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Hacienda Napoles – The Luxury Estate of Pablo Escobar Is Now a Public Theme Park

Photo Credit: Colombian National Police / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (colorized) and Marta Hermaniuk / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 and RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Colombian National Police / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (colorized) and Marta Hermaniuk / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 and RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP / Getty Images

Pablo Escobar was a notorious Colombian drug lord who operated one of the largest cartels in the world, the Medellín Cartel, during the 1980s and 1990s. He became the wealthiest criminal in the world, and at the time of his death, his net worth had soared to $30 billion. With all that money, Escobar chose to spend a pretty penny on a Colombian estate known as Hacienda Napoles. It was quite a luxurious place to vacation. Following his death, however, the estate exchanged hands and was ultimately transformed into a theme park.

Hacienda Napoles: Escobar’s favorite estate

An archway over a driveway with a small plane on top. A truck driving under it with a soldier in the foreground.
Colombian soldiers occupy the Hacienda Napoles, the estate belonging to the leader of the Medellin cartel Pablo Escobar; on the archway is a replica of the Piper PA-18 Super Cub which he used to export ‘goods’ to the United States. Photo circa 1989. (Photo Credit: Eric VANDEVILLE / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

In 1978, Escobar purchased a 7.7 square-mile plot of land in a town called Puerto Triunfo, approximately 93 miles east of Medellín, Colombia. This would become the location of his future luxury palace, Hacienda Napoles, eventually one of his favorite properties out of the many he owned. As the most successful drug lord in the world, he spared no expense in turning this property into the lavish paradise of his dreams.

The entrance to the property set the tone for the rest of the property. On top of the blue and white archway which stands at the front of the driveway sits a replica Piper PA-18 Super Cub airplane. This was the model of aircraft he used to transport his first shipment of cocaine into the United States. By placing it at the entryway, Escobar reminded visitors that the area was under the control of the Cocaine King.

Amenities on the property

A statue of a woman with a swimming pool behind it. A Spanish colonial house behind that, as a soldier walks along the poolside.
The Spanish colonial house overlooked one of several pools found on the estate. (Photo Credit: Eric VANDEVILLE / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

The rest of the property featured a beautiful Spanish colonial mansion, numerous swimming pools, and a grand sculpture garden filled with dinosaur statues and artistic sculptures. There were plush lawns of green grass, multiple man-made lakes, a private brothel, and even a private bullring. The estate was also equipped with an airstrip to provide him with his own private airport.

To showcase Escobar’s tremendous wealth, Hacienda Napoles was home to a massive collection of classic cars and bikes, as well as decommissioned military vehicles. An on-site go-kart track and Formula-1 racing track allowed him to take the cars for a joyride whenever he wanted.

Escobar built a private zoo on the grounds of Hacienda Napoles, equipped with creatures from all over the world. Animals like exotic birds, horses, ponies, antelopes, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and ostriches all lived on the property. However, the most notable animals featured at the Hacienda Napoles private zoo were its four hippos.

The Colombian government took over Hacienda Napoles

A view looking out under an archway at an abandoned bullring covered in natural overgrowth.
A now abandoned bull ring lies at Hacienda Napoles, the favored luxury estate of the late infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar near Puerto Triunfo, Colombia, circa 2006. (Photo Credit: Scott Dalton / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

In December 1993, Escobar’s reign came to an end when he was gunned down and killed by the Colombian police. Following his death, his family was thrust into a battle with the government over his various assets, including who would take ownership of Hacienda Napoles. Eventually, the government took control of the estate, but for the most part, they allowed the buildings to become dilapidated.

One of the things the Colombian government had to deal with rather quickly was the zoo. It was swiftly discovered that the cost of upkeep for the private zoo was going to be far too expensive for the government. Thus, they took the necessary steps to have the majority of the animals relocated and donated to Colombian and international zoos.

For the most part, they were able to ship the animals to their new homes without any issues. However, there was a huge issue (literally) when it came to relocating Escobar’s cherished hippopotamuses. There were four hippos on the premises when Escobar died, and they were too difficult to capture and transport.

The problem with the hippos

Hippos swimming in water, only their heads visible.
Hippopotamus swim in one of the lakes near by Hacienda Napoles on September 24, 2018, in Doradal, Colombia. Cartel leader Pablo Escobar owned Hacienda Napoles where he set up a private zoo in the early 1980s. After his death in 1993, the Colombian government confiscated the exotic animals but left four hippopotamus that have multiplied, becoming a hazard for the ecosystem and the inhabitants of the region. (Photo Credit: Juancho Torres / Getty Images)

The Colombian government was unsure what to do with the hippos, so they opted just to let them live freely on the property. However, at some point, the hippos managed to escape. They also managed to get quite far from the estate. The hippos could be found living in at least four different lakes, as well as in the Magdelena River. In 2009, a hippo named Pepe was caught 100 kilometers away from Hacienda Napoles.

The hippos also multiplied at an alarming rate. In 2011, there were approximately 30 hippos living off the estate, with 40 living on Hacienda Napoles grounds. Today, it’s unclear how many hippos are living in the surrounding area, but it has been estimated to be as high as 100. These hippos (known as cocaine hippos) have been declared an official invasive species and are believed to be altering the natural ecosystems found in this region.

Experts have suggested culling the hippos to try and not only reduce the number of hippos but also reduce their impact on the local ecosystem. Others have suggested sterilizing them to prevent any future breeding. However, as the feral hippos have wandered, the local people grew quite fond of the creatures and have protested several approaches to quell their rising population.

Hacienda Napoles was transformed into a theme park

A water park, with faux elephants and other animals spraying water over tourists.
People swim in a pool in front of an artificial waterfall at the Hacienda Napoles, Colombia. The Hacienda once belonged to drug lord Pablo Escobar who set up a private zoo here. Today, the Hacienda is an amusement park. (Photo Credit: Sinikka Tarvainen / picture alliance / Getty Images)

Beyond the hippo problem, Hacienda Napoles sat in derelict condition for years. Some of the buildings on the estate had roofs collapse, and the greenery became wildly overgrown. In 2010, a private company struck a deal with the Colombian government and took control of the land. After some construction, they opened the Parque Temático Hacienda Napoles.

This grand re-opening saw Hacienda Napoles transformed into a tourism hotspot. It now offers visitors of all ages fun with a water park with a “Victory Falls” water feature, a butterfly farm, a guided safari attraction, aquariums, replicas of Cueva de los Guacharos National Park caves, and several museums.

Taking advantage of some of the lavish exhibits Escobar established back when he owned the estate, the new theme park also offers its own unique attractions. Visitors can still walk through gigantic sculptures, as well as visit several exotic animals. Ostriches, zebras, monkeys, meerkats, and more are all available for viewing at the zoo, headed by the park’s mascot, Vanessa, who is a living female hippo.

Remnants of Escobar’s legacy

Different magazine covers and posters on a wall showing Pablo Escobar.
View of photographs of late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar at the Hacienda Napoles theme park, once the private zoo at his Napoles ranch, in Colombia, circa 2020. (Photo Credit: RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP / Getty Images)

Over the years, there have been several efforts to try and remove Escobar’s spirit from Hacienda Napoles, especially since it was reborn as a tourist theme park. Unfortunately, a great source of reason for tourism in the area is because of the drug lord’s legacy. Going with the grain, the park offers visitors a look into the Memorial Museum dedicated to the estate’s previous owner, as well as access to his burned private car collection and the ruins of his old Spanish colonial house (which is reported to have collapsed in February 2015).

Although the appeal of the waterpark and zoo may be enough for some tourists, others have been known to make their way to Hacienda Napoles with shovels in hand. Sneaking into the property, several visitors have been caught trying to dig up the lawn in the hopes they may find some kind of treasure Escobar may have buried and left behind.

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At the front of the property, the Piper PA-18 Super Cub airplane still remains atop the archway, reminding visitors of the person who built the original Hacienda Napoles and how he was able to do it. The essence of drug lord Pablo Escobar simply cannot be removed from his favorite luxury palace.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!