When we first began to research Cartagena, we wanted try everything! We knew there were beaches, places to dance, lots of food to consume (and we did it all) but we didn’t want to miss out on the more unique options off the beaten path. Somehow, one of us discovered “El Totumo”.
What is El Totumo? According to local legend, it was an active volcano just outside Cartagena. One day, a monk came by, sprinkled holy water on the volcano and ‘calmed’ it. The result? The once fiery volcano is now blessed and filled with rich minerals that locals and tourists alike can go and bath in to receive amazing health and spa-like benefits. In short, it’s now a volcano mud bath. That’s really all we had to know – we signed up immediately.
There were several different options available through Cartagena Connections. We opted for the Volcano & Beach combo that costs 60,000 pesos (or $30 American Dollars). The excursion would take about 6 hours – start with a trip to El Totumo and end with lunch and time at a local beach. Not a bad deal! We didn’t know what this experience would be like, but we knew it would be weird.
We wore old bikinis that we knew we’d discard at the end of the day – and our tour guide picked us up promptly at 9am directly from our Airbnb. We rode with a few new friends that we picked up at a local hostel and drove about 45 minutes outside of Cartagena to reach El Totumo.
We got there and gazed upon the Volcano… er ant hill??
Yea ok, so it wasn’t this monster of a mountain that we envisioned, but that was ok! We were there for the spa-like benefits!
Immediately we were shuffled over to a hut where we stripped down and stored away our belongings into the locker. For 2,000 pesos (or propinas – and yes they will hunt you down for tips) you can hand your camera over to one of the local workers that will take pictures for you. Warning – outside from the designated ‘guide’ no one speaks English so if you don’t speak Spanish, hand gestures will be needed.
We then began the climb, with our group of 7 other bus mates, up the shaky ladder to ‘El Totumo’. Once we were up at the top of the volcano, we looked down into the pit. This is what we saw.
Looks…. nice… right?
But we were already committed! Reluctantly, we climbed down the ladder, one by one then tried to ‘ease’ into the silk mud bath. Once we arrived in the mud, two men immediately grabbed us, laid us down horizontally and began the ‘massage’ (whether we wanted it or not) so we could really get the full benefits of the spa. It’s all part of the experience (and they will also be asking for a propina afterwards – 3,000 worth – for this luxurious benefit).
The mud felt… weird. Silky? Meh… I wouldn’t use that word but it was something. And it kinda had it’s own unique smell. I tried not to think about what was in the mud. You also can’t really swim in the mud – it’s so mineral rich that you find yourself just floating and having a hard time figuring out what to do with your legs.
If you look around the pit, you’ll see a wide range of human emotion. Fear, bewilderment, joy, panic, disgust.. and lots of laughter. As you look into each others eyes, we all seemed to be saying the same thing: what the hell did we agree too??? Whatever, you’re all in it together! Just watch out for the random mud splashes coming from the sky. You get that shit in your eye and it STINGS!
Finally, once you are fully ‘relaxed’ you are shuffled up a ladder that is REALLY muddy and wobbly to exit the volcano. I’m amazed that no one fell, slipped or broke anything although I’m sure that’s had to happen in the past. Finally, we reached the top. Joy! We were out of the mud pit! But wait.. the best was yet to come.
We, along with our muddy comrades, were escorted off to the side to sit around a tub of water from the local river while elderly Colombian women proceeded to strip us and wash us down. Yes, I was washed down, naked as the day I was born, in front of strangers I had just met that morning – which means no one had even bought me a drink. I just closed my eyes and lifted my face to the sun. “This is what it’s all about” I thought, “don’t fight it, embrace it.”
Once the mud and dignity had been removed it was time to dress and join the tribe. That’s when you tip everyone out – the massagers 3,000 – the camera man 2,000 and the dignity scrub-off 4,000. And that, was basically the end of El Totumo. It was.. interesting?? Although I can’t say I would do it again. If you want to do a weird touristy thing, go ahead and sign up. But it wasn’t really worth the hype and I’m not sure if I’m glowing as much as I thought I would after the mineral bath. I did however enjoy the fish lunch afterwards and the time at the local beach where wild pigs roamed. That was fun and helped to wrap up the weirdness of the day.