Volcán de Lodo El Totumo is a unique mud volcano found halfway between Cartagena and Barranquilla. It’s a popular tourist destination for the healing powers of the mud, which we were told has over 50 minerals, but for me it was fun just to flop around in it. Day trips from Cartagena are very easy to book.
My cousin Anna and I booked our tour at our hotel the night before for a cost of COP$55,000 per person, lunch and admission included. We were picked up at about 9AM in a van and driven about 90 minutes to the volcano. When we arrived at the site, we were taken into the facilities of the tour company and shown our lockers where we were able to keep our valuables and clothes. Everyone stripped down to swimwear and flip flops. We were then given the option of paying a man COP$3,000 per camera to take photos for us while we were in the mud.
We walked out to the volcano, which was more like a giant anthill. The “volcano” stands 15m high and has a rickety wooden staircase leading up to the crater. We had to remove our flip flops before climbing up the steps. At the top, the views were beautiful in every direction.
The crater was fenced in and had two ladders leading down to the mud. The man at the top told me the hole was 2,500m deep! He said not to worry because it’s impossible to sink in the mud, something we would find out very quickly.
When it was our turn, we climbed down the ladder and into the mud. We were quickly pulled over to the side and given a mud massage by one of the locals. This would cost COP$3,000 and was optional. When the massage finished, we tried to position ourselves upright but it was almost impossible! We were slipping and sliding and needed help to be put in the correct position. I felt like a pig in slop, and smelled like one too – the sulfur and minerals of the mud were almost overwhelming. Bubbles of air would once in a while pop up to the surface. Some of the visitors were laughing and saying “wasn’t me!”.
We sat in the mud and chatted with a few others for about 10 minutes, then tried to make our way to the ladder up. “Tried” is the appropriate word. It took all of our power to make it to the ladder without flipping over and kicking people in the face. Once carefully up the slippery ladder, a man wiped off some excess mud and we slowly headed down the volcano to ground level.
Next, we walked barefoot over dirt and rocks to a lake. At the lake, an old indigenous woman took my hand, plopped me down into the water, and washed me like a baby. She splashed water over my head, scrubbed my ears, arms, and back, and nearly drowned me with the amount of water she splashed onto my face. Then she asked me to take off my shorts, to which I replied, “Que?” (What?). She repeated herself and I stripped buck naked while sitting in the water. She washed my shorts to get all the mud off and handed them back to me. This washing service was well worth it and cost COP$3,000. I wiggled back into the shorts, stood up, and walked out of the lake to find my flip flops waiting for me underneath a tree.
We walked back to the tour company’s facility where we took a quick shower, got dressed, and got our valuables out of the lockers. We paid the cameraman, mud massage man, and the washing woman for their services and got into the van.
We then headed for lunch at a small fishing village called Manzanillo del Mar, about 30 minutes from Cartagena, where we were given a choice of chicken or fish. I also had an incredible experience watching the fishermen bring in their nets.
After lunch, it was time to head back to Cartagena. Our drive back was delayed about an hour because of a roadblock. It wasn’t explained to us in detail. When we were given the green light to head back, we ended up getting caught in a small riot in the fishing village of La Boquilla. About 20 young men were throwing rocks and sticks at riot police and hiding behind trees. I managed to snap a quick photo as we were driving away to safety. We had to wait a good 15 minutes again before the road cleared and the police allowed us to return to Cartagena.
Overall, it turned out to be a much better tour than expected. The mud volcano to some people isn’t interesting, but for us it was unique and fun. Watching the fishermen at Manzanilla del Mar was priceless for me, and the riot was an unexpected “bonus”.