We first visited Comuna 13 in Medellín, Colombia back in July 2016. That was well before we made the decision to relocate here from Boquete, Panama. (Click here for our original blog post about Comuna 13.) Ever since that first visit, we have been captivated by the story of this transformed barrio, which has become one of the top must-see-and-do attractions in Medellín.
In a coming blog post, we’ll write about our favorite things to see and do in Medellín, including some off-the-beaten-path activities that most tourists don’t know about.
A real turnaround story
Our previous post goes into the history and details of Comuna 13, or, more precisely, the barrio of San Javier. At the height of the narco-terrorist era, this neighborhood was once one of the city’s most dangerous. Murder, drugs, and violent crime were rampant. Military interventions in 2002 succeeded in removing violent paramilitary groups and laid the groundwork for a safer community. But these actions came at a terrible price: many civilians, including young people and children, were killed. This website gives a great overview of the neighborhood’s troubled past and current renewal.
And then two miracles happened: public transportation and city-sanctioned street art. These two factors have not only changed the fabric of the community, but they’ve been responsible for a huge new influx of tourists and their dollars. Business and commerce have expanded, and the area is much safer now. But the real winners are the local residents of Comuna 13, who are no longer isolated from the greater Medellín community and have new opportunities for work, education, and recreation.
Revisiting Comuna 13
Early this month, we had family members in town for a visit. This gave us the perfect opportunity to return to Comuna 13. Our favorite tour guide/driver, Juan Camilo Aguila, gave us his take on the neighborhood and we saw and learned much more. Once again, we were impressed with the vibrant street art and the “electric stairs,” which are a lifeblood of transportation for the locals living there.
Comuna 13 has gotten a lot of international recognition since 2016, and is decidedly more touristy as a result. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are now little cafes and brew pubs, and a lot more street vendors than we saw on our last visit. If anything, these entrepreneurs and small businesses add more charm and reinforce what’s great about the neighborhood – the local residents who have taken advantage of new opportunities to support themselves and create a vibrant community.
There’s currently additional construction going on to enlarge the walkway further up from the electric stairs. This, in turn, will probably result in much more street art.
The Dazzling Street Art
Click on the photos to view them one at a time.
- Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be walking up and down a lot of steps in addition to the escalators.
- Avoid Saturday or Sundays. It can get very crowded.
- Allow about 2-3 hours for your tour and go early. Avoid being in the area after dark.
- A guide is highly recommended so you can learn the history from a local.
- Bring some cash. Delicious Colombian fruit/drinks can be purchased at little stands along the sidewalks, and there are also souvenirs for sale all that help the local residents.
Thanks for reading! Have you been to Comuna 13? What was your experience?