In Colombia, Tourists Flock To Drug Kingpin's Ranch

Visitors feed Vanessa, a baby hippopotamus, at Hacienda Napoles in Colombia. i i

Visitors feed Vanessa, a baby hippopotamus, at Hacienda Napoles, a theme park near Puerto Triunfo municipality in northwest Colombia on June 21. The park, which opened last year, is housed on the grounds of a ranch built by notorious drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar, who was shot and killed in 1993. Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
Visitors feed Vanessa, a baby hippopotamus, at Hacienda Napoles in Colombia.

Visitors feed Vanessa, a baby hippopotamus, at Hacienda Napoles, a theme park near Puerto Triunfo municipality in northwest Colombia on June 21. The park, which opened last year, is housed on the grounds of a ranch built by notorious drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar, who was shot and killed in 1993.

Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
Visitors look at Escobar's swimming pool and destroyed mansion at Hacienda Napoles. i i

Visitors look at Escobar's swimming pool and destroyed mansion at Hacienda Napoles. Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
Visitors look at Escobar's swimming pool and destroyed mansion at Hacienda Napoles.

Visitors look at Escobar's swimming pool and destroyed mansion at Hacienda Napoles.

Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
Children pose for a photograph inside the destroyed mansion of Escobar, in the background i i

Children pose for a photograph inside Escobar's destroyed mansion. Until his death, Escobar (shown in the background) was the richest drug trafficker in history. Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
Children pose for a photograph inside the destroyed mansion of Escobar, in the background

Children pose for a photograph inside Escobar's destroyed mansion. Until his death, Escobar (shown in the background) was the richest drug trafficker in history.

Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
Two children play in the "Jurassic Park" at Hacienda Napoles i i

Two children play in the "Jurassic Park" at Hacienda Napoles. Escobar built life-size models of a Tyrannosaurs rex, a triceratops and a brontosaurus. Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
Two children play in the "Jurassic Park" at Hacienda Napoles

Two children play in the "Jurassic Park" at Hacienda Napoles. Escobar built life-size models of a Tyrannosaurs rex, a triceratops and a brontosaurus.

Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

What once served as an exotic playground for Colombian drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar is now a theme park with guided tours, horseback riding, a swimming pool and a zoo.

Until police shot him dead in 1993, Escobar was the richest drug kingpin in history. He used that wealth to create an eccentric ranch in northwest Colombia called Hacienda Napoles. He stocked the ranch with life-size concrete dinosaurs and African big game.

With his death, the hacienda fell into ruin, and much of the wildlife died or wound up in zoos — although the hippos remained and multiplied in the murky ponds.

But a group of businessmen has given Escobar's legacy a new twist. Tourists — some 50,000 visited last year after the park opened — flock to see what's left from Escobar's heyday.

Jungle music piped from loudspeakers greets visitors to the theme park. They pass through an archway mounted with an old plane: the Cessna that carried Escobar's first load of cocaine to the United States.

After his death, the mansion and collection of vintage cars were left in ruins. And looters broke into the enormous triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex and brontosaurus models that Escobar had erected.

Park management repaired them, adding sound systems to give life to each — growling and loud pounding, as if the reptiles have come alive.

A narrated recording for visitors recounts how Escobar had brought several hippos to Colombia from Africa. One that had escaped years ago and was living in the wild was recently shot dead on government orders over safety concerns.

Now, 18 hippos live at Hacienda Napoles, which is located near the municipality of Puerto Triunfo.

Tourists melt at the sight of Vanessa, a "baby" who weighs 100 pounds and is one of the park's top attractions.

German Marchan, an electrical engineer who visited the park on a recent day, says he came to learn more about Escobar, whose Medellin cartel dominated narco-trafficking in the 1980s. The cartel made Colombia synonymous with cocaine violence.

A museum dedicated to such a man may seem out of place in a country that has suffered so much from the scourge of drugs.

Escobar's hit men killed a presidential candidate, government ministers and policemen. His henchmen even blew an airliner out of the sky.

Oberdan Martinez, the park administrator, says the goal is not to glorify Escobar. But he says Escobar's place in Colombia's history is undeniable and shouldn't be forgotten.

Much of the history of Escobar's bloody career is on display in what's left of his mansion.

Amid the photographs and framed newspapers of the day, visitors learn how Escobar first found acceptance from Colombian society. The state only declared war when it was clear Escobar threatened to bring Colombia to its knees.

But, of course, it was Escobar who lost. Police cornered him on a rooftop and shot him fatally; the famous picture of his lifeless body now hangs on a wall of his former mansion.

The message, at the end of the tour, is plenty clear: Crime may pay, but not forever.

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