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Tulum’s Villa Escobar

Morgan & Owens Villa Escobar

Photo: Morgan & Owens

A yoga class has broken out in Pablo Escobar’s living room. The sounds of deep, mindful breathing drift through the spacious foyer like a mild ocean breeze, while strength and serenity go toe-to-toe beneath the thatched palapa roof. At a newly tiled counter down the hall, a blender whirs, smashing mango, ginger, and wheatgrass for the heaving, sweaty guests prostrating themselves on the floor. A few choice pieces of driftwood have been casually assembled on the living-room landing, and Tibetan prayer flags hang from the ceiling. Somewhere someone is dozing off while having her feet rubbed.

Pablo would have hated this.

The pair of grand three-story beach houses that command an impressive stretch of sand a few miles south of Tulum’s primary drag of eco-lodges, restaurants, and beachfront palapas are now known as Casa Magna I and II. Their current occupant—Melissa Perlman—an American who owns and operates Amansala, a self-described “eco-chic spa” nearby, has renovated the properties, which are believed to have been built by the drug kingpin in the mid-80’s. It is unclear whether Pablo Escobar, the Colombian cocaine trafficker who was responsible for moving more of that seductive white powder than just about any other individual ever, got around to naming the houses or even if their construction was complete when he was gunned down near his home in Medellín, Colombia, in 1993. It is also not entirely clear if Escobar actually owned them at all—it’s a connection the house’s American owner isn’t eager to scrutinize—but the big white beach houses seem to fit squarely into the excesses of Escobar’s lifestyle: What suits an 80’s drug lord better than a pair of grand stucco houses on a secluded Caribbean beach?

Rising between a dense, vibrant jungle and the as-yet-untrampled sweet spot of the Mexican Caribbean, it is hard to imagine a more desirable location in the Yucatán. Casa Magna has the largest, and by most accounts, sturdiest structures in Tulum, where low-key palapas and quaintly hippie rent-a-hammocks are only now giving way to smallish resorts, spas, and a few boutique hotels; the southernmost section of Tulum’s only coastal road, which includes the stretch in front of Casa Magna, was paved just last March. It’s also hard to imagine a more luxurious roof to put over the heads of you and your 20 closest friends for a week’s vacation.

Certainly that’s what Pablo would have had in mind. (He owned as many as 19 homes in Medellín alone and threw famously lavish and lengthy parties.) In the larger of the Tulum houses, there are no fewer than five master bedrooms, each with a private terrace, a massive poured-concrete tub, and ocean views. The common rooms on the first floor were made for elaborate spreads, expressions of excessive opulence and decadence, fitting a host who once ranked on the Forbes list of billionaires and who was wanted by some of the world’s most persistent law-enforcement agencies. The living rooms were large, and with their long, open staircases and mezzanine balconies, made for spectators. A room now filled with soft sectional couches, candles, and Chinese lanterns was once a private dance floor.

It’s easy to picture Pablo here with his cohorts and lieutenants, and the telenovela stars and pop singers he coaxed to his beach house. You can imagine the drugs and bad music, the uneasy tug of respect by intimidation, the whiff of sexual slavery and riches acquired beyond the pale. It doesn’t fully jibe with the health and tranquility offered by the new management, but then isn’t Pablo’s connection, however tenuous, also part of the appeal?The source of all this luxury doesn’t coincide with mere fame—as if it had been the getaway of Merv Griffin or Lionel Richie—but genuine, fearsome notoriety. It’s not merely the home of some anonymous rich man, but a legendary outlaw. While Perlman stresses that the opulence of Casa Magna is balanced by “that bohemian-chic thing,” she understands the power of Pablo. “The history of it just adds to that.”

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