lowered myself from the ladder into the viscous mud. There is no bottom so there’s this ingrained fear that you’re going to fall when you let go of the ladder but somehow you’re floating. It’s the weirdest sensation because you’re using to feeling something supporting you like the ground beneath your feet or a solid chair, but instead you’re just engulfed by thick sludge. I loved it! After submerging ourselves in the mire, Kelly and I were whisked away by two Colombian men who massaged mud into us, spinning us around like mud aerobics. I found it really relaxing but fortunately I had a very respectful masseur. Kelly was not so lucky and got a more “thorough” massage than was necessary.
After oozing about in the pit and getting the mud in places mud ought not to be, we emerged and at the top of the ladder, stood still for another local who acted like a human windshield wiper. He essentially squeegeed the dense layer of mud from our bodies that plastered us from head to toe before we descended the volcano.
As the sun was starting to set, we were ushered to a nearby lagoon where the women of the town waited to rinse us. I’m aware of how odd this entire experience sounds but it was actually really pleasant to have warm water gently poured over you, washing all the mud away.
Before leaving the village, I explored the little restaurants that were beautifully decorated in colourful brush lettering and paintings of, womanly figures that I related to as much as I did to the voluptuous Fernando Botero sculptures that are scattered around the country. To round out the refreshing experience, I drank from a coconut and made friends with Julio at his tropical juice stand.
Whether it’s a tourist trap or a natural phenomenon, El Totumo Mud Volcano is a must-do experience, albeit an unusual and awkward one! It was definitely a highlight for me.
Things you need to bring:
- Bathing Suit (I wore mine)
- Change of clothes
- Your phone or camera
Activity (including transportation): COP$55,000
Little boy who brought my shoes: COP$1,000
Everything except for the activity price were optional. So if you’re not comfortable being touched then you can opt out but it’s all part of the experience! It’s also must more convenient to have someone take photos for you in case you drop your phone in the mud. Also, when it comes down to it, 4,000 Colombian pesos is less than $2 Canadian and it’s sustainable travel practice to give money back into the place you’re visiting.