Colombia: Cartagena and El Totumo
Over the last year, we heard great things about travelling to Colombia. I was intrigued by the country, so it was natural pick for our next trip.
I cannot say enough good things about the country. The people are lovely, the culture is interesting, the landscape is beautiful and we found it safe. We decided to stick to the northern coast in the Caribbean area. We originally wanted to visit Medellin and fly to Cartagena, but our short timeline convinced us to stick to the northern coast.
We flew into Cartagena to start our journey along the northern coast of Colombia. There is an interesting Caribbean influence in this part of Colombia. We stayed in Getsemani, which is outside the Walled City, but still within the “outer wall” of the old city. This is a beautiful, colourful and hip area of the city.
It feels less touristy and gave us a better taste of the city. This area has local music, great food and a busy late night atmosphere, especially on weekends. It’s lovely to walk through the streets and meet locals sitting outside their homes.
Getsemani is walking distance to the Walled City and Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – both of, which are worth a visit. The Walled City is certainly touristy, but it’s pretty for an afternoon walk. This area has lots of shops, restaurants and places to buy souvenirs.
San Felipe is a fort dating back to 1536 with an interesting history. We explored on our own (plus watched a video on their history) in about 2 hours. The best part is that they allow visitors to explore the tunnels deep below the fort.
Volcan de Lodo El Totumo
We took a day trip to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo. El Totumo is a mud volcano – yes you heard right mud! It also happens to be the smallest volcano in the country, but its uniqueness makes it worth the visit. Legend has it this was once a volcano with lava and I priest blessed it to become mud. The mud is supposed to have minerals that are good for you skin.
We climbed up the staircase built on the side of the volcano and looked down at the mud below. We were hesitant at first, but the mud was buoyant and warm – much more pleasant than expected. Although the mud is incredibly deep, it’s impossible to sink. You just float on the surface, as the occasional bubble of sulphur comes up.
For COP 4,000 you can get a massage in the volcano and for an additional COP 4,000 someone will take pictures with your camera. You cannot bring one in yourself because they do not want them dropped in the volcano.
Washing off the mud is almost as interesting as the volcano itself. We walked down the cobblestone path towards the lake below. A lady quickly appeared and sat us down in the shallow water. She had a small bowl to wash water over our head. If you are self-conscious, leave that feeling at the door! Bathing suits were moved around, boobs were scrubbed, ears were cleaned out and my boyfriend lost his shorts for a few minutes. The group we walked down with, after the whirlwind experience, left clean (for another COP 4,000).
We added a lunch on the beach and a mangrove tour to our excursion. The mangrove tour was very interesting and beautiful. A boat took us through the tunnels inside the mangroves before emerging to a large, but shallow lake.
Cartagena and the area around it were beautiful. I would highly recommend this area as a stepping off point to the northern coast.
Stay tuned for an overview of our next stops in Colombia – Santa Marta, Parque Tayrona and Santa Veronica.
- If you are Canadian, you will pay a reciprocity fee of about $80 CAD on entering the country. A lot of people at the airport did not know this and were surprised to pay this at customs. This is in response to Canadian’s biometric data fee for Colombians entering Canada.
- Learn some Spanish, as very few people speak English in Colombia. I crammed for about 6 months using Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. If you try to speak some Spanish, most people were very willing to help out.
- We opted to stay in hostels with private rooms and an attached bathroom. We found that these were overall nicer than any of the mid-range hotels in Colombia. I am guilty of thinking of the hostels as party places, but all the ones we stayed at were clean, friendly and family/couple oriented.
- I get asked about safety a lot: we had no problems in Colombia, walked around at night, and are visible foreigners. We googled cities in advance, stuck to safer areas, and asked hostel owners for recommendations on walking around. We were careful and aware, but still walked a lot and explored. Colombia has improved the political climate/safety issues significantly in the last 10 years. I would recommend the country!
- In Cartagena we stayed at Patio de Getsemani
- We booked all hostels through: booking.com
- We booked tours through a local travel agency in Cartagena: juanballena.com
- We used the MarSol private shuttle service. You can call to book or visit the office in each city. They offered a door-to-door service for the starting and end locations, and will usually stop on the road in between if you ask.
- We used Taxis, but asked our hostels to call their preferred person (for safety). All our taxi drivers were pleasant and usually wanted to chat (in my broken Spanish).
Read about our other adventures in Colombia: