How Hacienda Napoles went from Pablo Escobar's cocaine palace to a family-friendly theme park.
If you were to get in your car and drive about 93 miles east of Medellin, Colombia, you would eventually come across a town called Puerto Triunfo. There you’d come across a set of giant, colorful wooden doors. A sign on the front, reading “Parque Tematico Hacienda Napoles” in a Jurassic Park-style font lets you know you’ve arrived at your destination: a family-friendly theme park built on the grounds of what was once a Playboy Mansion-like cocaine palace, fit for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
In its heyday, Hacienda Napoles was far from family-friendly. When Pablo Escobar ruled Medellin in the 1970s and 1980s, he built an estate that was as impressive as he was.
As was the case in many facets of his life, Escobar spared no expense when it came to building his paradise. By the time it was finished, Hacienda Napoles was home to a sprawling Spanish Colonial mansion, a sculpture garden, an airport, and even a zoo, complete with elephants, ostriches, and hippopotamuses.
Besides being a retreat, Hacienda Napoles was also a display of Pablo Escobar’s wealth. The kingpin used his estate to show off his massive collection of classic cars and luxury bikes, and built a racetrack so that they could be raced along with go-karts. There was a private bull-ring where his guests could watch bullfighting, several swimming pools, and expansive, lush lawns.
At the helm of the park was Escobar’s pride and joy (besides cocaine), a replica of his Piper PA-18 Super Cub plane, which transported his very first shipment of cocaine into the United States. Resting atop the blue and white arch that marked the entrance to the estate, the plane served as a reminder of the estate’s true purpose – to remind all those who passed under it, that they were all just plebians, and that Colombia would forever be under the command of the king.
After Escobar was taken down in 1993, the Escobar family found themselves at odds with the government over Hacienda Napoles’ ownership. The government eventually prevailed and took over the land. The animals were shipped to zoos around the country and the land was sold to a developer who finally turned it into the park it is today.
Perhaps the largest of the efforts that have gone into the park included erasing Escobar’s name from it all. While he is essentially an international superstar, a grim household name worldwide, the town of Puerto Triunfo sees his name not as an asset but as a detriment to the wholesome image they are trying to cultivate.
The only piece of the original estate that remains is the blue and white arch, with Escobar’s plane perched above it. The park owners have left them as they were, but painted the plane with zebra stripes as if to cover what it represents with what they want to portray.
The truth is that the paint is just a glorified band-aid, as is the theme park itself. The impact of Escobar still lingers, as does his influence on Colombia as a whole.
The hippos from Hacienda Napoles still roam Colombia, feral after all of these years and wreaking havoc as if in a testament to their previous owner, and the plane still sits above the park, reminding all who visit that despite what it is now, it only exists due to the power, influence, and drug money of Pablo Escobar.