Colombia's Mud Volcano, My Strangest Spa Experience Ever
Anyone who knows me knows I will never (ever) pass up an opportunity to indulge in a spa treat or beauty ritual, no matter how weird - or in many cases, overpriced - it might be. Especially if it's a beauty experience unique to the place I happen to be visiting.
So when I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia and spotted an advert for a day trip to the Totumo Mud Volcano, a volcanic mud bath claiming countless therapeutic and beauty benefits, I signed up straight away. Because who doesn't want to get down and dirty in a mud pool with a bunch of strangers? Apparently most people. Because all of my newfound travel buddies refused to come along. But hey - anything for the sake of beauty! And this blog!
Eh, who am I kidding? I was super pumped for this muddy and messy beauty treat.
I get it. This day trip is overhyped, a bit strange and basically ridiculous. But I also found it to be seriously good fun. So whether you're already sold on going, or still on the fence and need to be swayed, here's the lowdown on Cartagena's biggest tourist trap and why it's really not so terrible.
Totumo Mud Volcano is touted to pretty much every tourist, so it's really easy to book. Just hit up one of the popular backpacker streets in Getsamani (try my personal favourite, Media Luna) and you're bound to find a decent agency. Most trips cost between 45,000 to 50,000 COP (£11-£13) and include pick-up, transport to and from the mud volcano and a guide. Many packages also include lunch (it's pretty basic though) and an afternoon pitstop to a nearby Caribbean beach. Unfortunately in my case, we ended up at a nearby hotel pool instead because the winds were too dangerous for swimming in the sea.
OK, so let me set your expectations first. There's nothing grand or glamorous about Totumo. You'll probably feel slightly disillusioned when you arrive - after two long hours of travel and picking up fellow day-trippers - at a rather dull and dirty hill. But it does get better, or at least more memorable. Promise.
When you arrive, your guide will instruct you on where to go and what to do. You'll head up a rickety wooden ladder (which you'll grab onto for dear life) to the hilltop. No cameras or phones are allowed near the mud, but fret not! There will be plenty of locals eager to help you part with your money and take your photo. They charge 4,000 COP (£1) so bring cash if you're keen to capture every minute of this strange experience. Just make sure you agree what you're paying before you hand over your goods. I was charged double the price because I asked for photos on two devices, and I left feeling a little scammed.
Once you reach the top, you'll queue for ages for your brief (but fab) mud soak moment. In the meantime, the paparazzi (I mean, your photographer) will be snapping a zillion photos whilst you impatiently wait in the blistering heat to get in. Finally, it'll be your turn to climb down yet another rickety ladder and indulge in the wonders of that filthy pool of healing mud.
Travel tip: Don't wear your favourite white swimsuit. The mud's powerful enough to stain. Choose something old that you're willing to get dirty.
The mud itself is surprisingly buoyant so you certainly won't sink. In fact, it's so easy to float it takes some time to get your balance and avoid slipping and sliding about. There are masseuses on hand to tempt you into a corner for a 45-minute massage, but don't bother. You'll just spend more money. Plus, it's good fun making a complete mess of it all as you try to balance and lather yourself up in that magical mud. Just avoid getting it into your eyes; it'll sting. The bath itself is rather small, so I'd advise finding a spot to avoid the mayhem (i.e. getting kicked by your fellow travellers who will be having just as much trouble keeping their heads above water).
You can soak as long as you like but it's recommended you don't linger too long because the mud's "healing" ingredients are quite powerful. Totumo supposedly contains 21 different minerals which offer benefits ranging from muscle and pain relief to anti-inflammation to skin salvation, particularly for rosacea and psoriasis sufferers. This is thanks to the combination of hot spring waters and volcanic ash that shoot up from the earth and into this quirky mud pool.
I lasted about 20 minutes before I grew tired of keeping myself afloat.
Then it's (you guessed it) another rickety ladder to climb out, where a helpful "assistant" will remove some of the mud off your body. Don't worry, they're not trying to feel you up (despite what it looks like); they're just making it easier for you to make your way down to the river without slipping along the way. Local ladies will offer to help you wash once inside, but don't bother paying for this service either. Just swim out a bit and wipe off as much mud as you can yourself. No matter what you do, you'll still need a shower. And you'll probably find mud in your ears days later too.
But you'll also find that your skin is suddenly silky soft. Buttery even. And you'll be feeling as relaxed as ever. That might be because you're on holiday. Or because you've just had the weirdest and most memorable spa experience of your life.
Not just because you get to soak in dirty brown mud with a bunch of random strangers but because you'll get the benefits of a therapeutic mud bath for a fraction of the cost in a traditional spa and, more importantly, some priceless memories.
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