Credit: Cheryl Rhodes

The Totumo mud bath is comfortably warm, about 20 to 25C, and very buoyant

A natural mud bath in Totumo, Colombia makes for good, dirty fun

Mission: what to do in 7 hours or less in Cartagena, Colombia - a tourist destination that was a stop on our Panama Canal cruise.

A little research pointed me to the Totumo mud bath volcano, about 60 km outside Cartagena, easily accessible through tour operators, taxi drivers, and bus service. Unsure of the highway and travel conditions and not wanting to take a chance on getting left behind by the ship, I played it safe and booked a shore excursion through Princess Cruises.

After an hour’s scenic drive along the Caribbean coast, the bus driver pulled off the highway onto a dirt road and a couple of minutes later we arrived in the remote village of Totumo. The 20 metre "volcano" looked more like an oversized anthill, and had been formed by expanding gases over the years.1_10.jpg

A crude, rickety staircase built from scrap lumber was barely attached to the hill and I joined a group of giggling adventurers in climbing to the top where a warm cauldron of sludge awaited.

The bath was full of squealing tourists floundering in the mud and we had to wait for some of them to clear out before we could immerse ourselves in this messy situation. I accept my fate that my yellow swimsuit might never look the same again and I’m going to get mud in places I never dreamed would ever see mud!

The mud was comfortably warm, about 20 to 25C, and very buoyant. You can’t sink or touch bottom in the thick mud. All you can do is laugh! We discovered the easiest way to move in the mud was to float on our backs or flail around doing a treading water type of swim. Two village men were inside the mud bath assisting tourists and giving short mud massages that equalled any spa treatment.

4_11.jpgWe emerge looking like mud statues and very carefully climb down an even more rickety staircase, ever mindful of the mud dripping off us. One false step could mean a fast slide downhill.

A short walk takes us to the lake where village women wait in knee deep water to wash mud off the bathers. Then the shock factor. The women want us to take off our swimsuits so they can wash them too. I discover it’s not easy to get a wet swimming suit back on in shallow water while trying to remain modest!

Taxis from Cartagena cost $20 to $100 (depending on your negotiating skills), and tour operators charge $20 to $60 per person. The villagers charge a very reasonable $2 each for massages, photos, and washing off mud. This is a poor village and the volcano is its only income source.

Are there any health benefits to visiting the Totumo mud bath volcano? Some claim it gives skin rejuvenation or relief from various pains. All I know is that I did not look 10 years younger after I climbed out of the mud bath but the fun factor was a once in a lifetime opportunity!