|Medellin Tour Bus|
Colombian tour operator See Colombia Travel announced Thursday its new "Pablo Escobar is History" tour. The name itself seems to be a preemptive attempt at deflecting criticism from those who would say the tour spotlights a period in Colombia's recent history that many would just as soon forget.
"I have a strong bond to Colombia and so I know what a sensitive matter we're dealing with," spokesman Jose Luis Pastor said in a statement. "I'm also a traveler, however, so I understand people who are curious, too. Escobar and everything his reign entailed were a dark time, but we're not in that time anymore, and so it's time to move on."
Indeed, Colombia was once branded as the murder-kidnap capital of the world. (A security expert warned me a decade ago, "If you travel anywhere south of Bogota you might as well schedule your own kidnapping.") But in recent years, the country has shed its bad-boy image. Narco-terrorist turmoil has waned and officials are courting international tourists with the slogan: "The Only Risk Is Wanting to Stay."
This new tour takes in Escobar's former haunts in Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, which See Colombia characterizes as "progressive and surprising." Highlights include a visit to Escobar's house, the house where he died (in a 1993 gun battle), and a chat with his brother, Roberto.
"This gives you a unique insight into the man and his life. It doesn't apologize for him, it doesn't excuse him, allows it to become real…" says Paul Fowler, a content manager at See Colombia.
The new Pablo Escobar tour seems to be part of minor despot tourism trend. Romanian tourism officials last month announced plans to create a route by which to explore the world of former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled from 1965 until 1989, when he and his wife were executed on Christmas day.
A "red circuit" will "follow the traces of communism and the dictatorship," London's Daily Mail quoted tourism minister Elena Udrea as saying. "'Western tourists are very interested in Ceausescu's history, provided we can sell it properly," she added.
On the Ceausescu trail: His home in an upscale Bucharest neighborhood; his native village of Scornicesti; and Doftana prison, where he served two years for subversive activities in the late 1930s.
In Berlin, popular Third Reich Berlin: Hitler & WWII – The final days tours depart four days a week. Featured are the site of Hitler's New Reich Chancellery, the seat of power of Nazi held Europe, and the location of the Führer Bunker, where the dictator spent his last days and ultimately committed suicide.
And in Cambodia, what remains of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's house, and his grave, 75 miles north of Siem Reap, draws visitors. (To avoid land mines, don't stray from the path, advises one online review.)