Look at this photo. This is a real place. You can actually GO there.
The fine gentleman in the photo won’t be there, but you’ll get the rest. And a whole lot more.
I’m a big fan of Colombia. I’d been there three times, but one place that I was not able to make it until the fourth trip was Parque Jaime Duque.
This place was one of the best and most inspiring theme parks I’ve ever been to so I thought I’d share some highlights. The less you know the better, so fair warning: spoilers ahead.
According to Wikipedia, “The park first opened on February 27, 1983 and was founded by Jaime Duque Grisales, a personality of Colombian civil aviation and the first head of the Avianca airline pilots. He wanted to create a cultural and recreational space for the whole family, with the aim of generating profits to help institutions serving families.”
I went to the park with my Austin friends Matt and Vianca, along with Vianca’s Colombian parents who split time between the US and Colombia. Vianca’s cousin who lives in Colombia also came along with us.
I think they all thought I was nuts for making this one of my few “must do”s for the trip.
We went during the week on a cloudy but not rainy day. The place was dead. And I mean dead. We hardly saw anyone else in the entire park.
Wikipedia calls this an amusement park, but I’d call it more of a theme park. There’s not a lot of rides. Most of what you do is walk around and look at stuff.
This place was bizarre and I loved it. While I’m sure some of the unusualness was just me not being familiar with all of Colombian culture, I’m pretty sure a lot of it was soley due to the personality and interests of the people who designed this park. On top of both of those you add a layer of Colombian magical realism and you get a very curious place, indeed.
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal makes a great centerpiece for the park. I don’t know what’s inside the real Taj Mahal, but I’m going to bet it’s not enormous reproductions of famous paintings.
There’s also an amazing mural depicting some Colombian history.
And what’s in the top of the Taj Mahal? A room filled with giant bugs. Yes!
Lake Taj Mahal
In the lake right outside the Taj Mahal is a real battleship and a pirate ship. Here’s me trying to look nonchalant about that fact:
History of the World
Matt and I walked into an unassumming building and found a long hallway filled with dioramas depicting the history of the world. And by a long hallway I mean loooooong. Vianca was waiting outside with the others. Matt and I had to hustle through this infinite pasillo just to find out that there were two more hallways of equal length we had to go through to get out of the place.
The scenes were impressive, though. They also, somewhat unexpectedly, had a lot of gratuitous nudity, both male and female.
There is an animal portion of the park. They had some hippos, flamingos, birds, and I think bears. It was a bit depressing for us to see these animals in captivity so we didn’t stay long.
There was also the 7 wonders of the world (with anatomically correct Colossus of Rhodes). And a dinosaur park in front. You can’t tell from my photo too well but the Colossus was probaly at least 8 stories high. I love the juxtaposition of things in this park.
And of course, the giant hand of God (or someone?) preparing to throw a ball at the Taj Mahal. Or something like that.
There was a monorail there, which was sadly not open on our visit.
Similar to my experience at Huis Ten Bosch, the park was very, very empty. It made it a very pleasant and surreal day, but I’d love to go back when there are more people. Some of the attractions were closed and I’d love to enjoy them with a crowd.
I think we spent 4-5 hours there. It closed at dark. We saw most of the stuff, but I could easily have spent all day there.
What kind of Souvenirs Do You Have?
I wanted to get a souvenir. If this was an American theme park, there’d be a souvenir shop on every corner, bursting with overpriced t-shirts and snowglobes. There was not a single souvenir shop in the entire park. I couldn’t even find a postcard. Other than my photos I would have no proof that I had visited or that this place even existed.
Thoughts On Parque Jaime Duque
I enjoy parks where the main activity is walking around and exploring more than I enjoy parks where you wait in lines for rides. The focus at Jaime Duque is not on thrills, it’s on exploring a different world filled with surprises and engaging wonder and curiosity.
Most amusement parks are about the rides. Most theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios are about the stories you already know. Those are fine. They serve people who show up and say “thrill me” or “bring the story I know to life”.
But for me the best parks are those that create their own world, one that surprises you and shows a unique character. One that isn’t polished or pushy or primarily a bucketlist item. Ones that aren’t master-planned but instead are a little haphazard and imperfect and have quirks that give it personality. Much like humans are. Where a visit to the park is like getting to know a new interesting friend.
Fun Fact: The park has hosted performances by musicians such as Kylie Minogue, Guns N’ Roses, Jamiroquai, The Killers, David Guetta, Paulina Rubio and Evanescence.