Floating in a mud bath inside a volcano would have to be one of my most random travel experiences. But also one of my favourite travel experiences – I don’t think I stopped laughing the whole time I was in the mud bath.
While on a tour along the Caribbean coast of Colombia, our guide recommended we visit the Volcan de Totumo (Totumo Volcano) – a 15 metre mud volcano about 45 minutes outside of Cartagena.
When you reach the volcano, you’ll wonder if you’re in the right place and may think you’ve been tourist trapped.
Rough shacks line the entry in what feels like the middle of nowhere and ahead of you stands the volcano – which looks like a dirt hill someone has roughly put up and added some stairs to the top. I’m assured though that this is actually a mud volcano.
I was with four other friends on a tour and we uncertainly exited the minivan just in our swimming gear – told to leave everything else in the van. We were led to three men, told to hand them our cameras and were led up the wooden stairs. This was definitely not what I expected.
Our tour guide had described this as a thermal mud bath with a massage included, and my mind had immediately jumped to thinking we were going to an established spa with changerooms at least – not to an exposed hill top.
As we reached the top of the volcano, we looked into a pit supported by wooden struts down into thick dark grey mud with two men waiting for us down in the pit.
This was getting a little weird but travel is all about new experiences – even the weird ones that take you out of your comfort zone. Especially as none of us knew much Spanish – so we were basically going by hand gestures.
One by one, we climbed down the wooden stairs into the pit. There were four girls and one guy in my group, and the guy boldly was the first to go in while us girls watched from above to see what exactly was going to happen.
As my fellow tour member entered the pit, he was instructed the lie on his back (the mud is so dense you float very easily) and the man started massaging him from the legs up. That’s when the laughs started and they didn’t stop until we were washed free of the mud. Despite what we saw, all four of us proceeded to get in one by one down the wooden stairs and took turns getting leg and arm massages.
I preferred to just float rather than get a massage – the massage bit was a little weird and felt a little uncomfortable as I tried to keep my ears out of the mud.
The mud was really warm and relaxing once you just float in it. But watch you don’t get any mud in your eyes or mouth – it’s pretty hard to get it out once you’re in the mud pit. One of our group got mud in his eye and had to get an incoming tourist with mud free hands to wipe his eye for him!
At first we were the only ones there, then it started getting a little crowded as more tourists streamed in.
We stayed in the pit for about 30 minutes before it got a little crowded. About 10 to 12 people at a time is about all the mud pit can handle before it gets a little too cosy.
We didn’t stop laughing the whole time we were there – we could all see the funny side. And it made for a great story and hilarious photos of us covered in thick mud.
But the weird part of this experience didn’t stop there.
As you exit the mud pit, dripping onto the others in the pit below, excess mud gets wiped off you by the men who massaged you, then you head down another set of wooden stairs and led down to the water – which turns out is some sort of thermal lake.
You’re greeted by local women who lead you by the hand to the water – make you sit down and proceed to pour water over you with a bowl to clean you off. If you haven’t felt embarrassed yet, this part will do it. But you’ll see the funny side.
Don’t be surprised if the women washing you and the men taking your photos have a little chuckle as you get stripped down and washed off.
Once you’re mostly clean (you will still smell of mud until you can have a proper shower) it’s time for some beers at a makeshift bar in a wooden lean to before making your way back to Cartagena.
After a proper shower, you’ll find your skin is smooth and soft from the minerals in the volcanic mud.
Including transport to and from Volcano Totumo, the cost of the trip was $US28 (about $A38). The price fluctuates depending on how many people you have with you. The more people with you, the cheaper the transport cost.
Author’s Note: This excursion was organised while on the Caribbean Colombia Express tour through G Adventures, however group tours are able to be arranged from Cartagena.