El Totumo Mud Volcano, Colombia – Therapeutic Bath or Tourist Trap?
Remember Patrick’s Molten Muddy Buddies visit to the Sulfur Springs National Park in Saint Lucia? The mud was so hot that the only therapeutic benefits he derived from the whole excursion were courtesy of a few strategic splashes from a cup. If they had visited the El Totumo Mud Volcano in Colombia, though, heat would not have been a problem.
El Totumo, known locally as El Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, is located just under an hour’s drive outside of Cartagena. At only 50 feet in height, it’s no Mount Pelée. The tale of Totumo’s origin, though, is much taller.
The ‘Miracle’ That Made El Totumo
According to legend, the meager mound was once a real volcano. You know, the active kind that spews lava and ash, effectively threatening the lives of everyone living nearby. Salvation came in the form of a priest who cast holy water into the Hellish inferno. The effect converted the fiery molten lava into the mud that’s made Totumo famous for years.
Alleged Health Benefits
Local tour companies ferry loads of visitors out to Totumo everyday. The volcano itself isn’t much of a sightseeing attraction, though. Instead, people flock here for the supposed health benefits of bathing in the mud. A sign at the base of the volcano notes its nutrient-rich components: iron, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, aluminum, and more.
Unlike the mud at the Sulfur Springs in St Lucia, though, the grey mucky stuff inside El Totumo Mud Volcano isn’t hot. Visitors really and truly actually bathe in the mud… Past their eyeballs… INSIDE THE VOLCANO!
Is El Totumo Mud Volcano a Tourist Trap..?
It’s easy to see why El Totumo has been near the top of my travel wish list for years, right? (Somehow, I still haven’t managed a visit.) As perfectly suited to our uncommon style of travel as it appears, though, El Totumo also bears some serious signs of tourist trap Hell. I mean…
It Looks Crowded
No doubt, there’s a sweet spot time of day to visit Totumo. I’m guessing it’s very early in the morning. Otherwise, you run the risk of waiting an inordinately long time on the famously rickety ladder up to the crater. Oh, and considering the mud volcano is only 10 degrees from the equator, you can expect your wait to be a very, very warm one. (Tip: DEFINITELY bring tons of water for this adventure.) Also, the bathing area inside the crater is only 15 feet in diameter, according to this CNN Travel report. So, if you’re at all claustrophobic, this experience is probably not for you.
Per-person excursion prices listed on TripAdvisor range from US$30 on a tour bus to US$190 for a private experience. You should also walk with some cash to tip the various persons on-site that help you get dirty, wash off, take photos, etc.
Is It Safe?
Rickety ladders are one thing. Rickety ladders covered in slippery mud, though, are a real hazard. That’s just what you’ll have to manage to get down from the summit. The way down is also just as steep as the climb, adding an extra degree of difficulty. No doubt, you’ll want to wear some sneakers you don’t mind trashing.
What’s With The Masseurs?
As shown in the video, a collection of local guides are on-hand inside the Totumo bathing area to help visitors clamber in and out of the crater. These helpful guys also, apparently, help themselves to giving any and all who enter a massage. Seems a little sketchy to me, though I suppose you can always say “no thanks,” right? Still, I’d be a little wary of wayward hands beneath the mud surface.
What’s Lurking In The Mud?
Seriously, there could be anything living (or dead) in there, right?! This super insightful first-hand account of a visit to Totumo by Somto Seeks even debunks the therapeutic properties of the mud. She even says that the volcano is man-made!
So yeah, El Totumo is far from perfect. Even so, I remain fascinated by it, and am anxious to visit and judge for myself. Where else can you bathe inside a volcano, right?
If you’ve visited El Totumo and have some tips on how best it can be enjoyed, please let us know by leaving a comment below.
*Lead photo credit: Flickr user raunov.