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The Hacienda Napoles is a sprawling estate which once belonged to Pablo Escobar, one of the most feared members of the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia. An area around nine times the size of Central Park is encompassed by the estate, which includes a Spanish colonial-style mansion, an assortment of other residences, and the remnants of Escobar's private playground. In 2007, Hacienda Napoles was opened as a theme park, catering to the curious visitors who had already been poking around the site for years.
Until Escobar died in 1993, Hacienda Napoles was his headquarters, and very few people set foot on the land. Escobar maintained a variety of amenities on site, including an airstrip and a large private pool, but the most remarkable feature of the estate was probably his private zoo, stocked with an assortment of exotic animals.
When Escobar died, his family laid claim to the estate, but it was confiscated by the Colombian government, and placed in the care of the neighboring town of Puerto Triunfo. Most of the zoo animals were exported to other zoos around the world so that they could receive proper care, but the hippos were left behind. The hippos have added to the fame of the Hacienda Napoles; although Escobar only imported four, at least 18 were counted on the site by 2003, and they had gone feral.
Because hippos can be extremely aggressive and very territorial, doubts were raised about how the hippos could be captured and exported with success, and there was much debate about what to do with them. As of 2008, the hippos of Hacienda Napoles were still roaming the site along with the visitors, who poked through the rapidly disintegrating mansion, admired the life-size sculptures of fighting dinosaurs, and played on the land which had once inspired such fear. Some critics have suggested that glorifying a drug lord by turning his private estate into a theme park is in somewhat poor taste, but the Municipality maintains that the site provides needed jobs, and that the park includes educational displays about Escobar's crimes to reinforce the idea that he was a criminal.
Several refugee families also took up residence at Hacienda Napoles, in various abandoned structures on the site. When Hacienda Napoles was turned into a theme park, the refugee families were theoretically supposed to relocate to more appropriate housing, although some commenters pointed out that there was a certain irony in housing the victims of Colombia's drug wars on the estate of a former drug lord.
I visited Hacienda Napoles in August and it was one of the most interesting places I have ever been. But very little tourist infrastructure, you are pretty much on your own in the park. Improvements are ongoing, you can now swim in Pablo's pool. My amiga and me were completely alone for about 30 minutes in Pablo's ruined mansion before another tourist came up to take our picture together. His burned classic car and boat collection, along with the exotic animals, his bullring, and the tame hippopotamus are well worth the 4 hour bus ride from Medellin, but there needs to be a lot more tourist friendly infrastructure before this site gets the disneyland fame and visitors it should have. With the right facilities and promotion this site should and could be a major worldwide tourist destination.
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