On our last full day in Cartagena, we embarked on a trip outside the city to visit El Totumo, a mud volcano about an hour away. We bought tickets for the bus trip there through the tourist information booth in Plaza de los Coches. (Tip: If you’re planning on doing this, buy them from the tourist booth and negotiate. Don’t go to the hostel in Getsemani that many books recommend: Getsemani is sketchy, the staff there was rude, and the cost would have been 40,000 pesos per person, including lunch. The tourist booth quoted us 50,000 including lunch, but we showed up for the bus that morning and negotiated down to 35,000. If you are planning on doing this and have specific questions about how long the trip took or other logistics, ask me in the comments.)
We were a little uncertain about doing this, worrying that it sounded too touristy and unclear how much of the day it would take up, but it also sounded really unique so we decided to give it a try.
The van ride out there was maybe an hour or so, not too bad. We arrived at the volcano and there were people there already but I wouldn’t call it crowded, and it’s in a pretty isolated stretch. There is a collection of thatched-roof huts at the volcano’s base, selling juices and beers and snacks.
There is a rickety (very rickety – and slippery) wooden staircase for people to climb up and down the volcano.
The volcano is wrapped up in mythical lore and is said to have therapeutic properties. The thick mud is cool and pudding-like. People hop in one at a time, and spend about 10-20 minutes floating around. There are locals there that will give you a massage in the mud if you want (for a small fee) and groups of kids that will hold your camera and take your picture in the mud (you’re also supposed to tip them afterward). It’s very safe and they do a great job of remembering who’s camera is whose. Our guy must have taken 20 pictures of us.
It was fun, touristy but also totally bizarre and not something we get the chance to do every day. Not sure if I really reaped any of the therapeutic properties. You can’t feel the bottom, but rather just bob along in the mud.
Afterwards, you stumble down the mountain and over to the beach to wash off in the water. There are women there who will scrub you down (for a small fee) but we opted to just wash ourselves. There was another kid who walked with us and washed our flip flops, so we tipped him too.
After our group (about 15 people on our bus) were done, we went to another, more secluded beach for lunch and lounging around.
There were hardly any other people there, just some locals hanging out and serving lunch in this hut on the beach. We got another fish lunch of soup, a whole whitefish, coconut rice, salad, and plantains.
Then, we had about an hour to swim and hang out before the bus would leave for Cartagena. At first, we were annoyed about that because we were ready to go back and didn’t know the day would include this part. But, with an hour to kill on a gorgeous beach, we really had nothing to complain about.
After we returned to Cartagena, we spent the rest of the day wandering the historic streets, swimming in our rooftop pool, checking out the historic buildings, and enjoying another evening in the lively city plazas, eating street food.
On our final morning, we decided to go to the old Spanish fort, the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, built to protect the Spanish colony from invasion. It was huge, located atop a hill on the edge of the old town.
We had debated going on Sunday if we had time, but it didn’t work out. We also wanted to see the final match of the South American soccer tournament. See my to-do list above for Sunday when we were trying to sketch out what we would do each day; I wish I always made lists that involved going to volcanos, games, pools, and forts!
The fort offered some great views of the city.
That day was so, so hot and humid. It was about 10am and we both felt like we were going to pass out the whole time.
Truth be told, there wasn’t a lot to see at the fort, but the views were good.
The interior of the fort is made up of literally miles of underground tunnels. They go deep underground and it got scary and claustrophobic fast.
We were pleased to find Gatorade in Colombia, and that it had more of a “tropical” flavor than Gatorade in the U.S. We also loved negotiating with vendors for things like this. In the old town, we usually paid 2000 pesos ($1) for a bottle of water. At the fort, the vendor tried to charge twice that, but we negotiated. I wish we could do that in the U.S.; touristy areas like the National Mall always have a markup on bottled drinks, but you just have to pay it. I wish I could go down to one of those vendors by the Washington Monument and say, no, I’m paying $2, not $4!
I was sad to leave Cartagena; it was such a fun city, so much to see and do and so full of history. And, our hotel there was the nicest of the whole trip. But, I was excited for our next adventure: hiking in the jungle!