From the moment we arrived in Medellin, the buzz was about one thing: paint balling at Pablo Escobar’s Guatape mansion. No one seemed to have done it but everyone was equally certain that you could. What a way to both celebrate and desecrate the memory of the cold-blooded Colombian king of coke.
While most people do a day trip from Medellin to Guatape, we packed our bags and planned to spend a night there, setting up paintball for the following morning. The bus from Medellin’s Terminal del Norte was COP$13,500 (US$4.50) for the two hour bus ride. Arriving at Lakeview Hostel right around 5:00, we’re dismayed to hear from the schlub running reception that we’re too late to schedule paintball (he stops the list at 5:00). Irritated, I asked to call his contact. He grudgingly gives me the number but there’s no answer anyway. “He turns off his phone at five.”
After scouring the internet for other options, we find a WhatsApp number for Escobar Paintball. Golden. Jerrson, who organizes the extensive tour, is happy to have us – though for an above-average cost of COP$102,000 (US$34). We pass his number around to other travelers at our hostel and pretty soon five of us are signed up.
We arrived in the Replica Old Town (Replica for short) at 10:00, meeting the group that was coming in from Medellin. Replica is a quick COP$20,000 tuktuk ride or slightly longer walk-bus-walk for COP$2,000. There we got wristbands and final coffees before loading into and on top of three old Jeeps. The Jeeps left on a winding 30-minute ride along dirt and gravel roads to Escobar’s property
Considering the pure loathing most Colombians hold for Escobar today, you would think that his deteriorating mansion would rest secluded from polite company. Not so. Plush lake houses line the road leading up to his estate and two prominent Colombians soccer players have houses directly across the water from Pablo’s old digs.
Touring the Estate
In Pablo’s final days here, rivals gangs closed and and burned much of the grounds. The stables where we would play paintball had been visibly torched and the main house showed signs of a violent past beyond its current disrepair.
As we walked the cobblestone drives, Jerrson pointed to the trees – maple from Canada, Magnolia from the US – that Pablo had specifically demanded adorn his estate. The tour ended with a Q&A – mostly all of us asking which parts of Narcos were true and if X or Y person was still alive. Jerrson knew it all.
Paintball at Pablo’s
Leaving Pablo’s pool deck, we suited up for paintball. They provided jumpsuits, masks, vests, and 200 paintballs. We were divided into two teams and trekked uphill to the stables. We played four games of paintball around a central field. The first two were Capture the Flag. In the remaining two, each team had the chance to protect a person in a different-colored vest (Pablo) as the rival gangs or DEA attempted to storm the compound. About a third of the group had to buy more pellets, while the two-hundred suited most.
Walking back into the reception area after the games, lunches of comida típica (chicken, rice, beans, plantains) were brought out quickly. From there, the group was loaded into lanchas for a 15-minute boat trip across the lake to downtown Guatape.Once back in town, Jerrson led the group to a central plaza where coffees awaited the group. Folks had about an hour to drink coffee, explore and, for those choosing to leaver Guatape for Medellin with the group, gather bags.
Climbing El Peñon
Before returning to Medellin, the group headed to El Peñon, a massive monolith offering sweeping views of the lake country. Not having been there yet, we tagged along and were able to buy our tickets through Jerrson for COP$15,000 (versus COP$18,000 at the ticket booth).
Though not quite the unique experience of paintballing in a former drug kingpin’s mansion, El Piñon was a unique experience, with 750 concrete stairs embedded in the side of the monolith leading to the top. Lake Guatape is the result of a nearby dam that flooded the region in the 1970s and the view from the top really helps you to appreciate the massive expanse that was affected.
As a final show of excellence, Jerrson had the bus leave us on the edge of town before the rest of the group headed back to Medellin – leaving us with a quick 10-minute walk to Lake View.
Go with Jerrson
Jerrson’s outfit, Escobar Paintball, is more expensive than arriving at the mansion directly but it’s worth it and I’ll tell you why:
- Jerrson’s tour of the property and his in-depth knowledge and quirky perspective on Escobar are killer.
- Transportation to the mansion in the back of/ on top of old Jeeps definitely adds to the experience.
- Four games of paintball, jumpsuits, masks, vests, 200 paintballs are all included (other tours sometimes make you pay as much as COP$20,000 for your pellets)
- A solid lunch is included following the four games of paintball (excellent timing)
- Private lanchas take you back to town in minutes across the lake.
- Coffee hour included.
- Tickets to El Peñon (not included) are cheaper than if you buy them yourself and transportation there is included.
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