Can you join a Pablo Escobar tour in Medellín without glorifying it? And if so, is it worth it?
As a seasoned Colombia travel expert since 2015, living in the heart of Medellín, I understand the complexities of this story.
Join me as we delve into the intricate tale of the infamous Pablo Escobar, a name synonymous with terror, who left a mark on Colombia that’s hard to ignore.
👉 Want to know everything about Medellín? To learn where are the best places and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to Medellin.
Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Here, you will find everything you need to fall in love with this beautiful country easily.
Booking a Pablo Escobar Tour in Medellin: The Cons
I’m not going to lie to you. Colombians are tired of being associated with Pablo Escobar (except those who make money off his name), and these tours are only attractive to foreigners.
Pablo Escobar was a bloodthirsty monster
Labelling Escobar as a terrorist is far from hyperbole. His ruthless ambition drove him to employ horrifying acts of terror to achieve his goals, often annihilating anyone who dared to challenge him. His battle against the Colombian government’s attempt to extradite him to the USA initiated a period of unprecedented chaos and violence.
Take, for instance, his infamous bounty on the police force. He offered a blood-curdling $1,000 reward for each policeman’s life, turning the security force into prey. His involvement in the plane bombing, causing countless innocent casualties, is a chilling testament to his cruel tactics.
Escobar’s notoriety has led to a surge in merchandise bearing his image, from t-shirts to posters. However, donning such items not only glorifies a man with a terrifying legacy but also shows disrespect towards the Colombian people who endured his reign of terror.
It’s not shocking to think that it doesn’t need more publicity.
Be respectful: Refrain from Sporting Pablo Escobar Merchandise.
Colombia is More Than Just a Stereotype
Escobar’s infamous association with cocaine has led to a damaging stereotype that continues to plague Colombia. This erroneous image overshadows the true vibrancy and richness of this amazing country.
Since living in Colombia, I’ve often been on the receiving end of the same distasteful joke from foreigners: “Ah, you like cocaine then. Can you get me some?” This stereotype is an insult to Colombians who have worked tirelessly to rebuild their country from years of chaos.
Instead, let’s change the narrative.
Let’s talk about Colombia’s world-renowned coffee, its beautiful landscapes, vibrant culture, and warm, inviting people. Let’s show respect to the nation that has risen from ashes and is eager to share its true beauty with the world.
Why not spend your time enjoying better experiences?
A Recent History Still Fresh
Pablo Escobar’s reign in Colombia from the 80’s to 1993 is still fresh in the minds of those aged 40 and above. These were tumultuous years marked by fear, and for many Colombians, it’s a time they’d rather leave behind, focusing instead on the positive transformation their country has undergone since.
So here’s a free tip: avoid shouting Escobar’s name around when you’re in Colombia.
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Booking a Medellin Pablo Escobar Tour: The Pros
With the Netflix series Narcos, the story of Pablo Escobar, for all its grimness, has found a global audience. It’s human nature to wonder – how did he do it? Why did he do it?
The Intriguing and Infamous Escobar
Pablo Escobar’s life story is a riveting one. From humble beginnings, he rose to control a staggering 80% of the cocaine market in the USA, accumulating wealth beyond belief. With an entrepreneur’s hat on, one can’t help but marvel at the managerial prowess required to run such a gargantuan operation —same for the mafia history in Las Vegas.
Now, don’t get me wrong – Escobar’s actions were devastating, but there’s an undeniable fascination in dissecting the complexities of his journey.
Narcos vs. Reality: The Untold Story
Netflix’s hit series “Narcos” has undoubtedly fueled interest in Escobar’s life.
But let’s remember, it’s a show, and shows do tend to dramatize the truth for viewer engagement. The series paints a somewhat glorified image of Escobar, which is a stark contrast to the grim reality as described by his son, Sebastián Marroquín—yep, he changed his name.
Marroquín’s firsthand account paints a far darker picture than the one we see on screen. He talks of the loneliness, fear, anxiety, and sheer terror that were everyday aspects of their lives during those years. The violence shown in Narcos is merely a fraction of the brutality that encapsulated the Escobar era.
So if you’re planning a trip to Colombia and are intrigued by Escobar’s story, remember to tread lightly. But if you’re interested in understanding the man, his rise and fall, a Pablo Escobar tour might just be the thing for you.
Deciphering the Pablo Escobar Paradox in Medellín
Pablo Escobar remains a figure shrouded in controversy, his legacy a tangle of contradictions.
In the labyrinthine neighborhoods of Medellín, Escobar’s demise didn’t usher in a collective sigh of relief.
Quite the contrary, whispers of reverence echoed through these communities, with some even stepping into the role of willing accomplices. This loyalty wasn’t a mere spin of the PR wheel; Escobar meticulously carved a ‘Robin Hood’ persona among his perceived constituents, and it worked.
Look closely, and you’ll find footprints of Escobar’s benevolence etched into the heart of Medellín. Churches, schools, community centers – all testament to his philanthropic endeavors. His support for local soccer teams and affordable housing projects earned him allies in communities that, under different circumstances, would have been quick to denounce him.
Yet, it’s crucial to view these deeds through the lens of a broader perspective. Escobar’s reign was punctuated with unspeakable horrors, the reverberations of which continue to ripple through Colombian society. For many Colombians, Escobar remains a figure of intense polarization, the embodiment of a paradoxical blend of benevolence and malevolence.
Marvel at Medellín’s Remarkable Evolution
A Pablo Tour in Medellín should be more than a history lesson – it’s a testament to a city’s incredible resilience and transformation. As you meander through the serene streets of Medellín, bathed in the soft city lights and cradled by a breeze whispering tales of eternal spring, it’s almost surreal to imagine that this was once the epicenter of Escobar’s criminal empire.
The metamorphosis of Medellín is nothing short of a phoenix rising from the ashes. From being dubbed the murder capital of the world (not only because of the drug traffickers), Medellín has emerged as a coveted destination for global nomads and expats. This dramatic turnaround is a salute to the tenacity and progressive spirit of the Paisa people.
The local government’s initiatives have been instrumental in scripting this turnaround story.
The introduction of the Metro and MetroCable hasn’t just revolutionized commuting in the city, but it has also stitched together the diverse communities of Medellín, fostering a sense of unity and interaction among its vibrant populace.
Pablo Escobar Tours: The sites you’ll visit in Medellin
If you’re heading to Medellín to trace the footsteps of the infamous Pablo Escobar, know this: the sites that these tours showcase, while intriguing, are nothing extraordinary. Some have been wiped off the map by action from a previous city mayor. The real allure lies in the stories these places tell, the narratives they weave, and the understanding they provide about the city’s complex past.
The Birth of Barrio Pablo Escobar
In the heart of Medellín, an area unofficially known as Barrio Pablo Escobar stands as a testament to the complicated relationship the city has with the man.
It’s a neighborhood built on both the literal and metaphorical remnants of the city’s past, a product of Escobar’s Senate campaign and a symbol of the enduring respect some locals still harbor for him.
Picture this: It’s 1982, and Pablo Escobar steps foot into Moravia, a colossal garbage dump in the city’s nucleus. Here, hundreds of families have made their homes illegally amidst the refuse. Escobar, ever the populist, extends a hand of support.
Equipped with vouchers and the promise of a brighter future, 400 families migrate to the east side of the city, to the Buenos Aires district. Here, they find houses ready to be turned into homes.
Fast forward to the present, and this area continues to bear the mark of its benefactor. The locals fondly refer to it as the Pablo Escobar neighborhood — a moniker they chose, and one that persists in local parlance, despite the official designation of the Loreto neighborhood by city authorities.
Ironically, while Barrio Pablo Escobar is a significant piece of Medellín’s narrative, it remains a ghost on the official city maps. Among the 249 recognized urban neighborhoods, you won’t find Barrio Pablo Escobar listed.
If you opt for a Pablo Escobar tour in Medellín, it’s likely you’ll make a pit stop at the Monumento A Pablo Escobar. The graffiti-laden monument features a depiction of Escobar alongside a smattering of photos and a statue of the Virgin Mary.
It’s a stark reminder of the dichotomy between the city’s official stance and the local sentiment.
Pablo Escobar’s grave: cementerio jardines montesacro
Nestled in the serene grounds of Cementerio Jardines Montesacro in ItaguÏ, the Pablo Escobar grave, bereft of grandeur, is a surprising contrast to the extravagant life Escobar once led.
Sharing the plot with their notorious son are his mother, Herminia Gaviria, and his brother, Luis Fernando Escobar, along with their father Abel, an uncle, and their beloved nanny, Teresa. A stone’s throw away, you’ll find the graves of Escobar’s close associates and kin, including his cousin, Gustavo Gaviria, and his accomplice, Griselda Blanco.
One thing to keep in mind: you don’t need to take a selfie there.
La Catedral: Pablo Escobar’s Luxury Jail
Imagine a prison that’s less about penance and more about pleasure. That was ‘La Catedral,’ Pablo Escobar’s so-called jail. Situated just outside Medellín, in the verdant environs of Envigado, La Catedral was Escobar’s self-styled fortress, where he continued his reign over the Medellin Cartel with impunity.
In June 1991, Escobar willingly entered La Catedral to escape extradition to the United States.
But this was not a typical prison sentence; it was more like a self-imposed vacation. The prison, boasting panoramic views, spacious rooms, game areas, a gym, a natural waterfall, and a football field that sometimes served as a helipad, was nothing short of a castle.
While the prison’s exterior was secured with electric fences and fortified walls, its interior was an oasis of indulgence. Friends, family, and associates were welcomed for lavish parties, complete with women, alcohol, and drugs.
However, the truth about La Catedral couldn’t be kept under wraps for long. The Colombian government soon faced backlash as the world learned that Escobar was using the prison as a luxurious hideout – making life-or-death decisions and even committing murders from within its walls.
Sensing an impending takeover by the army, Escobar slipped out of the prison, disguised as a woman.
Today, La Catedral is gone.
Its decadent past has been replaced by a monastery, a church, and a center for the elderly. While you might not find remnants of its notorious history, the breathtaking view and nearby waterfalls (accessible with a tour guide) make the trip worthwhile.
The Monaco Building: A Symbol of Opulence, Now Gone
The Monaco Building, once a testament to Pablo Escobar’s extravagant lifestyle, stood in the posh neighborhood of Santa María de Los Ángeles in El Poblado. This architectural marvel, embellished with a stunning sculpture by Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt, was the residence of Escobar’s family.
However, it also became a target in the infamous drug war, with the Cali Cartel detonating 80kg of dynamite in front of the building in 1987—marking a new era of violence.
Fast forward to 2018, and the Monaco Building is no more. Thanks to Mayor Federico Gutiérrez, the edifice has been replaced with the Parque Memorial Inflexión, a public memorial park designed to honor the victims of narcoterrorism in Medellín from 1983 to 1994.
At the heart of the park is “Inflexión,” a 70-meter-long, 5-meter-high black stone wall dotted with 46,612 holes. Each hole represents a victim of violence from that period, and at night, they light up like a constellation, a poignant reminder of the lives lost.
Los Olivos Antioquia: The End of A Drug lord
On December 2, 1993, an unassuming building in Los Olivos Antioquia became the final stage for Pablo Escobar. A fierce confrontation ensued on the rooftop, resulting in a hail of gunfire that ended Escobar’s reign.
Today, the building stands unnoticed, save for the occasional tourists who stop to take a photo.
Address: Carrera 79B #45D-94
Casa Museo Pablo Escobar
In El Poblado, you’ll find the Casa Museo Pablo Escobar, run by Escobar’s nephew.
While some are captivated by the museum’s collection of vintage cars and photographs, others see it as nothing more than an expensive 20-minute walk—costing about $25—through a one-sided narrative of the past.
The museum has been criticized for offering a skewed perspective, with some even accusing it of capitalizing on Pablo’s notorious legacy.
While there are displays of memorabilia, the authenticity of the items is up for debate.
In my view, this type of museum is emblematic of the dark side of narco tourism, trivializing a grim chapter in Colombia’s history.
Pablo Escobar sites around Medellín
But you won’t learn much from them either.
Hacienda Nápoles: From Pablo’s Playground to a Family Paradise
Nestled in Puerto Triunfo, Antioquia, it was a realm of excess, complete with a sprawling mansion, six pools, 27 artificial lakes, a private gas station, an airstrip, helipads, and even a bullring.
Yet, the most extravagant feature of this estate was its zoo. Home to around 1,500 exotic animals, including rhinos, hippos, camels, giraffes, elephants, and kangaroos, it showcased Escobar’s obsession with exotic wildlife. In fact, he once bought a menagerie from a Dallas zoo for a reported two million dollars, even painting donkeys as zebras to elude authorities!
Fast forward four decades, and you’ll find Hacienda Nápoles reborn as Parque Temático Hacienda Nápoles. It’s a testament to Medellín and Antioquia’s commitment to repurposing public spaces for the community, fostering healing from the narco wars of the ’80s and ’90s.
The park boasts five water parks, a Jurassic Park, two museums, a butterfly sanctuary, and luxury hotels. Several of Escobar’s animals still reside here, including elephants, tigers, and rhinos. Interestingly, the park is also home to the world’s largest population of hippos living outside of Africa—and it’s quite an issue!
La Manuela: Pablo Escobar’s mansion in Guatapé
Venture to La Manuela, named after Escobar’s daughter, and you’ll find a 20-acre estate that once echoed with opulence and excess. A grand mansion, a pool, tennis courts, a soccer field (doubling as a helipad), stables, a guesthouse, a seaplane dock, and even imported trees once adorned this property.
The mansion’s double-layered walls hid compartments for stashing cash and cocaine, and a discotheque added to its extravagant allure. However, in 1993, Escobar’s reign ended in a blaze of fury when Los Pepes, an anti-Escobar vigilante group, bombed La Manuela.
Today, nature has reclaimed La Manuela. The ruins, still visible from a boat tour, are a stark reminder of Escobar’s reign. Until recently, you could even tour the property with Escobar’s gardener and participate in paintball games amid the ruins.
How to pick your Pablo Escobar Tour Medellin
In Medellín, ‘The Pablo Escobar is History Tour’ by See Colombia Travel was the first to broach this subject. Today, there are numerous similar tours, but I urge you to choose one that presents a balanced perspective.
Pablo Escobar Tours: A Few Suggestions
While I have personally abstained from booking any Pablo Escobar tours, I’ve researched a couple of options that appear to provide a more rounded view.
1. ‘The Real Pablo Escobar Tour‘ takes you to significant locations like the Inflexión Memorial Park, the Cathedral, and his grave in a private van, with an English-speaking guide offering insights.
2. ‘Pablo Escobar and Comuna 13 Tour‘ is a private tour that juxtaposes the Medellín of Escobar’s era with the present-day city. It’s a great way to see the city’s transformation.
Seeking Alternatives to Pablo Escobar Tours
If you’re interested in understanding the impact of Pablo Escobar’s reign on Medellín, there are several other ways to do so.
→ Take a Free Walking Tour with Real City Tour. This immersive experience will give you a broader understanding of Colombian history.
→ Visit neighborhoods like Comuna 13, La Sierra, and Moravia. Each bears testimony to the transformation from violence and hardship to social development and community resilience.
→ Explore La Casa Museo de la Memoria, a museum that delves into the city’s violent past. It’s a poignant reminder of the human cost of narco-violence.
→ Find out more things to do in Medellin.
Author’s note: This article was originally published by Paul Giles on the site www.seeColombia.travel. It has now been edited by Thomas Espeute, following the acquisition of SeeColombia.travel by Tomplanmytrip.
Pablo Escobar is undeniably a part of Medellín’s history. While it’s natural for travelers to be curious about his life and empire, it’s crucial to remember the real-life consequences of his actions.
To truly respect the Colombian people who have lived through this era, consider approaching this topic responsibly. You can read on the subject beforehand and opt for tours that focus on the city’s transformation rather than glorifying a criminal past.
In my experience, the real essence of Medellín doesn’t lie in the shadows of Escobar’s reign but in the resilience of its people and its vibrant transformation.
After all, there’s so much more to Colombia than the ghost of Pablo Escobar.
Planning a trip to Medellin? Here are some great articles you should read:
The 8 best experiences you shouldn’t miss
Visit Caño Cristales (the most beautiful river worldwide)
Explore San José del Guaviare (an off-the-beaten-path destination)