Comuna 13 of Medellin: What You Must Know Before Going There

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Alejandra Rangel
@alejandrarangel
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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For all travelers visiting Colombia, the Commune 13
it is definitely one of the things not to be missed. But don't be fooled: La Comuna 13 is known for its street art, but there is more to this neighborhood than pretty murals and places to take selfies.

Here is everything you should know before visiting the Commune 13 to Medellin.

Only until a few years ago the Commune 13 it was considered the most dangerous area of ​​Medellin, Colombia, itself the most dangerous city in the world.



Comuna 13 is a ramshackle and run-down area on the outskirts of Medellin, perched on the mountainside, on the western edge of the city,
became famous for the acts of violence, for the FARC and drug trafficking: the situation was so bad that even the inhabitants were ashamed to say that they lived there.

Now the situation has changed a lot. Although there are still acts of violence, in the last seven or eight years, Comuna 13 has undergone a complete transformation, or so it seems.

The new infrastructure, including the metro station, cable car and electric escalera, have made life in Comuna 13 much easier for residents and opened the area to tourists like never before.

The area is no longer known for gang violence, police raids, cartels and illegal trafficking: today Comuna 13 is more easily associated with graffiti, street art shows and walking tours.

As for me, the visit to Comuna 13 was one of the best things to do in Colombia!


RECOMMENDED TOUR ⇒  Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour By Locals (from € 18 - book in advance is one of the best sellers)


Please note:: many associate Comuna 13 with the Pablo Escobar neighborhood. Originally called "Medellin Sin Tugurios", or Medellin without slum, the Pablo Escobar neighborhood it is located elsewhere, on the eastern slope of the Medellin valley.

A brief history of the Comuna 13

What is Comuna 13? Why did it become so famous compared to other run-down barrios in Medellin?

During the 80s and 90s Comuna 13, due to its location on the edge of the city and the way it was built (winding streets, lots of places to hide), was one of the salient areas for drug trafficking. and gang wars.

But not only. In exchange for money, food and shelter, Comuna 13 had also become the headquarters of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

What sadly made Comuna 13 famous was, in 2002, a government raid led by then-president Alvaro Uribe, known as Orión operation, which was launched to clear the area once and for all

This operation was an incredibly violent assault in the neighborhood that saw at least 20 people killed and an unknown number of "disappeared" (we are talking about more than 500 people). About that I quote you a paragraph from the Amos blog:

Escombrera in Spanish simply means landfill, but if it is pronounced in Medellin everyone will turn their horrified gaze towards that brown spot that is located in the upper area of ​​Comuna 13. It is precisely here, in fact, that according to the relatives of the victims and according to the statements of some ex-paramilitaries, the bodies of the disappeared are found.



The first step towards the rebirth of Comuna 13 came in 2011, when the government installed a series of outdoor escalators - the escaleras electricas - to make the various areas of Comuna 13 more accessible and to allow the inhabitants to move more easily to get into the city, to go to work and to make it easier for children to reach school.

This approach proved far more effective than police raids.

The streets have become safer and the neighborhood has turned into a quieter area for children and their families.

Since then, it has been a slow journey to revitalize the area for the benefit of locals and tourists alike. When you visit Comuna 13, you can witness this incredible transformation up close. It is truly an extraordinary story.

1 - it is best to visit it with a tour and a local guide

You don't need me to tell you that in Comuna 13 everything is centered on street art: but here graffiti is not just artistic expressions.

The real motivation of the graffiti here is to commemorate the past and express hope for the future. The symbolism behind it is profound.

For this reason it is important to go with a tour and a guide: there are many people who think that going alone is more local as an experience. This is not true in the case of Comuna 13.

In fact, most of the guides were born right here and lived those years that made the history of the Barrio: with a guide you will learn the history of the Comuna with the eyes of a real local, you will learn to read graffiti in a "different" way, to understand them and to find the most symbolic and important ones.



Guides incorporate personal anecdotes and authentic accounts into their narratives without dramatizing or romanticizing things. And in my experience, I can say that they are truly grateful for the opportunity to bring tourists and introduce them to their "home".

I therefore absolutely recommend you to take part in a tour: going alone you will never fully understand the whole spirit that revolves around Comuna 13.

If I can recommend anyone I think the ones below are really the best you could participate in (if you don't trust me check the reviews ;-))

  • Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour tickets and tickets (from 24 € per person)
  • Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour By Locals (from € 18 - book in advance is one of the best sellers)
  • Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour of Sag Tour Medellin (from €18)
  • Graffiti tour in Medellin (from € 18, Civitatis is a guarantee)

⇒ Here instead you will find a whole series of other TOURs that include the Comuna 13

2 - By taking a graffiti tour you help the community

The motivations for taking part in a guided tour go beyond personal experience, in fact you are actually helping the community reconstruction: every family in Comuna 13 has been negatively affected by the violence.

This is the second reason to take part in a guided tour: you are not only supporting local guides and businesses financially, but you are also helping people to eliminate the now ingrained belief that Comuna 13 is a lonely place. of hatred and violence.

Our guide was very open in telling us that Comuna 13 families have been openly discriminated against in the past.

That's why many people didn't want to admit that they live there. That reputation is changing with every tourist group they visit, and now young people are proud, not ashamed, of calling Comuna 13 home.

If you decide to visit Comuna 13 and like us you have a positive experience, spread the word at home and encourage others to go!

In any case, even if you choose not to take part in a tour, please support the local community anyway: don't be one of those tourists who only think about spending as little as possible, who go around, take pictures and then leave.

Try to support the community: Everyone here has been negatively affected by the violence. Whether it's buying a postcard or a print at one of the market stalls, or buying some street food or juice somewhere (there are many restaurants and cafes, especially near the metro station!).

Your contributions will really help the locals.

3 - Comuna 13 is not dangerous, but be careful

When asked if the Comuna 13 is dangerous, I can only speak from my own experience. I felt absolutely safe, both during the tour and after it ended when I walked around for a while on my own with Massi.

Obviously we are not talking about a simple area, however: use common sense and caution as you would in any other place but do not let fear or hearsay prevent you from visiting Comuna 13.

Remember, the Comuna is very large, there are safer areas and others less and moreover it is easy to get lost, so follow your guide and try not to go to uncrowded areas especially when it gets dark.

Comuna 13 has changed a lot, but poverty and violence are still present and still represent a problem. We were told that a few weeks before our visit, another group had to take shelter from the gunfire after some fighting between rival gangs broke out in broad daylight. I don't know if that's true or not.

4 - La Comuna 13 is much bigger than you expect

There is a misconception that Comuna 13 is a barrio. In truth, it is an area (one of the 6 largest areas of Medellin) that it encompasses 12 neighborhoods separated that extend for more than 7 square kilometers.

Comuna 13 is huge. Some neighborhoods are safe for tourists, while others should be avoided.

Most of the tours focus on the Las Independencias and 20 de Julio area, where most of the Street Art is located and which is the safest area of ​​all.

Most tours recommend that you wear comfortable shoes when booking a tour - I can't more than agree.

Comuna 13 is located on a steep hill, so stairs are an inevitable reality. Comfortable, lightweight shoes are essential, as is bringing some water, sunscreen, and a good hat or umbrella.

The thing that saves you from dying of fatigue are the six escalators. The stairs are open from 6am to 22pm on weekdays and from 8am to 19pm on Sundays and public holidays.

5 - Graffiti is not the only thing to see

Even if undoubtedly those who go to Comuna 13 go there for its history and its Street-art, there are not only graffiti to take a look at.

Escalators

As soon as you arrive at Comuna 13, you will see the "electric escalators”With their orange / red color. In total there are 6 escalators which have been built as a means of helping the inhabitants to easily get on and off the steep hill on which the neighborhood is located.

The escalators really helped make life a lot easier for the locals (the strenuous 35-minute uphill walk now takes just over 5 minutes!). It has also meant that locals feel more connected to the city of Medellin and the fact that the area is now much more accessible has also helped to make tourism thrive.

Make sure you reach the top of the last escalator: from here you will have some of the most beautiful views of the city of Medellin!

Cable car (Funivia)

Also be sure to take a ride on the funivia. Similar to escalators, the cable car has helped transform the lives of the locals by providing easy accessibility to the subway.

The cable car is located near the San Javier metro stop: get to the last stop La Aurora, from here you can observe the life of the Communa in the less touristy part.

6 - The graffiti of Comuna 13 are constantly changing

As I wrote to you before, each piece of street art here is symbolic and tells a story about the area's past, and conveys hope for the future, without wanting to erase the past.

You'll see some elephant motifs (they're my favorites!): A sign that Comuna 13 will never forget its past and you'll see it in the bird motifs that symbolize peace. I The white sheets you will see depicted symbolize the time when the locals of Comuna 13 raised white flags over their homes during the attacks to demand an end to the violence.

As you climb further up the hill there are many pedestrian areas where you can walk, sit and admire the art and take photos. You may even see some young people performing street dance or hip hop - a way in which young people are able to focus their energy and have a creative outlet instead of getting caught up in violence.

One thing that I found very interesting, which we were told by our guide, is that the works of art are painted only once. This means that once a work of art begins to fade, a new artist will paint their own artwork over it.

So, if you are planning to go to Comuna 13 next year, you may come across completely different works from the ones you see in this blog.

7 - There are shops, bars and restaurants

There are many places to shop, drink and eat within Comuna 13.

You will find shops selling everything from printed t-shirts to handmade bracelets and many other things. You will have plenty of opportunities to get food and drink along the way, but I highly recommend you stop at my two favorite places:

Cafe Chota 13: This place is an art gallery and cafe in one that offers some of the best views over Medellin. The owner, Chota is one of the graffiti artists of Comuna 13 and here it's a kind of living legend! This place is a meeting place for both locals and tourists and is the center of activity of the artists of the neighborhood (it will be easy while you are there to find some local singer rapper who, for free, offers his performances to the customers of the place)

Doña Alba Creams. This place is known for one thing and one thing only: its fruity ice creams. We tried both green mango and coconut, but coconut was by far my favorite.

How to get to Comuna 13

If you are coming from the Medellín metro, get off at San Javier stop.

This is the final stop on line B of the Medellin metro.

A 20-minute uphill walk from the subway will take you to the escalators and art area of ​​Main Street.

Alternatively you can wait for the225i bus, which stops right outside the metro station. Tell the bus driver that you want to get off at “escaleras electricas”.

To be honest, I recommend taking the bus from the subway instead of walking. Other than that it is a fun experience, but you will avoid a lot of uphill road.

Taking the bus is also much better than walking as it will drop you off near the electric stairs, and you will avoid getting lost along the way.

If you wish to take a taxi to the electric stairs, the cost is approximately 4.000 Colombian pesos (€ 1).

RECOMMENDED TOURS FOR MUNICIPALITY 13 IN MEDELLIN

  • Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour tickets and tickets (from 24 € per person)
  • Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour By Locals (from € 18 - book in advance is one of the best sellers)
  • Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour of Sag Tour Medellin (from €18)
  • Graffiti tour in Medellin (from € 18, Civitatis is a guarantee)
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