Last updated on August 11th, 2021 at 01:24 pm
My name is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogota, Colombia. Have fun while reading!
Was Pablo Escobar an angel or a demon?
If there’s one Colombian who doesn’t leave anyone indifferent, it’s the terrifying drug lord Pablo Escobar. Over the years, thousands of tourists have flocked to Medellín to see the most emblematic places associated with the dreaded drug lord.
In this blog we want to show who Pablo Escobar was, discuss whether the tourism generated by this man is a good or bad thing, and finally explain the places that were associated with the drug lord.
Who was Pablo Escobar?
Perhaps (and unfortunately) the most famous Colombian in the world is Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, who is still known as the most powerful drug lord to ever walk the planet.
Pablo Escobar was born in the municipality of Rionegro. This is only an hour away from Medellín. From an early age he began to move into the world of crime and his mother Hermilda Gaviria had never blamed him for it. She viewed her son’s ambition with benevolence, and Pablo always brought home money so his mother never saw a problem with what he was doing.
Little by little, Pablo Escobar rose in the world of crime, more precisely in the world of drugs. In 1974 he built his own drug laboratory and founded the Medellín Cartel, the most powerful drug trafficking organization Colombia has ever had.
At the age of 29, Escobar was already a millionaire. In 1982 he went into politics and became a member of the Colombian Congress. He only lasted there for a year, during which time Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who was known for his violent opposition to drugs, accused him several times of being a drug trafficker.
It was during this time that the famous declarations of the drug lord came to light. He claimed his money came from investing in livestock farming. In 1983, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador published several articles highlighting Escobar’s links to the drug world. As a result, Pablo Escobar was removed from the House of Representatives. In retaliation, Escobar ordered the murder of Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and Guillermo Cano, who was then director of El Espectador.
Pablo Escobar used the famous “Plata o Plomo” law (silver or lead) to force people to accept his bribe. If you refused, you were killed. The drug dealer managed to control 80 percent of the drugs entering the United States. In the 1980s and 1990s, Escobar was the mastermind behind at least 623 terrorist attacks, the murder of journalists such as Diana Turbay, and even the death of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, who was an advocate of extradition of drug traffickers to the United States.
Pablo Escobar was a fierce opponent of extradition to the United States and, through attacks and assassinations, he succeeded in putting pressure on the government to refuse extradition. After he had achieved this, he “surrendered” to the authorities in 1991. Escobar surrendered on the condition that he would be locked up in a “prison he had built”. This prison was the famous “cathedral” (which we will talk about later), brimming with luxury and comfort for the drug dealer and his men.
After he murdered members of a rival gang in prison in 1992, the government decided to put Escobar in a real prison. “El Patrón del Mal” found out about this plan and fled. The government, feeling humiliated, formed the famous Search Bloc, which was co-founded with members of the US Secret Service and a paramilitary gang called Pepes (hunted by Pablo Escobar) and funded by the Cali Cartel (another drug trafficking organization of the time), took up the pursuit of Pablo Escobar.
They finally tracked him down in 1993 in a house in the Los Olivos district of Medellín and after a shooting, he was killed on the roof of the house. Although the numbers are inaccurate, it is said that Pablo Escobar can be linked to the deaths of more than 10,000 people.
Why is Pablo Escobar idolized?
Pablo Escobar was not a saint, but the image of this man is admired by many Colombians and foreigners. That’s because Pablo is known as a good person by hundreds of people. The drug lord liked to pose as Robin Hood and helped those in need for years.
He built parks, gave financial aid to the needy, and even built a neighborhood with more than 400 houses for the poorest. This neighborhood still exists and is called “Pablo Escobar” (we will talk about this place later). This led some Colombians to see Escobar as a saint and to visit his tomb in search of and pleading for a favor.
This dilemma between demon and angel has aroused the admiration of tourists. Many travelers want to visit the most emblematic places that had a relationship with Escobar. For this reason, the famous “Narcotours” started in Medellín, during which tourists are taken to various important places in the life of the criminal.
Pros and cons of tourism related to Pablo Escobar
Undoubtedly, the interest sparked by Pablo Escobar has brought more negatives with it. But there are also positives that we want to highlight. Some of the pros and cons of tourism related to Pablo Escobar are:
Idealization by Pablo Escobar
Thanks to the famous narconovelas on television and the various entertainment media, the picture of Pablo Escobar was sold as if he were a Robin Hood or some kind of vigilante. For example, one of the world’s most famous actors, Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White on the iconic Breaking Bad series, described Escobar as a man who “aroused a lot of fear and suspicion, but at the same time did very good things in his country.”
This image and admiration led artists like J. Álvarez to wear a T-shirt with allusions to Pablo Escobar when he visited Medellín, which sparked criticism from some people. Another case was when the famous American rapper Wiz Khalifa brought gifts to Pablo Escobar’s grave to pay tribute to him. We’ll talk about that later.
Therefore, some tourists do not come to see a man who has directly and indirectly killed hundreds or thousands of people, but a man who defied the state and was kind to the needy. It’s an odd situation with Escobar because he was a nefarious figure in Colombian history, but even today he is respected and loved by locals and foreigners alike.
More importance is attached to the perpetrator than to the victim
The problem with promoting this type of tourism is that it gives a voice to one of the people who engendered the greatest violence in Colombia. People want to know how Escobar lived, how he died, what his lifestyle was like, and so on.
This interest is greater than that for the victims. That is why the Medellín governments have tried to raise awareness and convey to people that Pablo Escobar was a negative part of our history.
For this reason, in 2019 the Monaco building, which was an icon of Escobar’s power in the 1980s (we will talk more about this place later), was demolished and the Parque Conmemorativo Inflexión was built in its place, paying tribute to the victims of the violence should pay tribute.
Help promote the stereotype of Colombia and drugs
Nothing annoys a Colombian more than being asked about Pablo Escobar and drugs. A stereotype has been created thanks to the multitude of series and cultural products that have been produced over the years. The fact that Colombia’s main point of reference is not its artists or scientists is a problem as many people in the world generally devalue Colombians and associate them with drugs.
It is an eternal reminder of our historical memory
Not all places associated with Pablo Escobar are used to glorify him. There are institutions like the Museo Casa de la Memoria (in Medellín), in which the testimony of victims and perpetrators was collected to show a panorama of what happened at the time.
The violence in Colombia cannot be ignored, nor should we forget that it happened years ago (and in part continues to happen). On the contrary, it is important to remember all these facts and to educate the new generations about the consequences of violence.
Even the iconic Hacienda Nápoles (which we will talk about later) makes every effort to ensure that people visit this country not because it makes Pablo Escobar interesting, but to have a good time with friends or family. The Hacienda Nápoles itself has set up a memorial museum to pay homage to the victims. These spaces are important because those who have suffered violence should have more voice and influence than the perpetrators.
More tourism and more interest in Colombia
It is true that thousands of tourists who come to Colombia just for Pablo Escobar are counterproductive as they help promote the stereotype of Colombians and drugs. But the world is not black and white. Tourists visiting Colombia are also interested in other aspects of the country. Tourism also generates jobs and income.
A visit to Colombia helps to dispel clichés, which is why many tourists fall in love with this country and even settle here permanently. Famed political advisor Roger Stone once said that all kinds of publicity, including negative ones, are useful. People who care about the country can help us change the reputation that Colombia is all about drugs.
Places connected to Pablo Escobar
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
If ever there was a place that represented the power and money of Pablo Escobar, it was the famous Hacienda Nápoles. The entire complex is located about 3 hours and 30 minutes from Medellín and is now one of the most important theme parks in Latin America.
History of the Hacienda Nápoles
In 1978 the dreaded drug dealer bought 3000 hectares of land and founded the Hacienda Nápoles. This area originally had a luxury home, about 6 swimming pools, a helipad, a bullring and 27 artificial lakes. As a curiosity, Pablo Escobar placed an arch at the entrance to his hacienda with a replica of the plane he first used to send drugs to the United States at the top. This “attraction” was much visited by tourists and was a popular photo subject but was removed in 2019 for ethical reasons.
Pablo Escobar was known to be an extravagant man, and of course, his showpiece was not spared the whims of the drug lord either. Escobar had 1,500 species of animals flown in, including kangaroos, giraffes, rhinos, elephants and of course the famous hippos. Many of these animals have been relocated in recent years, others still live on the grounds of the hacienda and are now part of the zoo in the park.
Some species such as the hippopotamus have been a headache for the Colombian authorities as they are considered a nuisance due to their exponential reproduction and causing environmental damage throughout the area.
Why visit the Hacienda Nápoles?
This hacienda, once inhabited by Colombia’s most dangerous men, no longer stands for crime, and certainly not for Escobar.
In the early 2000s, the idea arose to create a park on the hacienda that had nothing to do with drug trafficking. Little by little, attractions were built until the famous Hacienda Nápoles theme park became one of the most iconic places in Colombia.
Some of the park’s attractions are:
The greatest attraction of the Hacienda Nápoles theme park is undoubtedly its animals. Here you can find typical species of the African savannah such as ostriches, meerkats, zebras, crocodiles, the famous hippos and even elephants.
There are 38 species of cats, including tigers and jaguars. There is an area called “Monkey Island” where you can see various primates.
The park is also notable for its various attractions, which include 4 water slides, various pools, and three hot tubs.
A very interesting attraction is Victoria Falls, where there is a 20-meter high waterfall that is about 100 meters long. This place is ideal for relaxing while bathing.
It is an ideal place to interact with a wide variety of butterflies and is also taught about the reproductive cycle of these animals.
This is a very interesting attraction for dinosaur lovers. Life-size replicas of a wide variety of extinct animals can be found, such as the aforementioned giant reptiles and other species such as the mammoth. All of these attractions are equipped with audio and information points where you can learn about the Jurassic world.
As already mentioned, the park does not want to live from Pablo Escobar’s image, on the contrary, the attractions want to offer visitors a different kind of experience, such as connecting with nature.
Nevertheless, those responsible for the park wanted to create a space to commemorate the victims of the violence, so the Memorial Museum was created. There are various exhibits, such as newspaper clippings, front pages of popular media, photos and posters, all related to the drug violence era (the 1980s and 1990s).
The aim of the museum is that all of these objects tell the story of the violence exercised by Escobar and that all of this helps preserve historical memory.
How do I get to the Hacienda Nápoles?
The Hacienda Nápoles is located in the municipality of Puerto Triunfo. It takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes to get there from Medellín. To get to the hacienda you have to take the Medellín – Bogotá road.
If there is one building that the Colombian government has discredited, it is La Catedral. This building was inaugurated in 1991 by Pablo Escobar himself with the aim of making it his own prison. Pablo Escobar hated the idea of being extradited to the United States. One of his most famous phrases was: “I would rather be in a grave in Colombia than in a prison cell in the United States”.
So he decided to “surrender” on the condition that he could stay in La Catedral. This “prison” had a swimming pool, natural waterfall, soccer field, billiard room and it is even said that orgies took place there. The brazenness was such that even the then goalkeeper of the Colombian national team, Rene Higuita, visited Escobar on one occasion. This sparked a scandal in the country.
In 1992 Fernando Galeano and Gerardo Moncada, who worked for Escobar, visited him in La Catedral. The drug lord accused them of stealing money from him and killed them both. The government then decided to move Escobar and his men to a real prison, but the drug dealer found out and escaped by breaking a wall of plaster. As a result, the prison was closed and several people illegally broke in to look for valuables.
Why is the cathedral attracting interest?
Today the cathedral represents one of the most embarrassing stories of the Colombian government. Locals and foreigners visit this prison to see how Escobar lived and to hear the stories of what happened there.
How to get to La Catedral
La Catedral can be reached from Medellín. In Medellín, you can take metro line A, which goes to the municipality of Itagüí. Once there, you can take a taxi and it will take 20 to 30 minutes to get to La Catedral.
Cementerio Jardines Montesacro
It is strange that a tomb is one of the most popular tourist attractions for locals and foreigners alike. Escobar’s grave is in the Jardines Montesacro cemetery in Itagüí parish. Despite the fact that the drug trafficker died decades ago, his character continues to arouse great mysticism and interest among people.
Why is Escobar’s tomb arousing interest?
Thousands of people (locals and tourists) visit this tomb every year. Some Colombians visit the cemetery to ask Escobar a favor as if he were a saint. The respect they have for Escobar’s grave is so great that they often bring him flowers. In 2018, on the 25th anniversary of the drug dealer’s death, strangers decorated his resting place with a multitude of colorful floral arrangements.
Visiting this tomb is not an action reserved only for locals. Every year tourists from all over the world visit this place as many of the so-called narco tours have this cemetery as one of their destinations. During the visit, guides often comment on Escobar’s final days. The mysticism emanating from Pablo Escobar is so great that several celebrities have visited the grave to pay homage to the drug lord. An example of this was the famous American rapper Wiz Khalifa, who left flowers and marijuana on the grave.
This was rejected by the then Mayor of Medellín, Federico Gutiérrez, who said: “Instead of bringing flowers to Pablo Escobar, this villain should have brought flowers to victims of the violence in this city and apologized to this city. He is not welcome here.”
The above shows the complexity of the situation, several governments in Medellín are trying to stamp out interest in Escobar, but “narco tourism” remains a major attraction in Medellín.
How to get to the Jardines Montesacro cemetery
You can get there by public transport from Medellín. Metro line A goes to the municipality of Itagüí. Once there, a taxi ride to the cemetery takes around 15 minutes. It only takes 30 to 40 minutes by car from Medellín.
Pablo Escobar neighborhood
Cra. 26ef #37-12 (Medellín)
As mentioned earlier, Pablo Escobar had a Robin Hood complex and although he was a murderer and one of the worst culprits, many people remember him as some kind of hero. Escobar provided various constructions and facilities that benefited many humble people, but what undoubtedly attracts the most attention is the Barrio Pablo Escobar.
Why does the Barrio Pablo Escobar arouse interest?
This place is undoubtedly one of the few positive legacies that Pablo Escobar has left. Walking through this neighborhood, one can find a variety of painted walls alluding to the late drug dealer.
Some of the people who live there adore Escobar and defend him against any allegation or insult. The history of this neighborhood goes back to when Escobar was working on his political campaign (the 1980s). At that time he got to know several people who were living in precarious circumstances, almost on garbage dumps, so that he decided to help them.
Escobar created a neighborhood with more than 400 houses that benefited a large number of people. Today (2021) this place is popularly known as Barrio Pablo Escobar and comprises more than 5000 houses and 16,000 residents.
After Escobar’s death, this area was made taboo several times. The communities did not want to support it economically, arguing that it was Escobar’s legacy. This year (2021), however, the state made social investments aimed at improving the quality of life of the people who live there.
- Many people who live in this neighborhood respect Escobar, regardless of what they think of the drug dealer. It is important to respect these people’s beliefs.
- The neighborhood should not be visited by tourists alone.
How do you get to Barrio Pablo Escobar?
You can use public transport to get to Barrio Pablo Escobar. The underground lines A and B pass in the immediate vicinity of the town. You can also use the bus as the C6-004, C6-007, and C6-010B lines pass near the area.
House where Pablo Escobar died
Cr 79B # 45D-94
Contrary to what one might think, Pablo Escobar did not die in a luxurious house with many privileges, on the contrary, he previously lived in a modest apartment that was only protected by a lieutenant. After fleeing La Catedral in 1992, the Colombian government founded the so-called “Search Bloc”, a group whose task was to capture or murder Escobar. In addition, US intelligence and Escobar’s enemies founded the aforementioned organization called Pepes.
Escobar could no longer stay in his luxurious estate and had to go into hiding. In 1993 he temporarily moved to this house, where he stayed for 15 days, hidden and scared, only with the protection of a guard known as “El Limón”. On December 2, 1993, the special forces succeeded in tracing a five-minute telephone conversation between the drug dealer and his son and in this way locating him.
The authorities came to the house, managed to kill “El Limón” the guardian, and although Escobar tried to escape over the rooftops, they finally managed to kill him, ending the era of Pablo Escobar’s terror.
Curiously, it was never clearly established who the person who killed Pablo Escobar was. Myths abound and there are even those who believe that the drug dealer committed suicide. This after he had said the now mythical phrase: “I would rather be in a grave in Colombia than in a prison cell in the United States”.
Why is there interest in the house where Pablo Escobar died?
After Escobar’s death, the house was closed by the Attorney General and was abandoned for 15 years. The homeless, drug addicts and criminals entered illegally. In 2008 the house was bought and converted into a Spanish language school. Although Escobar’s name is often used to attract tourism, it is no longer the main purpose of the place.
Even so, the house remains a frequent destination for tours related to Pablo Escobar. Whether you like it or not, this place has become a pop culture icon, and even renowned artists like Fernando Botero have captured the moment of the drug lord’s death in paintings.
How do you get to the house where Pablo Escobar was killed?
The house where Pablo Escobar was murdered is in the center of Medellín, in the Los Olivos district. It can be reached by public transport. Bus routes 302 and 202 pass near this area.
Parque Conmemorativo Inflexión
The iconic Monaco building, which was a symbol of the late drug lord, once stood on this property. The Monaco building was thought to be Pablo Escobar’s bunker. It was in this building that the boss of evil had his car collection, a variety of secret rooms, and special places to hide his assets.
Since 1986, Monaco was the palace of Pablo Escobar and his family, but on January 13th, 1988 the silence ended. The Cali cartel ordered a car bomb to be planted. This was believed to be the first in Colombia (although this is incorrect as the first car bomb exploded in Santa Marta in 1981 and had nothing to do with drug trafficking), which destroyed part of the building and left 10 injured and 3 dead.
The attack made Escobar’s daughter almost deaf and from then on the war on drugs intensified. After that fateful day, the building passed into the hands of the National Narcotics Council and then other owners. However, the damage was done and this place became an icon of narco culture. Locals and foreigners came to take photos in the building. Even celebrities like the aforementioned Wiz Khalifa had their picture taken in this macabre location.
As we mentioned earlier, various governments tried to remove interest in Pablo Escobar. Therefore, in 2019, it was decided to demolish the Monaco building and build the Parque Conmemorativo Inflexión in its place, which will pay tribute to the victims of the violence.
Why should you visit the Parque Conmemorativo Inflexión?
This park is not a symbol for the perpetrators, but for the victims. You can find plaques and posters commemorating all civilians and police officers who were killed in the drug trade.
It is a park that invites you to rest and reflect. It is also a place to demystify Pablo Escobar because we must always remember that what he represented was one of Colombia’s darkest times.
How to get to the Parque Conmemorativo Inflexión?
Take the metro line B to the station San Javier, then walk for about 15 minutes.
Museo Casa de la Memoria
Opening times: Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Another place to learn more about Pablo Escobar’s violence is at the Museo Casa de la Memoria. It shows several exhibitions that speak about the violent events in the country.
Medellín 70, 80, 90
The exhibition that talks about the violence produced by Escobar and the drug cartels is called “Medellín 70, 80, 90, The City Speaks”. Using a timeline, photos and testimonies from victims, perpetrators and third parties who witnessed the violence, you can find out what the city had to go through back then. A very impressive place that is also visited by school classes.
How to get to the Museo Casa de la Memoria?
Take the metro lines A or B to the San Antonio station and from there, take the tram to the Bicentenario station. Then walk two blocks.
Tours related to Pablo Escobar
Below we show some tour providers.
Medellín Trip Colombia
Price: USD 30 per person
Starting point: Medellín
Duration: 4 hours
An ideal tour that only lasts a few hours is Medellín Trip Colombia. This tour, held in both English and Spanish, takes you around the city:
- Parque Conmemorativo Inflexion
- Escobar’s tomb
- Pablo Escobar’s neighborhood
- House where he died
- As an optional attraction, you can visit the House of Remembrance.
- Children under 4 years are free.
- Food is not included.
- You will be picked up at your accommodation for the tour.
Pablo Escobar Tours
This company offers different plans from 1 to 5 days.
Full day tour
Price: USD 140 per person
Starting point: Medellín
This is a private tour that must be booked at least 2 days in advance:
- The Cathedral
- The house where Pablo Escobar died
- Escobar’s tomb
- Parque Conmemorativo Inflexion
5 days premium tour
Price: $ 800 per person
Starting point: Bogotá
This tour is interesting because you visit representative parts of Bogotá and Medellín (which have nothing to do with Escobar). These are supplemented with places related to the drug lord.
In Bogota, you only spend one day and are taken to the Palace of Justice in the historic center of the capital (La Candelaria). While in Bogotá, you will be taken to other iconic sites in La Candelaria, such as the Police Museum.
The next four days are spent in Medellín and visit places associated with Pablo Escobar, such as:
- La Hacienda Nápoles
- The Cathedral
- The house where Pablo Escobar died
- Escobar’s tomb
- Parque Conmemorativo Inflexion
You will also have the opportunity to meet an anonymous former member of the Medellín cartel. On the 5th day you will be taken to other places in the city that have nothing to do with Escobar.
Board and lodging are included in both Bogota and Medellin. At Hacienda Napoles, everything is included except Jurassic World and the slide.
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