See Colombia Travel has become the latest tour company to offer trips around the old haunts of Medellin’s most infamous criminal, Pablo Escobar.
A rival company, Zorba, has been offering the tours for two years. Both offer visits to Escobar’s old house, the spot where he was killed and his final resting place, as well as a face-to-face meeting with his brother Roberto Escobar.
Though both companies are keen to stress that they are not glorifying Escobar — See Colombia Travel describing him as a “repellent murderer” and Zorba describing his part in Medellin’s history as “a tragic tale” — they continue to make money off his name, and argue that his life and legacy are a story worth telling.
Medellin’s government is not so sure. In a recent interview with U.S. newspaper Wall Street Journal, the city’s Deputy Secretary of Tourism, Madelene Torres, said, “We feared the tours would promote the very thing we’re trying to move away from — the connection people so often make between Colombia and cocaine.”
When Colombia Reports attempted to speak to Torres about the tours, it was told that Torres could no longer comment on the issue — instead officials passed the interview upwards to Medellin’s Secretary of Culture, Luis Miguel Usuga.
Usuga said the city had conflicting feelings towards the Escobar tours. There was concern that they offered “an apology for this person, an evil person for our city and for the world.” But, he acknowledged, the tours also “show that crime does not pay, that there was a huge tragedy that many people remember, and so in the respect that this shows how the city has managed to transform itself, [the tours] do not bother us.”
According to Usuga, very few people were still interested in the tours. “They have a very low impact, [attended by] very few people. Most people who come to Medellin come to see the Christmas lights, the festival of flowers, and to see the enormous transformation of the city. (…) The tourists who come hardly ever ask about Pablo Escobar.”
Travel company Zorba said different. Its founder told Colombia Reports that the tours remained as popular as ever. “Our philosophy is it’s a ‘must do’ tour. People who come to Medellin can do paragliding, they can visit an old colonial town…but these are things they can also do in Cartagena, or most other cities in the world. With the Pablo tour people realize straight away they can only do it here. It’s a unique tale of what happened to Medellin — regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, it’s interesting.”
History cannot be hidden, claimed the tour operator. “The tour is not glorifying him, it is an informative account of something that happened,” he said. “People have a right to be informed about anything that happened in history. Medellin has a lot going for it besides Escobar but it’s inevitable that he still has his space.”