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La Manuela-Pablo Escobar's Abandoned Island Mansion (Guatape, Colombia)

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t completely forgotten about this blog. I could take the cop-out of saying that it was another casualty of CoVid because it had a lot to do with it. But, I had countless hours to capture the memory of travels past in blog posts and I didn’t. Granted, in that time, I did a lot of other great things. I drove across the country with my boyfriend, moved to another state, and got a real, paid long-term writing job. It wasn’t just a year turned to dust, but this blog definitely did.

That didn’t really matter to me though, because there wasn’t anyone reading my ramblings anyway. That’s the impression I had, anyway, until I received an email from a friendly stranger named Steve who told me he was a former student at an abandoned school I’d previously visited. We exchanged some nice words over email, and although I’m certain he found my little blog unintentionally while looking for information about his alma mater, I cannot stand the thought of him ever returning to this blog to see the same boring list of blog posts that I scrapped together last year. With that, I present to you the most impressive urban exploring endeavor I’ve ever managed, which also happens to be my last great adventure before the pandemic.

I aim to tread lightly with the particular abandoned attraction. Most dilapidated buildings go unremembered by the vast majority of people, but that isn’t the case with La Manuela, an abandoned island mansion that was owned by the infamous Pablo Escobar and bombed out in 1993. It’s a place and memory that carries a lot of tension for the people of Colombia. While I’m a lover of exploring all things abandoned, this isn’t something I do to make a mockery of painful histories. My exploration of Escobar’s mansion ruins wasn’t done in an effort to glorify an ugly past, but rather, be immersed in the reality of a place’s history.

After buying my tickets to Colombia, my next thought was “What abandoned places will I go to?”. This question has led me to many unique locations. Theme parks, mental hospitals, entire towns left to stand on their own limbs. I had never been to the abandoned mansion of a Colombian drug lord. Most folks haven’t, which became increasingly evident the more I researched La Manuela. There were lots of tours that claimed to take tourists to the island that laid the La Manuela mansion to rest, but most of them gathered everyone into a boat and just floated right by. That’s not me, I’m not a “look on from a boat” girl. I knew it was possible to get there and wander around because there had been a tourism stint a few years back that allowed people to play paintball on the island.

As with many adventures, the scope of the undertaking didn’t present itself until I was physically in Colombia making moves. By the time I’d arrived in Medellin, the city closest to the location, I’d already been in Colombia for about three weeks. I’d written my last blog that appeared on this blog already. We were picked up at the airport by an Uber, who went on to be our driver and in-the-know tour guide for our next few weeks wandering around Medellin and the surrounding areas. For the sake of anonymity given the circumstances, I’ll call him Marcus. Marcus only spoke a few words of English, and although my Spanish had improved tenfold by this point, I was still not good enough to communicate that I wanted to get onto the island with the abandoned mansion.

With some discussion and a little help from a translating app, we came to an understanding. Marcus said he had a friend with a boat in the nearby town of Guatape and could definitely get us on the island, for a fee. I figured that all tours cost a fee of some kind, and I was willing to pay if it meant a few nice locals were going to take us to the edge of the island.

About a week later, we set off early in the morning to drive towards Guatape, hop on a boat, and explore Pablo Escobar’s abandoned mansion. It sounded fantastical, and I wasn’t quite sure I’d pull it off. Especially with my three friends in tow. But, it was the day before my birthday and I was granted a little bit of luck.

Without seemingly any effort whatsoever, we arrived at the island in boats. Well, Tali and I did. My other two friends paid an extra fee to rent some jet skis. La Manuela sits in an unassuming corner of an enormous lake in Guatape. From boat to shore, the journey took about fifteen minutes. Once we arrived on the island, I understood why Escobar wanted to own this piece of real estate.

The island was surrounded by lusciously green mountains that sat low enough in the distance to give a full picture of the expansive nature. The water looked such a particularly dreamy-dyed blue. I had come there to explore the building’s bones, but I found myself enamored with just how damn beautiful it was. Once I peeled my eyes away from the vividness of the lake, my attention turned fully to the abandoned masterpiece that my friends and I were given free-roam to explore.

It was intimidating.

Even as a carcass, the mansion was grand. Somber pillars that were brushed with soot and rubble. We knew we didn’t have long to aimlessly walk around the grounds, so each of us bolted in different directions trying to gather as much footage as humanly possible. Each little tucked away feature, like ominous graffiti on a doorway. Every overwhelming addition, like the massive blue pool foaming with mossy water that seemed to be thriving amidst the wreckage.

We walked around the grounds for about twenty or thirty minutes before we hopped aboard the jetskis and took back off onto the lake.

All in all, the excursion couldn't have been more successful. I feel lucky to have the experience in my urbex arsenal.


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