Eerie Photos Inside Pablo Escobar’s Legendary Abandoned Estate
By Dave Jones
If there’s anything spookier than the decaying ruins of an old mansion, it’s one with a sinister history, and Pablo Escobar’s Colombian pad is among the more notorious of them. You see, the sprawling estate on which it sits was a tribute to the drug lord’s vanity before his deadly encounter with the law. But that’s just scratching the surface of the bizarre story behind this fascinating property.
It’s no secret that Escobar earned his money as a cocaine baron, running drugs and reaping a fortune. At the height of his operations he was earning so much, no luxury was out of reach. And of course, when there are no limitations things get downright strange. After all, only the most eccentric magnate would populate his estate with dangerous exotic animals such as hippopotamuses!
Things got even weirder after Escobar’s death, when officials turned it into a popular family-friendly attraction, among other things. The cocaine lord’s once-opulent mansion, now a shell of its former self, overlooks everything from its place on the hill. It lures treasure seekers and urban explorers alike with its promise of wealth and adventure, and it’s a journey we’re going on together.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, if you’ve never heard of Escobar before at least you now know why he’s infamous. He also ingratiated himself with the locals by using his questionably-acquired fortune to buy homes for the poor and get a seat in congress. But Escobar’s own mansion was the opposite side of the coin, a sordid cocaine den with the trappings of a palace.
Escobar’s massive wealth was actually earned in the 1970s from the U.S. cocaine market, and while the saying goes that crime doesn’t pay, the drugs baron must have thought it did. He was earning millions a day after all, so money was literally no object. He was a billionaire and flaunted his wealth with an immense ranch called Hacienda Napoles, in between Colombia’s capital Bogota and the city of Medellin.
Putting on a show
Escobar wasn’t shy about his drug empire, either. In fact, such was his arrogance that he allowed people to visit the estate and see the trappings of his profession. He treated the grounds like an exhibition, and he knew how to put on a show! The ranch sported its own zoo which the drug lord personally arranged to be supplied with exotic animals — acquired illegally, of course.
Even the zoo’s entrance was a testament to Escobar’s history. A Piper PA-18 Super Cub airplane — the same model he first used to smuggle drugs at the start of his career — greeted approaching visitors. The zoo itself was populated by the rarest creatures the kingpin could get his hands on. He owned giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and even the aforementioned hippos, but the entertainment didn’t end there.
To the core
Escobar had an airstrip for his private planes, a menagerie of dinosaur statues (life-sized, of course), a private bullring and his own go-kart track. At this stage he must have considered himself untouchable, but nothing lasts forever. That’s partly because the drug lord expanded his “business” to include assassinations, shaking Colombia to its core. Even the police were considered valid targets.
Escobar waged war on law enforcement and justice officials, offering bounties for their lives. It was the last straw for the Colombian government. In 1993 the police shot and killed the drug lord on his property, bringing an abrupt and fittingly violent end to his criminal career. The story doesn’t quite end there, though. His death caused upheaval, especially when it came to who rightfully owned the Hacienda Nápoles estate.
After a dispute with the Escobar family, the government finally seized control of the ranch. Relocating the zoo animals became one of the major operations, but they weren’t completely successful. The four hippos escaped and fled into the wild, settling down and breeding. They’re the sires of all the country’s wild hippos, which can now arguably be considered an invasive species.
Escobar left quite a legacy behind, although it’s one tainted with blood. All the same, the public is still fascinated by the cocaine kingpin. For example, the Netflix series Narcos, dedicated to chronicling the Colombian drug cartels, would have been a tale impossible to tell without mentioning Escobar himself. The dark allure of his life is something that extends to the Hacienda Nápoles to this very day.
It’s no wonder, then, that the ranch still gets visitors. While a lot of the grounds have been repurposed for entertainment, some sections act as reparation for Escobar’s violence. For example, the buildings that once housed ranch workers were given to six families who became refugees of the Colombian civil war. A maximum security jail was also built on the grounds, which today may even imprison some of the drug lord's fellow cartel members.
The Escobar mansion is one building that was left untouched, though. Over the years many people have visited it for one reason or another. Some were searching for riches that the drug baron might have hidden, literally leaving holes behind in their hunt. Others have used it as a paintball arena, or just wanted to look around. Officials didn’t repair any of the damage.
Oberdan Martinez, who works on the estate as a manager, told newspaper The Independent in 2007 that there was a good reason for that decision. “We couldn't even restore the house if we wanted to,” he explained. “The construction is so poor that if we tried the whole thing would cave in. Actually, for a hardened criminal, Pablo Escobar was easily cheated by a common builder.”
Brink of collapse
Since it’s been left to rack and ruin, the Escobar house technically isn’t open to the public. Still, you generally can’t keep urban explorers out no matter how much caution tape you put around a building on the brink of collapse. The mansion is no exception; in footage on YouTube channel Yes Theory, from a distance it looks more or less intact. The grounds even have a swimming pool, albeit one filled with stagnant water.
On closer inspection, though, you realize just how damaged the mansion is. None of its seedy splendor now remains. Time, weather and treasure-hunters have ravaged the ruins and left their mark. Graffiti adorns the walls, the once-lavish interior now merely a canvas for local artists… or those who just wanted to share their wit with the world.
In fact, there’s not even much of an interior left! The manor is largely exposed to the elements now, and nature’s begun to reclaim the remains. Grass grows rampant where exquisite carpet and marbled tiles used to be. And not just on the ground floor, either: the upper storys are also being redecorated in green. Grass and moss have moved in since people abandoned it.
Some parts of the upper floor still remain intact after all this time. Actually, it gives you a better impression of what the mansion must have looked like at the height of Escobar’s power. The destroyed thatch most likely had the feel of a luxury resort before it fell into disrepair. The view of the surrounding area is incredible too, even now.
It’s hard to identify what this room was before its destruction, but it looks like it was a restroom. The remains are probably a bathroom unit and the holes where the sinks were installed. The luxury it once represented is completely erased, reduced to nothing but debris and chunks of plaster. Not even the graffiti artists found anything worth marking here, which is notable in itself.
On the top floor, you can see just how tight nature’s grip is on the decaying property. Only the frame of the mansion remains: grass and weeds have almost entirely taken it over. Although there’s not much to see of the building itself, you do get a good overview of the building’s scale when Escobar lived here: its scope is impressive.
So what about the rest of Hacienda Nápoles? Well, you already know that large portions of it have been repurposed. Despite wild hippopotamuses roaming the area — there are warning signs reading “Peligro: Presencia de Hipopótamos,” roughly translating as “Beware the hippos” — the government has found an ironic use for the site: Martinez is the general manager of the Hacienda Napoles theme park.
It looks like Martinez has taken inspiration from Jurassic Park in terms of aesthetics and the result is a family-friendly water and amusement park. But if you’re wondering if Escobar’s name and reputation will be romanticized to draw in the crowds, fear not. “We don’t plan to eulogize the memory of Escobar in any way,” Martinez told The Independent in 2007.
Of course, Martinez realizes that he can’t gloss over the issue completely. He elaborated, “We’re just going to tell people that this was [Escobar’s] home.” Instead, the intention is to take the land that the cocaine kingpin used for nefarious purposes and use it to bring some positivity back into the region.
Put to good use
“This is the first property seized from a major criminal in Colombia that is being put to use,” he said. He also elaborates on the topic to The National Desk YouTube channel in 2017. “Let’s say that we took goods that were confiscated from criminals and that we were losing completely and turn it into a productive project that will generate employment and will generate a bunch of economic activity in the region,” he said.
Martinez certainly seems dedicated to turning his portion of Hacienda Napoles around. For example, Escobar’s personal bullring? It’s now a display area celebrating Africa’s culture and wildlife, presumably because most of Escobar’s zoo was populated with African animals. Martinez says that rather than focusing on Escobar he wants “the world to know [Colombia] for many other good things that we have in our country.”
And speaking of the animals, that’s something that has remained unchanged since Escobar’s days, at least on the surface. Hacienda Napoles still has a zoo, but this time around Martinez is the one running it. Visitors can see many exotic animals here, but this time their presence is on the up-and-up through official channels instead of smuggled in across the border.
It’s wonderful to see how well Hacienda Napoles is doing post-Escobar, so what about the drug baron’s other homes? He owned multiple properties, including an impressive Medellin apartment in the Monaco building. Well, that one was bombed in 1990 by his rivals in the Cali cartel in a failed attempt to take Escobar’s life. Its 2019 demolition was broadcast on TV to make way for a memorial to Escobar’s victims.
A better future
The New York Times newspaper covered the event and quoted the official statement of Colombia’s then-president, Iván Duque. “Today, that building falls and hope begins,” he said. “It is impossible to change the past, but you can build a better present and a better future.” He said it’s not an attempt “to erase history,” instead explaining, “We need our young people to know the stories, to tell them this cannot happen again.”
And that’s the important thing to remember about Escobar and his bloody legacy. Because he bought houses for the poor and experienced a “success story” of sorts from humble beginnings to riches, the cocaine kingpin’s story is often misinterpreted. Likewise, the coverage in books and TV shows such as Narcos tend to forget his victims in favor of glamorizing Escobar’s exploits.
Yet it’s important to remember the truth about Escobar. Duque said, “We are concerned about the way in which we have narrated, and stopped narrating, our own history. In most stories, the perpetrators are the protagonists and this has long-term consequences, because it ends up validating an environment of illegality.” In other words, don’t sugarcoat the past, lest we’re doomed to repeat it.