Hacienda Napoles was the former estate of the infamous Pablo Escobar, one the most notorious drug lords from the 1980s. He created this private estate which included a private zoo and large house as well as a collection of cars and bikes. It also had a private airport, brothel and racing track. He was clearly not short of money. He was shot and killed later in 1993 at which point the government took control of the property. Now it’s a water park with a zoo, open to the general public. You know what you’ve signed up for when you drive in through a long winding entrance road lined with large model animals, including a big pink hippo.
We have never taken Ruby through a drive through safari though and it had been an incredibly long time since we had been to anything like this, so despite the touristy element we were looking forward to it. One of the main attractions here for us was that it is the only place in the world where you can see hippos in the wild outside of Africa. I’m not even sure I’ve seen one in a zoo before either, but here you can go up to a lake and watch them swim around freely. Apparently they’re a bit too free in fact, and the population has started to overflow out into other nearby water sources.
After seeing the hippos, we continued to drive around the estate to see some of the other animals. It was a pretty big place and so it was nice that we could potter around in Ruby and keep an eye on the cats. After the cooler mountain temperatures, we had dropped back down close to sea level and it was a hot day.
There were tapirs, capybaras and various farm animals wandering around. My personal favourite, the ostriches and also the man trying to remove a sheep from his car.
We parked up for a bit at some big open fields. Zebras grazed around us, while another hippo waited to be fed a constant stream of carrots by anyone passing.
Here were the wild cats. Tigers, lions, pumas and ocelots. I have mixed feelings about many zoos, especially the cats. While I can appreciate the efforts to protect and conserve endangered species, there can be something incredibly depressing about seeing them stuck behind bars. Ill never forget when we visited Moscow zoo. Here the animals sat in their tiny cages, covered in snow. The only ground visible was the single track that they paced up and down the glass in front of them. Here, it was much better. While the cats were probably still in cages that were a little on the small side, there wasn’t that same incessant pacing of unhappy captive animals. In fact the elephants were having a great time and the cats were just being cats.
Having now seen most of the animals, we drove around to the last section. Here I was excited to visit Bird World. I was however disappointed to find that it was more of an educational exhibit and didn’t actually contain any birds. We hunted for the anaconda in a huge tank, but had to settle for seeing a skeleton of one instead.
The only birds I did get to see where flamingos. We have been spoilt now though and seeing them in captivity, while we could get closer, didn’t compare to seeing them roaming freely through the salt flats of Las Coloradas in Mexico.
The final stop here was for the history. They have moved the original main gate of the estate up to a museum dedicated to the history of the site, and here it sits complete with its model plane. There’s also Pablo’s helicopter too.
It’s almost incongruous to reach the little museum, two small open rooms are lined with black and white photos and information boards telling the story of the hacienda and the life of its owner. Some of the old car collection is still here too. It’s weird to stand amidst the ruined vehicles and imagine the estate, while all the time in the background you can hear the screams of children sliding out of a giant plastic octopus.
Having completed our tour of the grounds, it was late afternoon. We decided to drive a short way to Rio Claro where there was a nice sounding spot for the night. We could have gone back to the hotel, but really we needed to keep moving if we were to leave Colombia in time for the expiration of our visa.
For the first time in a long time, we sat outside on a dry evening next to the roar of the river and had a campfire. It was a lovely tranquil spot and while we had only meant to stay one night, we wanted to stay for two. This put a bit of a rush on everything else we wanted to fit in and we discussed whether or not we would renew the visa. It’s possible to get another three months, if we wanted it. We decided we would keep moving but if we wanted to stay somewhere we would. If it looked like we were going to run out of time, we’d renew. After loosing a month to welding and port delays, we wanted to enjoy the rest of the country, and its a big place to explore. We would enjoy another day watching the toucans in the trees above us, enjoying some sun and cooling off in the river, before heading to Guatape.
In actual fact, in rained most of the night. The Rio Claro was not so claro now, a muddy torrent that poured down out of the mountains. It didn’t seem to bother the rafting companies who still came down the river the following day, but it wasn’t appealing to swim in. Nevertheless, after quite a lot of driving, we enjoyed a relaxing day here.