Many years ago, an active volcano threatened the citizens of a small Colombian town in Santa Catalina just outside of Cartagena. As legend has it, a local priest came to bless the volcano with holy water that turned the blazing lava into a gooey sludge. Since then, visitors have come from far and wide to bath in the warm mud take advantage of some of the reputed healing properties of the magical volcano.
From ground-level, El Tutomo looks more than like a mountain of dirt than a volcano, but as with many things in life, it's whats on the inside that counts.
El Tutomo is about an hour bus ride from Caragena. There are several tours that can be pre-booked before you arrive in Colombia, but It's best to arrange transportation once you're in the country through your hostel or hotel, who can provide recommendations for trustworthy local guides that will likely cost far less than what you will find on the internet.
Changing rooms, bathrooms, and lockers are provided. Once you're in your bathing suit, an attendant will assist in locking up your belongings and take pictures if you have your phone or camera handy for $4000 COP (about $1.40 USD).
Now it's time to scale the once-raging volcano. The stairs to the top are uneven, caked in dried mud and rocks, and cause momentary regret about leaving your shoes locked at the base. Once at the summit, the mud levels vary depending on the season. During dry season, the mud can only be reached by way of a very slippery ladder straight down.
The sensation of floating weightlessly in the mud must be experienced to be believed. The exact depth depends on the season and is nearly impossible to calculate, but picture thick goop and warm gases bubbling up around you. You'll stay buoyant as if suspended in a milky jello salad.
Attendants wait in the mud to dole out massages for another $4000 COP, a bargain by anyone's estimate. Inside the bubbling pit, you'll be instructed, in rudimentary English, to change positions several times, allowing the masseuse to work his magic. Once the massage is done guest are invite to "stand up," a daunting task in a bottomless mud pit. Just relax and trust that the mud will keep you afloat.
The most challenging part of the mud bath is getting back out. Making it to the ladder only a few feet away seems like an impossible task while being weighted down by the mud. The ascent up the rickety ladder is even more nerve wracking that the descent, as now you're covered in slick sludge.
During wet season, El Tutomo is located beside a marshy lagoon which makes it easy to wash off the slop. However in dry season, guests are directed to sit on milk crates as elderly Colombian women assist in the cleansing. Armed with a large tub of salt water, this is where things get interesting. Not afraid to get personal, each and every crevice will be cleansed! The women unapologetically pull on every band and strap pouring water up, down, and inside. And you guessed it, it'll cost you just $4000 COP.
After a deep cleansing, you will still be finding mud for days. You are then free to use the changing room and facilities and enjoy some fresh watermelon offered by the locals.
A dip in El Tutomo may not be the most glamorous of vacation spa treatments, but it's a once in a lifetime experience that's not to be missed. Oh, and it will leave your skin baby soft!
- Though lockers are provided, it's best to leave any valuables back at the hotel safe.
- Wear something you don't mind getting dirty. This may seem obvious, but not only will it get filthy, it will get manhandled in the cleaning process.
- Bring a few extra pesos in cash. Aside from the services offered, there are locals selling water, cocktails, freshly griddled arepas, and cold coconuts.
- It is wise to bring a towel and change of clothes, or at least a change of underwear. EVERYTHING will get wet and muddy.
- Leave your modesty at home. Both the massage and cleaning process could be considered invasive by western standards.
- Come ready to embrace a new adventure!