Guest Contributor: Hagan Blount

You don’t need a guidebook for traveling in South America – just schedule your first stop at a party hostel before you leave, land, spend the night over a few cervezas (or Caipirinhas or Pisco Sours or Aguardientes, depending on the country) and you’ll be fine.  Find a friend traveling faster than you or one coming from the other direction, and you will have all the suggestions you need to fill a year-long journey.

The mud baths were a tip received via a new friend’s updated Facebook photo – she was covered head to toe in the grey stuff.  I had to go.

El Totumo – about 45 minutes North of Caragena, Colombia – is a Mud Volcano. They happen where gases and liquids emerge from the ground at a much lower temperature than igneous rock flows. They are naturally occurring events, each emitting different substances and gases depending on the geologic makeup of the area.

The trip costs about $20.  It starts from a tour bus stop in Cartageña where they will tell you to be ready at 8:30, pick you up at 9:10, but you don’t actually leave the city until 9:30.  My guess is that you could charter something yourself with three friends and save $5 and a whole lot of time. It’s 45 minutes from Cartageña, but if you pick up people at five different hostels and make other random, inexplicable stops before you leave town, it’s 2 hours.

When you visit El Totumo, they offer three services: The pictures, the massage, and the washing of your bathing suit. Skip the massage and the washing of the bathing suit – the massage is a massage in name only (I’m talking 45 seconds of some guy rubbing your back and then pushing you away – lame!) and you know how to wash your own bathing suit (but you should probably remove it and wash it in the lagoon just to rid it of mud). The pictures, as you can see, may just be the best $1.50 you will ever spend on photography. Don’t worry about handing them your camera – you get it back.

I went all the way in. You won’t sink; you can float standing at attention like a soldier. As far as any healing benefits that I may have received from the mud, mud is great for softening your skin, and simply being in the mud was a relaxing experience. And I think it made me lose three pounds.Well, it could have been the salad or perhaps the street meat I ate afterwards, but it could have been the mire of bacteria I was swimming in. There were twenty people in the bath when I went in and a new twenty when I got out, but I can’t pin the food poisoning to anything in particular.  I can’t say I felt any differently after getting out of the mud, but I was quite refreshed when I got it all off in the lagoon.

Correction: when I got most of it off. It’s five days later and I am still getting the mud out of my ears. Dunking your head in makes for great pictures, but, man, is it annoying.

Cartageña is a beautiful city, but can be dangerous. Learn from my experience, be careful, and walk with a friend at night. There will be no shortage of new friends looking to have adventures at whichever hostel you stay.

Hagan Blount is an Entrepreneur-in-residence at Ingk Labs and designs infographic résumés to stay creative and well-moneyed while on the road in South America.