The first in Colombia with a private bathroom and telephone in each room, and the first too with a semi-Olympic swimming pool, Hotel El Prado is one of the oldest and certainly the grandest of all hotels in the Caribbean region. With its huge terraces, wide open interior spaces and majestic gardens and hallways, Hotel El Prado is a phenomenal example of the neoclassical republican architecture so common during the 20’s of last century.
Hotel El Prado was conceived and constructed in partnership with American financier Karl Parrish in the late 1920’s, specifically to provide lodging for the hundreds of foreign engineers needed in the construction of the new, high class neighborhoods of Prado, Bellavista, and Centro. This was around the same time that Barranquilla was experiencing its first real taste of modernism, coinciding with the entrance of aviation, radio and the telegraph – all introduced to Colombia via Barranquilla.
Across several decades, El Prado grew in size and reputation – well known as the jewel of the coast. It became the place to be and indeed many famous famous people have stayed there including Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly and Charles Lindbergh. Of course, with fame comes drama and El Prado is no stranger in that regard – just ask anyone who was around back then and for sure they’ll have a story to share. According to accounts by locals and excerpts from the media, in its heydays between the 1950s and 80s, Hotel El Prado was the place to be for anyone with money, a place where any desire could be realized – it was the center of the cocaine and money laundering business of the coast, where all the top bosses, crews and families partied and slept. If you wanted cocaine, El Prado was the place to find it.
In fact, in the 1980’s Hotel El Prado was owned by Barranquillero Alberto Orlández Gamboa aka El Caracol (the Snail), one of the top bosses of the Cartel de la Costa, through the Nasser Arana family. Apparently El Caracol paid the bills while the Aranas managed the hotel. Indeed, the same crime family is said to have also owned the Miss Universe building, the two Executive Centers and the most successful mall in the city, Villa Country. The family also owned a massive amount of land including two enormous properties on the Via al Mar (near Puerto Colombia) and more than 250 smaller buildings and houses. In the mid-1990’s, the US government considered El Caracol the biggest cocaine exporter in the world and one of the most powerful men in Latin America. Unfortunately for him, he was caught and extradited to the USA where, in 2000, he was given 40 years in an American prison.
Around that time, the courts forced the crime syndicate to concede ownership on the basis that the money used to buy the hotel was from ‘ill-gotten’ means (drugs) and instead gave ownership of the hotel to the government – and as is common with everything government managed, over the next several years the hotel sank into dire straights. Sales plummeted, employee salaries went unpaid and the hotel visibly deteriorated. Thankfully, in 2012, a consortium was awarded the El Prado Hotel concession (for 30 years) and in 2016 management of the business was given to the Marriot hotel group, an investor in more than 5500 hotels worldwide. In total, more than $25 million USD is slated to be poured into the hotel over the next decade.
If you’re coming to Barranquilla and need a place to stay, we highly recommend Hotel El Prado – just standing on one of the terraces will transport you back to the 50’s – it’s incredible. Oh – and the pool is amazing. If you don’t decide to stay there but want to check it out, they offer a pool and lunch combo every Sunday at a reasonable price. You should also check out their pizzeria – they have delicious wood-fired pizza and pastas, open every night until 10pm.
Rooms at El Prado run between $35 and $75 USD.
Hotel El Prado is located here:
Cra. 54 ##70-10, Barranquilla, Atlántico