The building isn’t much to look at. With its ocean view, pastel yellow exterior and swimming pool on the first-floor terrace, it’s your average seaside hotel.
Except for one thing: The building, known as the Miramar, has become a hit with tourists in Mazatlán, a busy resort city on Mexico’s northwestern coast. It was here on Saturday that Mexican marines captured the world’s most wanted man, Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, aka “El Chapo.”
Chapo was maybe the most powerful drug lord in history, and his arrest has attracted throngs of passersby, looking to snap selfies in front of the Miramar. Local media outlets have even reported that some are now visiting the hotel as if it were part of a local sightseeing trip.
“I would say the atmosphere at the site was almost festive,” says John Kirsch, a photographer living in Mazatlan. “There was no sense that a feared drug lord had been living among us. It was more like, ‘Wow, this is cool. Mazatlan is on the map.’”
Call it narcotourism. In Chapo’s home state of Sinaloa and elsewhere across the country, people often visit monuments to drug dealers killed in action. The most famous example is the Jardines del Humaya cemetery, where famous drug lords such Arturo Beltran Leyva are buried and have monuments that stand in their honor.
These sites appear to appeal tourists looking for something off the beaten path; the type who pay taxi drivers to take them on trips to places where gangsters were gunned down.
“In part its attraction stems from a fascination with the morbid, the curiosity to see places where violence took place or to learn of people whose lives are surrounded by myths,” says Silvestre Flores Gamboa, an academic and tourism expert from Mazatlan. He and taxi drivers in Sinaloa’s state capital of Culiacan say these tourists are almost exclusively Mexican, and that they’ve been drawn in by media reports and narcocorridos, ballads about the lives of drug dealers.
But the place where Chapo was arrested also caught the attention of foreigners, Flores says. “It’s understandable, if you take into account how big and internationally known a capo like El Chapo is. To foreign tourists, he’s comparable to Al Capone.”
Taxi drivers in Sinaloa’s state capital of Culiacan say these tourists are almost exclusively Mexican, and that they’ve been drawn in by media reports and narcocorridos, ballads about the lives of drug dealers.
Not all narcotourism sites are morbid. Among them: The shrine of Jesus Malverde, who, legend has it, was Mexico’s Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor before his purported execution in 1909. In Mexico City, the shrine of Holy Death, a narco saint, in the rugged neighborhood of Tepito attracts many curious visitors. And there’s the “Tepitour,” an urban safari through some of the shadiest parts of the city of Tepito, where you can gawk at one of the world’s largest black markets and listen to stories about life in a crime-riddled barrio.
The Miramar, the place where Chapo was captured, is likely to join these sites as a narcotourism mainstay. Even behind bars, apparently, the drug lord’s legend can’t be contained.