Volcano Mud Bathing, Salsa & The Ancient City Walls Of Cartagena, Colombia
The first thought that enters my head as we exit the arrivals gate at Cartagena airport is, “Wowza, it’s hot here”. It’s currently 10pm in the evening, but it feels like a summers day. By the following morning, the heat is sweltering and the thermometer in our hostel hits 34 degree celsius. We’re staying at the Chill House Backpackers Hostel situated in the old town of Cartagena. This means we’re in the midst of gorgeous pastel buildings covered in beautiful flowers, cobblestone pavements and stunning architecture, completely surrounded by ancient city walls. It reminds me of Dubrovnik in Croatia, just a little more rough around the edges.
As Dave and I stroll the streets our conversation flits between how lovely the setting is, and how ridiculously hot it is. Google informs us it’s currently 90% humidity and man, can we feel it. We manage only an hour of walking in the old town before we spot a poster advertising a sightseeing city bus and immediately purchase two tickets. We’re not usually the type of travellers to opt for a tour over exploring ourselves, but we simply cannot continue by foot on this occasion, I mean Dave has already made his way through three sweat-covered vest tops (too much information?).
So, the rest of our first day is spent enjoying the incredible breeze from the top of an open-air bus and taking in Cartagena. As dusk arrives we buy some picnic style snacks and head up to sit on the city walls overlooking the sea, for a romantic dinner under the stars. It’s probably worth mentioning that by this point, we’ve been offered cocaine around five times already, but given that we’re in Colombia it’s not really a surprise.
Colombian salsa time
On return to our hostel we find a group of backpackers sitting on the balcony drinking beers. It’s a mix of Americans, Germans and Australians and they invite us to join them at a local salsa bar they’ve been recommended. The bar is so much fun! It’s called Donde Fidel and is completely packed with locals dancing impressively with each other. We get some curious stares when we first turn up and none of us dare to dance for at least ten minutes, but soon the locals are speaking with us and a couple of the men grab us ladies and show us how it’s done. We spend a couple of hours laughing and failing miserably to salsa dance as well as them, before returning to the sanctuary of our air-conditioned hostel.
El Totumo Mud Volcano
For our second day in Cartagena we’ve arranged to go to El Totumo Mud Volcano, which is in nearby Santa Catalina and is said to have healing mud baths. We’re picked up by a shuttle bus our hostel has arranged and taken to the base of the volcano. The mud bath is inside the actual volcano, so we have to climb steps to the top of the crater in order to get in. Being a fairly touristy attraction, there’s a queue so we awkwardly stand and watch others bathing in the square mud pool, some receiving massages from Colombian men that work there.
Getting in the mud bath is such a bizarre sensation. We expect to sink in the thick, gooey mud but actually the opposite happens and we’re suddenly very buoyant! It’s hard to relax at first as it’s tempting to try and keep yourself afloat, but the minute you fling an arm out and lose balance you’re thrust upwards uncontrollably, so half the time the battle is simply staying upright so as not to kick the stranger next to you. We plaster ourselves in mud and chill for about half an hour, chatting with some girls that are on the tour with us. When our faces start to harden and crack we slowly drag ourselves up a ladder to exit the bath, at which point it’s a locals job to rub some of the mud off, which is a hugely personal and inappropriate thirty seconds.
The fun doesn’t stop there though. In order to wash off, we go down to the lake, where we’ve been told Colombian women can help you clean for a charge, but if you’d prefer them not to you just need to say so. We try to decline, we really do. Within seconds of being in the warm lake water, I have a bucket of water thrown straight over my head and before I can protest a Colombian woman’s hands are rubbing me down. My bikini top is yanked downwards, bottoms pulled around, and fingers are prodded into my ears. No crevice is left muddy. Dave receives a similar treatment, except his washer forcefully shouts, “Naked! Naked!” at him while tugging at his shorts. He manages to keep his shorts on.
So, clean, feeling very confused and slightly violated, we make our way back to the shuttle bus. Our driver takes us to a nearby beach for lunch, where we watch wild pigs frolicking on the sand, before returning to our hostel in Cartagena.
The day is finished with another picnic on top of the city walls, before packing our stuff into our backpacks ready to leave the next day. Our next destination is the city of Santa Marta, read all about our adventures here or subscribe to this blog for instant updates!