Volcan Totumo – the Mud Volcano

Volcan Totumo
Climbing out of Volcan Totumo, covered in mud. Image courtesy of Sarah Mayer.

Picture this: dipping your toes into a pool of thick, mineral-rich mud and then easing into a relaxing massage inside an ancient dormant volcano. Sounds like something out of a five-star, exotic Cartagena resort, right? Actually, it’s an inexpensive attraction just an hour or so away from Barranquilla – though be warned that it may be a little more “rustic” of an experience than it sounds!

Volcan Totumo
Ascending Volcan Totumo. Photo Credit: Sarah Mayer

Actually, full disclosure, this is not a spa experience, no matter how hard you try to sell it. What it actually is is a hilarious way to spend the afternoon when a trip to the beach just won’t do. The Volcán del Totumo is located just inside the Bolívar department and located off the highway between Cartagena and Barranquilla. Here you’ll find a small, dormant “volcano” filled with mud next to a swamp with a staff of locals running this somewhat makeshift tourist attraction.

Volcan Totumo
View of the Ciénaga de Totumo from the top of the volcano. Photo Credit: Sarah Mayer

The volcano has stairs going up and down, and for 10k pesos, you can spend as much time as you want flopping around in mud so dense it’s impossible to sink – perhaps this is Barranquilla’s answer to the Dead Sea? Inside the volcano, some rather eager men wait to give you your complimentary rub-down “massage” and make sure you exit the volcano with mud covering every orifice of your body. As you ascend the ladder, appreciate the strange sensation of globs of mud sliding out of your swimsuit onto your unsuspecting compañeros. And don’t worry, your full swamp monster experience will be happily captured on camera by one of other volcano attendants!

Volcan Totumo
A lake next to the volcano where the local ladies take you to wash off. Photo Credit: Sarah Mayer

After you carefully descend the other set of stairs to leave the volcano, you’ll be whisked away by the ladies of Totumo, armed with buckets and chairs and ready to aggressively scrub away (most of) the mud. You will continue to be photographed, though many of these photos will be NSFW as the women urge you to “mete la mano!” to get out all the mud that didn’t drip out of your bathing suit. Invariably you’ll get a mouthful of ciénaga water from laughing so hard as you’re ambushed by surprise buckets of water continually dumped on your head. By the end of this “cleansing” experience you will probably still have traces of mud and a distinct crusty feeling until you can have a proper shower.

The mud volcano is such a strangely entertaining attraction that it was recently featured on this season of The Amazing Race, an American reality TV series that follows teams competing in an around-the-world scavenger hunt. In that particular edition, the mud was thinned down and competitors had to dive for “emeralds” in the bottom of Totumo. Check out the episode here – though even without any gemstones or promise of a million dollar prize, this outrageous costeño attraction can’t be missed!

Volcan Totumo
Volcan Totumo Photo Credit: Sarah Mayer

To get to the Volcán del Totumo, take a Berlinas or Marsol bus heading to Cartagena on the Vía al mar route and ask to be let off at the volcano. From the highway you can walk (10-15 minutes) to the volcano, or there may be motos. Getting back is trickier – my group tried to arrange for the bus driver to pick us back up on his way back from Cartagena but he never showed, so we hitchhiked to the Sombrero Vueltiao building and took the white Expreso Colombia Caribe bus back to town (I don’t endorse this method!). You can also try flagging down passing buses, which may let you on if they have spots. Entrance to the volcano is 10k pesos, and the workers will definitely ask for tips at the end.