If you heard of Pablo Escobar, if you watched the Netflix show “Nacros”, or if you want to learn about the bloody chapter in Colombia’s history, this will be a post you might enjoy reading. This is a very controversial topic, and many people are against this type of tourism in Colombia (for a good reason). I took this tour to learn the history and understand other perspectives and I don’t want to offend anyone. So please read this as a history lesson and nothing else.
We got picked up at the house for a full Pablo Escobar day trip around Medellin. Pablo Escobar was a Colombian drug lord and narcoterrorist. His cartel supplied an estimated 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States at the height of his career, turning over US$21.9 billion a year in personal income. He was often called “The King of Cocaine” and was the wealthiest criminal in history, with an estimated known net worth of between US$25 and US$30 billion by the early 1990s (equivalent to between about $48.5 and $58 billion as of 2018), making him one of the richest men in the world in his prime.
Our first stop was the Monaco building,. Appearing like a fortress with a penthouse apartment on top, the Edificio Mónaco was home to Escobar and his family until rivals set off a car bomb outside in 1988. They vacated not long after.
Medellín mayor Federico Gutiérrez announced in August 2018 that the site will be turned into a park, or memorial, to victims of the Colombia’s drug war. This building was demolished a couple months ago.
Our second stop was the famous “La Catedral” prison.
The prison was built to specifications ordered by Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar, under a 1991 agreement with the Colombian government in which Escobar would surrender to authorities and serve a maximum term of five full years and the Colombian government would not extradite him to the United States. In addition to the facility being built to Escobar’s specifications, Escobar was also given the right to choose who would guard him and it was believed he chose guards loyal only to him.
Moreover, the prison was believed to have been designed more to keep out Escobar’s enemies and protect him from assassination attempts, than to keep Escobar in.
The finished prison was often called “Hotel Escobar” or “Club Medellín”, because of its amenities. La Catedral featured a football pitch, giant doll house, bar, jacuzzi and waterfall. Escobar also had a telescope installed that allowed him to look down onto the city of Medellín to his daughter’s residence while talking on the phone with her.
although the government was willing to turn a blind eye to Escobar continuing his drug smuggling, the arrangement fell apart when it was reported Escobar had four of his lieutenants tortured and murdered within La Catedral. The Colombian government decided it had to move Escobar to a standard prison, an order Escobar refused. In July 1992, after serving one year and one month, Escobar again went on the run. With the Colombian National Army surrounding La Catedral’s facility, it is said Escobar simply walked out the back gate. The ensuing manhunt employed a 600-man unit force, specially trained by the United States Delta Force, named Search Bloc and led by Colonel Hugo Martínez.
We walked the same route Pablo used to escape.
Pablo used to come to this spot to take a shower on the waterfall below and pray to the Virgin statue he placed here.
La Catedral remained deserted for several years. In 2007, a group of Benedictine monks from the Benedictina Fraternidad Monastica Santa Gertrudis arrived at the site and transformed it. The monks came there because it is a great place for meditating and away from the city. They built a chapel, a library, a cafeteria, a guest-house for religious pilgrimages, workshops and a memorial to victims of the cartel in the prison. In addition, the monks hired laid-off people to help with the daily running of La Catedral.
The next stop was the cemetery were Pablo and all his family are buried. The popular Narcos series has created demand from foreign tourists visiting Medellín who want to see Pablo Escobar’s grave and other sites related to Escobar. The Cemetario Jardines Montesacro is one of those places.
Between 1983 and 1994, 46,612 people were murdered by Colombia’s drug violence. That’s higher than the number of U.S. troops killed in combat in Vietnam, where 40,934 American troops were killed in action between 1965 and 1975. Today, Medellín wants to draw attention to the residents who lost their lives, rather than the criminals who took them.
People leave flowers every day on his grave. To some residents of Medellin, Pablo Escobar was a man who built their neighborhood and gave them new life opportunities. I was surprised to see the gravestone was very simple.
I honestly felt strange and somewhat uncomfortable visiting the grave of a man responsible for so much violence and death.
Our last stop was the neighborhood “Comuna 13”.
Also known as the San Javier, has the most tumultuous history of the city, once labeled the most dangerous community due to its astronomical homicide rates and forced displacement of thousands of residents.
Comuna 13 Medellin is an over-populated and low socio-economic zone that crawls up along the west hills of the city with thousands of brick and cement homes stacked close to one another. It was a pivotal center for paramilitary, guerrilla, and gang activity. Its location is ideal for crime, as it leads directly to the main highway (San Juan Highway), providing easy transportation of guns, drugs, and money.
Residents voiced their discontent and anger with the violence that occurred in 2002 through art and community events. Striking street art around the neighborhood depicts scenes with the white rags raised for peace and solidarity.
Medellin leaders want to fundamentally change the way the world sees his city. In recent years, Medellín has made a striking comeback from its violent past. It’s now safe and lively enough to attract all those tourists. And it’s won enough international awards for its turnaround to sustain dreams of becoming a leading Latin American tech hub, cultural center, an incubator for social experiments.
We tried an amazing mango popsicle with lime and some cholera salt. We risk dying that day, but we survived and we are now stronger!!
There are several flights of stairs that take you to the top of this community. However, many residents question the $5 million price tag for something that only serves part of Comuna 13’s large population.
At the top, there was a group of breakdances waiting for the tourists to perform. There were really good, so we did give them a good tip! (also, we didn’t want to get stabbed). Hip-hop music continues to be an important method of expression, particularly as a way to educate and provide children with an alternative outlet instead of violence
The view of the city is amazing from up here.
One last photo with the crew!!
And here it ends my time in Medellin. I will now meet Sarah and her friends in Cartagena!!
Bonus Pic Of The Day: Don’t try to bring drugs to Colombia, the airport dogs will surely get you arrested!!