Cartagena Mud Volcano — A Germaphobe’s Worst Nightmare?

Filed Under: Travel

If you follow any of the popular meme humor accounts on Instagram, you’ve probably seen this meme:


Well, during our recent visit to Cartagena we decided to visit a mud volcano… and I think you can add that to the above list. šŸ˜‰

Everyone we know who has been to Cartagena says it’s a “must,” and I was skeptical at first. It was Ford’s idea, and when he told me about it I said “so you’re meaning to tell me that we’re going to drive an hour out of the city so we can get in mud in an area with no showers, and will then drive back here dirty as could be?”

But I’m up for just about anything (including skiing in Dubai… once), so agreed to it.

The drive from our hotel in Cartagena took about an hour,Ā at which point we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, with just a mud volcano in sight. As we got out the car we were surrounded by all the “locals,” who clearly are all looking to sell you something.


We got into our swimming trunks and then climbed the volcano, and then lowered ourselves into the mud pit. It smelled terrible, though the people in the pit said it was worthwhile. Ford went first, and after second guessing myself forĀ a couple of minutes, I eventually descended into the “pit” as well.

There a guy started massaging me. I couldn’t really figure out what the system was. As you descend into the pit they sort of line you up like freighter ships waiting to go through the Panama Canal, as you’re side-by-side. And then they rub you for a few minutes andĀ then say “done.” At that point I was under the impression we were supposed to leave.

Now, I’ve never been covered head-to-toeĀ in mud, though it’s slippery and sticky. I had to climb about 12 stairs to get out of the pit, and nearly fell on each step, since I had virtually no “hold” due toĀ the mud.

After that we were directed down to the river, where two ladies had buckets of brown water which smelled more like horse manureĀ than anything. We were directed to separate areas, and the lady poured water all over me from a smaller bucket. When it came time to clean my face she wasn’t gentle in the slightest, but rather drenched me in water and then basically slapped me in the face to get the mud off. And let’s not even talk about how she cleaned down under… goodness.

Once we were “clean” (I use that term loosely, because I actually felt cleaner with the mud on than after being “cleaned” with the water), everyone who interacted with us came by for money. The massage cost 20,000 Pesos (~$6), while the ladies at the river who cleaned us wanted 10,000 Pesos each (~$3).

As we drove back to the hotel I sort of just turned to Ford and said “what did we just do?” We drove for two hours so we could spend 10 minutes in a mud pit and then be cleaned with filthy water.

All that being said, it was actually sort of fun, and I remember it fondly. And that’s despite the fact that I’m a germaphobe.

It’s sort of funny how tourism works sometime. I can’t say I actually actively enjoyed the experience, and at the same time the rational side of my brain has a hard time making sense of how it’s worthwhile. But it was still fun!

I wasn’t able to get many pictures since there’s nowhere to store things by the volcano, and apparently theft is common if you leave things. But here’s a video of the mud volcano I found on YouTube (I should note that the mud “level” was probably 10-15 feet lower when we were there than in the video):

What do you make of the mud volcano — is it a unique attraction worth visiting, or a dirty tourist trap?

  1. omg you did it!!! i hope the colombian grandmothers didnt traumatize you too bad when they stripped off your clothing. this australian girl was like screaming when i was there!

  2. I’m laughing at the thought also.

    Ben, you should have brought your UV flashlight (you know, because you like being “informed” about things).

  3. I might do it without the massage. That bothers me more than anything. All my FHR spa credits to go the wife.

  4. What does going in a mud volcano have to do with being white? I have like 8 friends (all of whom are black), and they just were in Cartagena and went to the mud volcano. Why would you make this post remotely about race?

  5. Did you guys drive out there yourself or go on a tour? I did this a few years ago – my friend Vanessa works (worked?) on the tour as a tour guide.

    It’s certainly an ‘interesting’ experience.

    I dare you to look up VICE’s video on Donkeys in Colombia, something very strange that happens not far from Cartagena.

  6. funny.. normal people are afraid of radioactivity… but tourists pay to jump into radioactive mud… or water… i will never understand those people

  7. I’ve done the mud baths in Napa, but that’s more spa-like and did seem to detox me to a certain extent. Not sure about a few minutes in a pit.

  8. I just got back from a visit to Lake Bacalar on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The lake is pristine, but there’s a place you can go (with a tour) where the water is shallow, and you can dig up some sulfurous mud and smear it all over yourself. Then you can let it dry on your skin for as long as you want, and you have the entire crystal-clear lake to clean it off with. One of the people on the tour joked that you would pay $150US in a spa in Tulum for a similar treatment. And the lake is just stunningly beautiful. Seems like a much better way to spend a day than the Colombian version!

  9. Hi Lucky, I am a regular blog reader. This is certainly off topic, but I can’t think of a better place to write down this comment. As you “write” for a living, would you try to limit your “emphatic” quote use? It really distracts from the “reading” of this and many other “interesting” entries.

    Safe travels!

    “tā€™s a technique that quickly wears thin, so style guides sometimes caution against its excessive use.”

  10. Excerpt of my Mud Volcano trip a few years ago –

    It was a unique sensation to lower oneself from the ladder into the mud crater. It is normal to worry one will sink but we humans are buoyant in it – even though it is 1000+ feet deep, we float. It was fun to move around – almost swimming in thick mud.

    It was extremely crowded when I was there. To be close to this many muddy people was awkward – all sorts of body parts were brushing against other body parts. If this close of contact happened anywhere but here, cops would be called and charges would be pressed. There were some people who would push people one at a time to the side (where there was some empty space) and massage them for a minute. It was awkward but nice to be able to lie down in the mud instead of standing up and bumping who knows what.

    Finally it was time to get out. I pushed myself through the crowd (and below the outgoing ladder). It was a hazardous place to be because whenever people climb out, mud splattered back down onto people’s faces (eyes, etc). I wanted to get out as soon as I can. While I was waiting my turn, my hand touched something man-made. I pulled it out to look and ewwwwwwww…. it was a bloody, muddy pad! Well, I didn’t want to hold it and I didn’t know what to do so by instinct I just pushed it back down and felt like I had cooties the rest of the day.

    I finally climbed out and walk down to the bottom of the hill. From there, we walked to the lake to get cleaned up. Some young, middle age, and old Indian gals took buckets of water and helped everyone get cleaned up. Of course part of that involves taking things off to get mud off certain places which was awkward, but ok. After all that touching of strangers, I figured seeing or exposing a couple parts wasn’t a big deal.

  11. I did this in June and quite enjoyed the experience, aside from queueing up on the top in the direct sunlight for half an hour.

  12. I’d be shocked if this was the first time for Ben to pay anonymous men to “massage” him in some dodgy public place.

  13. I’m not remotely a germaphobe and that sounds totally disgusting.
    You had fun because you’re still in love and you’d have fun sitting in the shade watching old men play checkers if Ford was there.

  14. That’s too bad this place became so touristy. I tried the volcano twice in over 10 years ago but it was before Colombia became so popular like nowadays.

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