cocaine seizure

Medellin, Colombia was once one of the most notorious cities in the world, and in some ways still is. What we’re talking about is how Medellin was the center of the world’s drug trade, particularly as far as cocaine is concerned, one of Colombia’s main exports at the time.

With the rise of the drug trade also came the rise of the Medellin drug cartel, headed by none other than the infamous Pablo Escobar. Escobar, along with others such as Griselda Blanco, would become some of the world’s most wanted drug lords.

However, in recent years, the city of Medellin has undergone a resurgence due to efforts made to eradicate the drug trade and the Escobar’s Medellin Cartel. The city and surrounding area have become much safer, more hospitable, and open to outsiders.

With more tourists visiting each year, it’s understandable that people are interested in the rich yet dark history of the narco drug trade in Medellin, and with that, narco tourism was born. Let’s take a closer look at what narco tourism is, what it’s all about, and what some of the most popular narco tourism destinations in Medellin are.

A Background on Pablo Escobar: “El Patrón”

Pablo Escobar, full name Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, is considered the world’s most brutal and notorious drug lord of all time. Escobar first began rising to power in the early 1970’s, when he started the much-feared Medellin Cartel.

It would at one time become the major controlling power of all cocaine trafficked into the USA. The operation was so sophisticated that Escobar was moving up to 15 tons of cocaine every day and raking in over $420 million every single week. This financial power translated to power in world politics and law enforcement.

Escobar was known for using bribery, intimidation, and extreme violence to further his cartel’s agenda. At one time, he even served as a Colombian congressman. The most notable aspect of his reign was the violence, with an estimated 4000 people being killed at the orders of Pablo Escobar.

In spite of this violence, Escobar used much of his money for philanthropy, constantly helping locals with sports facilities, schools, housing projects, and more. Because of this, some areas in Colombia viewed and still view him as somewhat of a Robin Hood-like figure. Escobar was eventually killed by the Colombian National Police in 1993 in a shootout.

The Life of Griselda Blanco: “The Black Widow”

Griselda Blanco was also known as The Black Widow or La Madrina. Blanco was born in Cartagena in 1943, and in the 1970’s moved to the USA. She quickly became a leader in Miami’s cocaine trade. She is known for creating advanced networks that would smuggle cocaine from Colombia to the USA, with millions of dollars being generated daily.

However, her reign was also not without violence, as she is thought to have directly ordered the murders of no less than 200 people. It’s not hard to see where she got her name from!

After many years atop the Miami cocaine trade, Blanca was arrested in 1985, although she still ran her empire from prison. In 2004, she returned to her native Colombia, and was then assassinated in 2012.

Why Narco Tourism in Medellin is Becoming So Popular

If these drug lords and cartels were so violent, then why are people so drawn to them? Although it’s hard to say exactly how many are visiting Colombia for its narco tourism, one interesting fact is that in between 2019 and 2022, tourism to Medellin grew by a staggering 50%, producing nearly $10 billion in revenue. One can imagine that much of this has to do with narco tourism, but still, what’s the allure?

The Psychology and History

One of the reasons why narco tourism in Medellin, Colombia has become so popular is due to the psychological aspect. There’s just something about visiting the same places that notorious criminals like Pablo Escobar used to frequent and live.

It’s all about the adrenaline that people feel when they are in the presence of such extreme violence, even if it is long in the past. It has to do with the thrill of being able to look at the violent side of human nature in a safe environment.

Medellin: A Now Thriving Tourist Hotspot

What’s also worth saying about Medellin, Colombia is that it has become quite the tourist hotspot. Although it was once known as one of the most violent cities in the world, it has recently become a popular destination for tourists from around the world. The city has become safer, the infrastructure has improved, and it has made an effort to cater to tourists.

The Media’s Role in Driving Narco Tourism

Something else that has really driven narco tourism in Colombia over the past several years has been in the media. There have been plenty of TV shows, with “Narcos” being the most popular of all, which have glorified the lives of cartel leaders like Pablo Escobar.

These television shows and movies have allowed the whole world to see what exactly went on in Colombia in regards to the drug trade. 

In many cases, figures like Pablo Escobar have also been greatly romanticized, which can also be said for their exploits. It’s all just very enticing, and that’s something that Hollywood has contributed to greatly.

The Most Popular Narco Tours in Colombia

There are many different narco tours in Colombia, so let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones.

Pablo Escobar Tours

With Pablo Escobar being the main attraction, you can expect to find many tours in his name. The responsible Pablo Escobar tours in Medellin share lots of insight into the historical impact of Escobar’s reign over the Medellin drug trade. Many places in Medellin are highlights of the tour: his grave, the building he was killed at, museums showcasing his cars and other toys, his mansions and the prison he built for himself.

La Catedral Prison

There are many tours associated with Pablo Escobar, with one of the most popular being at the La Catedral Prison, which was built by none other than Pablo Escobar when he was sentenced to prison in Colombia. It shows just how powerful and influential he really was.

Although it was supposed to be his prison, it was more of a luxury getaway than anything else. Tours of this location show just how luxurious Pablo Escobar had it even when living in a supposed prison. The prison even had its own escape routes built especially for him.

Pablo Escobar's grave in Itagui, Colombia

The grave of Pablo Escobar

The Grave of Pablo Escobar

Fans of narco tourism also love visiting Pablo Escobar’s grave, located at the Jardines Montesacro Cemetery. Here you’ll find a variety of guides that inform you of the violent history of the Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar. Tourists can find a variety of flowers and messages written by curious visitors and admirers of Pablo Escobar.

Barrio Pablo Escobar

The next location that tourists love visiting is the Barrio Pablo Escobar, a neighborhood designed specifically to house poor people. This is one of the reasons why many people in medellin view him as a Saint-like figure, due to his philanthropic efforts. 

Many often visit this area to talk to the locals who are more than happy to share some of their personal experiences of their interactions with Pablo Escobar. However, don’t be surprised when they praise Escobar for his generosity.

Griselda Blanco Tours

When it comes to tourism in Medellin, the areas where Blanco used to frequent also make for popular destinations.

The Residences of Griselda Blanco

Visiting one of the many residences of Griselda Blanco has become very popular. Blanco lived a lavish life of riches and wealth, albeit her life and operations were also shrouded in mystery. The tour of her residences provides visitors with some key insights into the inner workings of her operation.

Coconut Grove

Blanco was known for being violent, and one of the most notorious acts was the murder of Johnny Castro at Coconut Grove. This is a solemn yet captivating tour that details the murder itself, as well as the ruthlessness that characterized Blanco’s reign. The Coconut Grove tour often involves visits to surrounding areas where Blanco has great influence.

griselda blanco's grave

The Grave of Griselda Blanco

One of the other most popular tourist locations as far as Blanco is concerned is her grave at the Medellin cemetery. Here, visitors can learn about the remaining years of her life, particularly the time she spent in Colombia after being released from American prison, all the way up to her assassination.

Narco Walking Tours, Museums, and Much More

For those who like being active, there are some great walking tours that can be taken through Medellin, where guides take tourists on a journey through some of the most (formerly) notorious areas of the city. Tourists can walk through the streets and explore various locations associated with Escobar, Blanco, and others.

There are also various museums dedicated to the cartels, with the Museum Pablo Escobar being the most popular of all. Full of artifacts and interactive displays, tour guides can take you through a journey of the lives of this ruthless villain. Other popular museums include the Museo Casa de la Memoria, the Museum of Antioquia, and the Escobar Family Museum (run by Pablo Escobar’s brother himself).

In Medellin, you’ll even find role-playing scenarios and escape rooms centered around Pablo Escobar and the cartels. These offer tourists great ways to educate themselves on the matter, while also getting a bit of thrill!  

With more museums, tours, and activities related to narco tours in Medellin, it’s no wonder why it’s becoming such a popular vacation destination for anybody interested in the history of the cocaine cartels!