Every year, thousands of tourists flock to a ranch located outside the Colombian city of Medellín to gawp at an array of animals, weapons and antique autos.
The mansion, and the sprawling land surrounding it, serves as an eerie reminder of a not-too-distant past when drug lords held sway in Colombia and could command many politicians with a simple bang of their fist on a table.
Hacienda Nápoles was once notorious trafficker Pablo Escobar’s own personal fiefdom. But now some enterprising investors have gotten hold of the dilapidated property and turned it into a kind of theme park complete with animals, displays of firearms once used by the late drug baron’s hitmen, and an array of personal collections that express his bizarre taste.
Enterprising investors got hold of the dilapidated property and turned it into a theme-park style attraction
People have been making the three-hour trip from Medellín to visit Hacienda Nápoles – named after the Italian city that Escobar adored – for several years now, but recent publicity about the opening of the drug lord’s compound, which includes a water park, has put the ranch on the “must-see” list.
One of Latin America’s biggest internet travel agencies, despegar.com – which reported more than $4 billion in sales in 2013, according to CNN Expansión – has begun offering a package deal taking in a number of key sites in the life of Escobar, including his former home.
The “Pablo Escobar Tour” begins in Medellín, the once-violent city that still conjures images of the brutal traffickers who used to control every movement there, and continues past the hideout where police surrounded and killed the world’s richest drug kingpin in 1993.
Visitors are shown the buildings and apartment complexes that he owned, before being taken to his grave, which has become a pilgrimage site for the many Colombians who still hold the drug kingpin in high esteem because of the help he gave to the poor.
A trip to a museum run by Escobar’s oldest brother, Roberto, is also included in the package.
The tour also offers visitors the chance to stay the night at Hacienda Nápoles. The original small plane that Escobar used to smuggle his first cocaine shipment into the United States once sat proudly at the entrance to the ranch. It has now been replaced by a look-alike model painted with zebra stripes after the original was confiscated by the Colombian government and the US Drug Enforcement Administration in the early 1990s.
Guests will also have the chance to watch Escobar's hippopotamus taking a dip on the property’s lake. The hippo is now back on the ranch after escaping in 2009, an incident that author Juan Gabriel Vásquez described in his prize-winning novel The Sound of Things Falling.
Despegar.com says it has no official information on how many people have purchased the package deal, which costs €45, excluding airline tickets.
“If we feel any rejection on the part of our customers, we will take the tour off our site,” says company press official Francisco Stengel. “But up until now we haven’t received any complaints.”
Some people have, however, taken exception to the tour on the social networks. “It is regrettable that tour companies and guides in Medellín are including Pablo Escobar’s gravesite in their package deals,” Félix Armando Osorio wrote in a tweet this past weekend. “Why live in the past?”
Guests will also have to chance watch Escobar’s hippopotamus taking a dip on the property’s lake
Interest in Escobar’s life has gained a renewed momentum in recent years. This month, Netflix will premiere Narcos, a series based on the Medellín cartel and its leader, while Colombians have recently been glued to their TV sets watching the series Escobar, el Patrón del Mal, which has also proved popular in Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and Chile.
La parabola de Pablo, the book on which the show was based, was also a big success in Argentina last year, selling 300 copies a day while the series was being broadcast.
Once one of the world’s most wanted drug traffickers, Escobar was notorious for having Colombian politicians and judges routinely and brutally killed.
In 1989, he committed what has been called his most heinous crime when he blew up the offices of Colombia’s intelligence service, killing 70 people and leaving more than 600 injured.
According to government estimates, Escobar, who was gunned down in 1993 at the age of 44, was responsible for more than 20,000 deaths.
“Purchasing or taking part in these tours doesn’t mean that you support violence or crime. These are trips that help you become aware of different moments in history,” says Stengel.
English version by Martin Delfín