If you ever wanted to know what you would look like as a statue, or just what it feels like to swim in a volcano then go to the Volcán del Totumo. This has been one of my favourite places in Colombia so far and that’s saying a lot!
Situated 30 minutes from Cartagena towards Barranquilla, we took a bus for $15,000COP each where they dropped us off on what looked like a deserted road in the middle of nowhere. After a 1-kilometer walk in the heat, we saw it; a steep grey mound in the distance with wooden stairs saturated with mud attached each side. At the top were what appeared to be strange mud monsters emerging from the opening.
We searched around the area before taking the plunge and found a local woman manning a mud house/restaurant who offered to mind our things while we “bathed” so we told her we would have lunch at her restaurant afterwards. She even showed us her selection of fish inside her improvised mud kitchen. More on the delicious meal later!
Tickets for the volcano were $5,000 COP each, very cheap and so worthwhile. It was the best, weirdest sensation I’ve experienced in a long time. Something I imagine not many people have been able to experience before. The only way I can describe it is to imagine when you enter the mud, that you can’t stand up or really move at all (at least gracefully).
You feel like to be a pig on a spit, slowly turning round and round. I loved it.
The mud was so dense that you don’t sink despite the volcano being an approximate 2,500 meters! Every movement is a struggle but we couldn’t stop laughing all the same. The guides inside the volcano pool pushed us around by our feet as we lay on our back (the easiest method volcano transportation). The volcano’s diameter is only about 2-3 meters at the surface. The surface of the mud is nice and warm from the sun but if you manage to get yourself in an upright position you can feel it a lot cooler at your feet.
The friendly guides will gladly dunk you under the mud and help clear your eyes, ears and mouth of the thick layer of mud when you emerge as a mud monster. They will also massage you and style your hair (in the latest mud styles) if you like. I noticed a lot of tourists being sceptical of the guides and refusing their offers of help but I recommend letting them help you, massage you, dunk you, whatever as they are really friendly and have some very interesting information about the volcano (should you understand Spanish or have a personal translator like me J). We gave them a tip of $3000COP, which is nothing when you think about it even on our budget! However, if you’re really watching your budget you can skip the massage but getting photos is a must. There is also another guide on the top of the volcano who takes your camera when you reach the summit and will take as many pictures as you like for you as you sludge around in the mud. We tipped him $5000 and the pictures came out great as you can see!
We were lucky to have gone in low-season as there were only ever a few other people in the mud pool with us and we spent well over an hour in there, trying to swim, trying to dive under (all failed attempts without help), “mud-bathing”, and waiting for the mud to harden on our skins in the sun until we looked like statues, all much to our amusement.
In high season the guides told us that they can have up to 40 people at a time in the pool which I cannot imagine being very comfortable as it is really small. Don’t be surprised at the giant bubbles popping on the surface from time to time. It is methane gas, which rises to the surface and also helps keep the mud renewed. Of course every time a bubble burst on the surface it would be directly under me…how embarrassing.
When we finally we climbed down and went to wash the mud off in the lake a few steps away. The water was warm and refreshing and two local women were quick to follow us, sit us down in the water and start pouring buckets of water over our heads without asking. It’s nice being washed.
Volcano swimming makes you hungry. Lunch was a delicious Mojarra fish on the bone with fried plantain (my new addiction), rice, and side salad all for $25,000COP between us. Que rico!
After speaking with the family who owned the restaurant for a while, the Irish and Colombian left on a tour bus full of Australians, Chileans, Argentinians and Canadians. We realized then that it would have been cheaper to go on that bus from the start as we ended up paying more for both trips than the people on the tour did. Turns out getting tours are sometimes cheaper than finding your own way. Oh well. But we did get dropped off directly in front of our hotel in Cartagena and we collapsed into a volcano swimming induced sleep coma for the rest of the day.