When researching some of the top things to do in Cartagena you are bound to come across the Mud Volcano of Colombia also known as El Totumo. You will see some people call it a tourist trap, a waste of time, or it is just not worth it. I came across those same opinions when deciding if I should include it in my Colombian itinerary. But as I thought more about it, I just could not let these reviews get in my way of entering into a volcano and having a massage while floating in mud. I thought of it as a unique experience that I did not want to pass up. I wrote this guide to give you an idea of what to expect during a trip to El Totumo and help answer any questions or concerns you may have.
1) What is the Mud Volcano of Colombia?
Now this isn’t your massive rock formation spewing lava, so don’t expect to see anything like that. Its more of a ~50 foot hill with an opening in the middle. In that opening you will find this dense mud that will keep you afloat as you enter it.
Depending on the “activity” of the volcano, the mud might be close to the top or be lower down (when looking at pictures you might see the difference between the two). This mud is thought to have healing properties so feel free to rub it all over your face and body to get the full experience!
As mentioned the El Totumo Mud Volcano can be seen as a tourist trap for the visitors of Cartagena. Because of that it can sway people to not waste their time going to a spot where there will just be hoards of tourists all trying to get into a small area.
I can say from experience though, that this is not always the case as I will go over in the guide. Instead you could arrive and be the only ones there to have this unique and fun and experience!
2) Location of El Totumo Mud Volcano
El Totumo is not located in Cartagena itself, rather it is about an hour or so north of the city. The map below shows the route that you will take as you make your way up the coast and towards the Mud Volcano of Colombia.
3) How to See El Totumo
I can see why some people did not enjoy their time at the mud volcano, especially when seeing pictures of it packed with people inside. The main reason for the crowds is the group tour aspect of it. Below I will go over what a group tour would entail followed by a do it yourself option that I highly recommend.
A) Option 1: Group Tour
Departures for a group tour are around ~8:00AM and ~2:00PM (~$30). Even though pickup may be at 8:00AM, odds are you are not out of Cartagena for at least another hour as your van picks up multiple people along the route.
Once you are all set, you will make the hour ride to the volcano. You will be crammed in the volcano with the rest of your tour group and be rushed in and out so the next group of people can get in. After getting cleaned up you will then make the hour drive back and drop off others along the way.
So what could take less than 3 hours if you opt for the do it yourself option will take closer to 5+ hours as part of the tour group. Note that not everyone’s group tour experience will be like this but there is a possibility it will be.
B) Option 2: Do it Yourself!
To avoid the crowds, the long ride, and being rushed to get in and out of the volcano, you can easily make this journey on your own to have a much better experience. That is what I did and I can’t recommend it enough.
Here is a recap of my day at El Totumo:
My friends and I knew we wanted to avoid the tour groups and were aware that most left Cartagena around 8:00AM and 2:00PM. We decided to head out around 1PM after exploring the Old City in the morning and grabbing lunch.
The hard part was flagging down cabs, explaining to them in broken Spanish what we wanted to do and agreeing on a price.
After a few tries we found our guy Luis who agreed to take us there, wait for us, and then take us back into the city for 180.000 COP ($63) – clearly a better deal than a tour even if you are only two people.
After the hour drive we arrived at El Totumo and due to our timing around 2PM there was not one other person there (probably got a bit lucky on this one – people did eventually show up later on). When we got to the volcano we switched into our bathing suits and made our way up to the top of the volcano (note there are changing rooms and lockers at the site).
The locals that work there have this down to a science – one guys takes your shoes and another will grab your phone or camera to take pictures. Once you are in the volcano you can opt in for a quick massage – in our case since we were the only ones there, they massaged us for about 10 minutes. If you are there with a large group it might only be a couple of minutes long.
After getting massaged we spent another 15 minutes or so just hanging out floating in the mud. Once your time in the mud is complete, it is time to get washed down.
Awaiting you at the bottom of the volcano will be these nice ladies who will wash you off to the side or in the nearby lake. And these ladies know what they are doing as they scrub you down furiously to get every last piece of mud off your body.
After getting all cleaned up it is time to tip all the people who gave you a hand today – the guy who took your shoes, the guy taking pictures, your masseuse, and the ladies that just cleaned you. Around 5000 COP each ($1.50 – $2) will do the trick and then you are on your way back to Cartagena with your driver.
So if you are still deciding whether or not you should visit El Totumo Mud Volcano, I hope this article gives you some guidance on what to expect. At the end of the day, even if you arrive to a packed volcano, you can still take part of the experience or even wait it out a bit until the area clears.
Whatever you decide I hope you enjoy your time in Colombia and if you have any questions about the El Totumo experience feel free to comment below!
4) Where to Stay in Cartagena
Cartagena has several different areas to stay in however my recommendation would be to stay within the walled city. The reason for this is that you will be in walking distance to all the great restaurants and nightlife as well as the city itself.
Walking outside your hotel and being in the heart of Cartagena is what it is all about. Here are a few top rated hotel options to choose from when looking into where to stay. Feel free to check out Booking.com for more options as well.
5. Casa La Fe
Feel free to also take a look at our other Colombia itineraries and guides to help out with any other trip planning!