This was a strange rural Colombian experience. While we were in Cartagena de Indias we took a trip to swim inside a volcano. It sounds like a great tourist attraction, doesn’t it? At first it was hard to imagine how exactly you would get in and out, and whether the volcano could suck you down into its crater. Then I thought it was some kind of a Colombian hippy SPA. But I was more than wrong…
We got there on a bus (one of the typical small old speeding as hell and beeping buses). It’s a 50-minute ride from Cartagena or Barranquilla. The volcano is located in the middle of nowhere. When the driver turned into a huge forest and continued the ride for another 15 minutes, I understood that we weren’t going to a hippy SPA, not even to a civilized place. We were heading to an indigenous Colombian village.
Aside from the volcano, there were only two poorly made straw houses, a lagoon and a bunch of local people willing to help you out during the awesome mud bath. No WC, no locker room. We had to leave all our clothes, personal objects and shoes in the bus. You are not supposed to take anything with you to the volcano. Just your bathing suit. If you want one of the local helpers to take a picture of you in the volcano, you should give them your camera (only if you feel like leaving your fancy camera with a stranger). And here’s a trick: it is a paid help. You will have to tip them afterwards. If you don’t, you’ll probably never see your camera again. That’s what I and other tourists thought at first, but actually the people working there were pretty honest. None of our stuff were missed. It was a nice way to learn that Colombian are pretty honest.
The volcano itself is a small grey hill (15 m/49ft high). In order to get to the top you have to climb a wooden ladder. Once you’re on the top, you have to climb down another wooden ladder to get into the volcano. The second ladder is pretty dangerous. It’s quite old, used and slippery. And then you dip into mud. It is thick enough to not let you sink.
So there I was, floating in a volcano’s crater, trying to submerge my legs and put myself in a vertical direction – which wasn’t easy whatsoever. Actually, a nice Paraguayan man had to help me by pushing my legs down. As the sun was shining hard on us, we were suggested to cover our whole head and face in mud (ugh, grose). Just your eye bowls could stay uncovered. Now, we were properly prepared to enjoy mud’s healing properties. We were said that the mud could rejuvenate the skin. I am not so sure about that. I stayed there far longer than allowed and have not noticed any difference so far. What I did noticed was tiny gritty sand balls exfoliating my skin. It actually felt nice.
The mud was kind of cold so it felt marvelous to cool down in a hot day. From time to time the mud was bubbling because of gas emissions.
If you fancy for a personal short massage, there are local attendees who will be more than happy to give you one. Note, this relaxing activity is not free of charge. If you say NO to masseuses, they will push you away to the worst corner (with no shadow) of the volcano. That’s how it works there, if you don’t pay, screw yourself. We didn’t miss a lot, I was said the massages had been rather an ordinary touching activity. Instead we had such a nice time with other tourists. Actually I am thinking that the mud has a laughing properties. After 15-20 minutes they would ask you to leave so the next group of tourists (who by the way, were cooking themselves on the top of the volcano for 20 minutes) could dip in. If you’re a supple person, you won’t find it difficult to climb up the old slippery ladder. If not, well it will take you a while to get out.
I assume you can imagine how I looked after the mud bath – like the Groke from the Moomine. There was no other choice than to clean ourselves in the near lagoon. For me this was the hardest part in terms of hygiene. The water was brown dark and muddy and sort of tepid, which made me think only about one thing: piss. I could have left the place covered with mud (apparently there are people wandering around covered in mud), but I didn’t (and maybe it was a mistake). And despite my desperate intentions to get rid of the bone dry mud by myself and speed off ASAP, I had to ask one of the local ladies to help me out and pour some water all over my body (grooossseee). It was impossible to do it by yourself, no matter how hard you would have try.
Once you’re clean and look like yourself again, it’s time to spare some money. If you used any of paid services, you’ll not be left alone until you settle the payment.
The essentials of El Totumo Mud Volcano:
Recommended: Yes. Bear in mind that the mug is not the prettiest thing in the world. But it doesn’t smell funny and it won’t do you any harm. If you’re up to anything, you should definitely try a mud bath. Be aware: if you’re a neat freak, don’t even think about going there.
How to get there: we booked this excursion in one of the local travel agencies. So actually we didn’t have to worry about anything. They picked us up at our hotel and they took us back. After the bath we had a nice lunch in a fishing village. I think it’s the best choice.
Price: our excursion cost about $35 (including: bus, mud bath, lunch, local guide). But be prepared for lots of small bills – you will be expected to tip each of the local “helpers” (approx. $3 per person).
– put on an old swimming suit. After the mud bath your bikini will get darker (dirtier) and you will never wash it out.
– leave all valuable objects in your hotel. You’ll need only a swimming suit, towel and flip flops with you.
– if you don’t want any extra services (massage, lady who bath you in the lagoon, photographer) say it clearly because once they touch you, you will have to tip them. There is no mercy.
– go there early in the morning so you’re the first to go down to the volcano. Otherwise you’ll have to stay in the line (for a long time).