Hacienda Napoles was once the greatest ostentation symbol of Pablo Escobar and his dark empire. Forty years later is a theme park that brings joy and fun to families in Colombia and worldwide.
Hacienda Napoles: Place Of Fun And Games
Nowadays, in the center of the Hacienda Napoles, you can find a bunch of kids playing. They do not know the background story, and the truth is that they do not have to know.
Alone, they splash water with their little hands and smile mischievously in a large and colorful pool. They can't even imagine that a while ago, the fun place had very little or no joy.
The "peladita," as Colombians say, is "having a good time" at nothing more and nothing less than the famous Hacienda Napoles. This is the estate where drug trafficker Pablo Escobar Gaviria began sculpting his mighty sphinx. Here, he even had planned several of his terrifying crimes.
The little ones don't care about that, we do. That is why the question arises – what are those children doing playing there?
Hacienda Napoles: Pablo Escobar's Paradise
Located in Puerto Triunfo, Antioquia, Hacienda Napoles' original goal was just one: showing off. So when the Patron of Evil founded it in 1978, he threw a raucous party and even hired a foreign television crew to make a documentary about the site.
It had to be recorded that there was a luxury mansion, six swimming pools, 27 artificial lakes, a gas station, a landing strip, heliports, and even a bullring.
But above all, the world had to find out that some 1,500 species of animals such as rhinoceroses, hippos, camels, giraffes, elephants, and even kangaroos, coexisted in the Hacienda Nápoles. This was all thanks to the power of the "Capo de Los Capos," the "strong man of Colombia."
Escobar paid two million dollars for the animals he bought from a Dallas Zoo. They were shipped, though some ended up on direct clandestine flights.
His son, Juan Pablo, in the controversial book Pablo Escobar, my father wrote:
"My dad was amazed at the variety of animals he found in (Dallas) and jumped on the back of an elephant. Without hesitation, he negotiated with the owners of the zoo – two big brothers, surnamed Hunt –, paid in cash and arranged to send for the animals very soon, "
Escobar was crazy about his exotic acquisitions, and nothing and no one was going to take away his obsessive illusion. However, the authorities objected to such rare specimens entering the country upon arriving in Colombia. This was especially true since there was no rhyme or reason, or permission for the animals to stay on a private farm.
They forced Escobar to donate the animals to the Medellin zoo, but he was more cunning. As he had been asked, he sent some species to the city, and others he took to the Hacienda Napoles.
The operation was going perfectly until some zebras were seized. Escobar did not want to lose a single one. Incredible as it may seem, Capo's solution was out of the ordinary. He bought gray donkeys and had them painted white with vertical black stripes.
Bending a few wills, he managed to exchange the donkeys for the real zebras, which returned intact to his beautiful Hacienda Napoles, of almost 3,000 hectares.
This is how some of the first anecdotes of Hacienda Napoles were born. The Hacienda was Escobar's paradise where he escaped from his busy life as a bandit.
Hundreds of people, linked or not to the cocaine business, came to enjoy and share the "paradise" Pablo made.
The Dark Truth Of Hacienda Napoles
Years after Escobar's death, which occurred on December 2, 1993, graves with bone remains were found at Hacienda Napoles. As if it had not been something obvious, it was found that the runway located there served to transport heavy drug shipments.
It was clear that the main entrance to the hacienda was adorned with a small plane on top, in honor of Escobar's first shipment of cocaine.
It was always a chilling place, but with Capo's death, everything would change.
The Extraordinary Conversion
Forty years after that lavish Escobar-esque opening, the iconic entrance to Hacienda Napoles is primarily the same. But a different picture can be painted.
To get a sense of Hacienda Napoles today, imagine this. It is a hot day, almost 30°, and parents with their children stop their cars to take a photo with the famous plane.
Like thousands of people who today visit the place without having to ask Pablo for permission, they take the classic selfie just before entering the Hacienda Napoles Theme Park. This is the center of culture, history, and family fun into which the Patron's property changed.
"Enjoy the true wild adventure," proclaims the banner that welcomes the excited visitors. With their first steps, the visitors are serenaded with the sounds of monkeys and growls of the jungle.
Let's consider that Escobar wanted to turn his farm into something exotic and unconventional. Four decades later, we could say that the Capo got away with it, but in a way that he could never have imagined.
In recent years, the city of Medellin, and the entire Colombian department of Antioquia, have distinguished themselves by recovering public spaces for its citizens. These centers of culture and entertainment have tried to heal, with success, from the drug wars of the 80s and 90s.
Located 165 kilometers from Medellin, Hacienda Napoles did not escape this trend. After a successful alliance between the private company and the Colombian state, what was previously a place of pain, senseless waste, and even death, became a space to share with the family and reclaim the past with laughter.
Since 2008, the Hacienda Napoles Theme Park has been the largest entertainment center of its kind in South America and the primary source of employment for nearby communities. In 2012, it was also chosen by Times magazine as one of the ten most exotic parks globally.
Whoever visits it can find five water parks, a Jurassic Park, two museums, a butterfly farm, five luxury hotels, and a good part of the animals that Escobar once boasted about. Just to mention a few, you can see elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, and Pablo's beloved zebras.
In addition, in the park, you can see the largest population of hippos in the world that live outside the African savannah.
Hacienda Napoles Theme Park
Everything smells like safari, adventure, vacations, and a good ride when you enter the Hacienda Napoles Theme Park. It is a hot area, so at first, few are reluctant to take a dip in the Octopus, a giant structure in the shape of an octopus made up of long slides, waterfalls, puddles, waterfalls, trails, and artificial waterfalls.
Victoria Falls is the name of this aquatic attraction characterized by a 20-meter waterfall and an extension close to 100 meters long. It is one of the favorites of Hacienda Napoles.
It is an unmissable plan to do the animal tour and visit Africa's anthropological and ethnographic museum. It has unique collections about that distant continent's history and ethnic groups.
But it is evident, no matter how many recreational activities there are, that morbidity always wins, and curiosity peeks out between the hot weather, refreshing juices, and Pina Coladas.
Visitors usually visit and take photos on the famous runway in the bullring arena. Here, it is said that Vicente Fernandez himself sang.
Escobar's old house, now in ruins, is known today as the Memorial Museum, a historical tour that in no way intends to make Pablo a hero. On the contrary, it functions as a reminder of the pain and tragedy that his ambition caused.
Hacienda Napoles: Memorial Of The War On Drugs
Alvaro Morales, the curator of the museum, explained to the Elmundo website:
"The objective of the Museum is to distort the legend, remove the belief that these criminals have a social benefit and not allow the sinister figure of Escobar to present himself as a Robin Hood."
The museum is more of a tribute to the drug war victims for Morales. He also remembers that before the theme park laid its first stone, the Hacienda Napoles was a dark and abandoned place, eaten by weeds and with all the bad reputation in the world.
"When we started the project, the historical memory studies on Escobar were few. What we did was go back to how the phenomenon was experienced and for that, we resorted to the press. We took the covers of each of the episodes of blood and pain and made a context of how culture and civil resistance allowed us to move forward,"
Therefore, it is not uncommon that before entering the Museum of Memory, a giant sign screams fiercely and proudly, "The State Triumphed!", in an apparent reference to Colombia and the positive results of a fight to the death with its main enemy.
But what screams the most in the Hacienda Napoles Theme Park is not the sign. It is the little kids who resist their parents taking them out of the "rich" pool.
Symbolically, the kids' shouts are for all the children, young people, and families who enjoy everything that Escobar could not, or at least not as much as he would have liked.
Along these lines, Hacienda Napoles is like a unique inheritance or, instead, a compensatory payment from Escobar for significant and irreparable damage to his people.
What an irony and what a strange truth... Escobar had so much money and power that he continued to pay for the party even after dying. Of course, there is nothing left of "coca" and gangsters in the Hacienda Naples, but only children's laughter and shouts.
Hacienda Napoles transformed from narco hell to amusement heaven.