Arboletes is a small, seaside village of 22,000 people on Colombia’s southern Caribbean coast. It lies between the cities of Turbo and Tolu.
The village is a Colombian tourist destination for its volcano and beaches. The mud volcano, called the Volcan de Lodo Arboletes, is an ecological park located just outside the village. Here tourists can float in a crater of warm mud 50 meters in diameter. The mud’s density, while resembling quick sand, actually allows people to float on top of the muck without sinking. People swim, wiggle and crawl over the mud. And since there isn’t a bottom to touch one has a strange sensation of levitating.
The mud is heated through volcanic forces deep in the earth. An active volcano, it last erupted in 2006 and 2010. Eruptions blew mud slurries and flames mixed with thermal water and gases high in the sky. Mud volcanoes are not true volcanoes because they don’t produce lava. There are over 1,000 mud volcanoes in the world but most are too hot to permit bathing.
Therapeutic Benefits of Volcanic Mud
People from around the world come to soak in this therapeutic sludge. The mud contains an abundance of minerals which have derma-cosmetological properties. Scientific studies have shown the mud contains high cleaning properties that put a deep polish on the skin. The mud also possesses mineral salts that nourish and regenerate the body along with anti-inflammatory properties. The volcanic ooze expels the body’s uric acids, stimulates circulation, relieves rheumatism, aches and pains along with a long list of other health benefits.
Arboletes is also known for it’s sandy beaches, tourist facilities hotels and restaurants. Located in the province of Antioquia the village was founded in 1920. Arboletes means ‘land of trees’. The area was once covered in trees but over the last century almost completely cleared for cattle pastures. Cattle farming is still the area’s major economic activity.
There are a number of hotels and hospedajes in town starting at $20 a night. The best hotels are Hotel Botique el Mirador and the Hotel Riviera del Sol ($64 a night). The later was built to resemble a Gothic castle. The restaurants in town serve up excellent lunches based on locally sourced seafood and beef.
The mud baths are free. Though there aren’t any facilities at the volcano – just a bath house with changing rooms and showers. But because of a water shortage in the area, most people just go down to the sea to wash the mud off off in the Caribbean’s warm salt water.
The mud volcano is located about a quarter mile outside of town. To get there one can catch a taxi in town or just walk up beach to the crater. It’s not unusual to walk the beach and see people returning from the mud baths still caked in mud.
A stone’s throw from the sea, the mud volcano maybe too close as rising sea levels have put the volcano in jeopardy of being overcome by coastal erosion. The town is currently working on erecting sea walls to protect the crater.
While mud baths are considered safe they recommend you not to let the mud get into your ear canal. Also, wear an old swim suit as the mud stains and discolors fabric.
Arboletes is a 45 minute trip from the nearest city of Monteria. It’s a 6 hour trip south of Cartagena 190 miles (307 km.); a 90 minute bus ride from Turbo 92 miles (57 km) and 287 miles; and it’s a 9 hour bus trip from Medellin 287 miles (462 km.) northwest of Medellin.
Not to be confused, there is another mud volcano 45 minutes N.E. of Cartagena called El Lodo de Totumo. It’s smaller than the mud volcano at Arboletes and it’s actually a crater. One has to climb up the crater and down into to bathe in the mud.