I would never have guessed that “bathing” in a volcano filled with mud would be a highlight from our time in Cartagena, but visiting Totumo Mud Volcano was unforgettable.
Totumo Mud Volcano
Taking a “bath” in Totumo Mud Volcano was such a strange but fun experience. Stepping into the mud was the grossest, oddest feeling at first. Sorry, did I say stepping? I meant sinking.
But once you accepted that your body was completely submerged in mud, it was liberating. We each received a 15-20 minute massage from some locals while we were immersed in the mud. It was fabulous in every sense of the word.
Afterward, we went into the nearby river, and some older, local women pulled off all of our clothes and rinsed the mud from our bodies and our swimsuits.
Did that take you by surprise? Welp, me too! I knew they would “bathe” us but did not realize they would strip off our clothes and we would all be in the nude together!
The water was so dark and muddy that no one could see anything, but it was still a pretty crazy feeling to be sitting naked in a river with a bunch of strangers and having a woman who I could barely even communicate with bathing me!
Next stop, Manzanillo Beach. Five guys from NYC joined us on our tour, and we got to know them much better while spending time together at the beach. They were some interesting characters, to say the least. More to come on that a bit later.
We had fish for lunch, which may have been the best fish I’ve had in my entire life. I swear it was so fresh that they must have just caught it and walked it over from the beach immediately before cooking and serving it to us.
This was my first experience eating fish that still had the bones on it, but I didn’t even care. Our guide told us that the locals would eat it with their hands so, of course, that’s exactly what we did.
The Walled City under the cover of night
After a refreshing nap, we went out for dinner and drinks in the Walled City. When we stepped out of our taxi, it was pouring down raining. We ran to a nearby restaurant that we had read about called La Cevicheria (which had also been visited by Anthony Bourdain).
We had a unique coconut ceviche dish and prawns that were nearly the size of lobsters. The flavors of the dishes were divine.
La Cevicheria was very different from the tiny, unfinished shack at the outdoor market we had visited previously. It was a much more established restaurant yet still nothing overly fancy. But, like the restaurant at the public market, what it lacked in style, it more than made up for in flavor.
Towards the end of the night, we ran into our NYC friends on the street. A different aspect of the Walled City that I hadn’t discussed yet is something everyone may not notice at first glance—the square near the entrance is full of prostitutes.
I mention this now because our new friends had found some “friends” of their own in that area. One of the NYC guys was spending the night with the same prostitute he had hired the previous evening. We spent a while in the square talking with her.
She was a mother with two children who drove about four hours from a different city in Colombia to have the opportunity to make some money this way. She seemed like a lovely person, and it was eye-opening to have a personal discussion with her.
She explained that a lot of the prostitutes there were from Venezuela, trying to escape their poverty-stricken country in search of a better life. Many of them were young girls.
As we left, I called out to her “mucho gusto” to convey that it was nice to meet her, but she didn’t even register that I was speaking to her. It breaks my heart to see that these ladies are not used to being treated with the same respect and dignity as any other person might expect. It was so clear that she is just another human trying to make her way through life the best way that she can.
Our self-made food tour of the Walled City
On our last full day in the city, Nick and I created our very own street food tour in the Walled City. We started by going back to Loncheria Polo Norte, a small, local shop with the best empanadas I’ve ever tasted.
The juicy, delicious flavor in each bite had left me craving them since I first tried them. Naturally, I HAD to go back and get more. I even took one in my purse for the road. Don’t judge me.
Some of the best places to eat, including this empanada shop, are small hole-in-the-wall restaurants tucked into hidden nooks, with no sign or name. The best way to find them is to take a local food tour or to walk around exploring for yourself (look for the places with locals inside).
We tried several other street food dishes, all of which were delicious and most of which were fried. For dessert, we stopped at La Palettería for some delightful ice cream popsicles, known as paletas in Cartagena. Because who doesn’t love ice cream on a stick?
Our food experience in Cartagena was unforgettable, and topping it off with our self-made street food tour certainly did not disappoint. It was a fantastic ending to a fantastic city.
Click here to continue to follow our trip around the world and read more about our next stop in Medellín.