Red and blue Comuna 13 depicting MedellinWe 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.

Resistencia a la violencia en la Comuna 13 de Medellín por medio del arte y la cultura
El Jardín de la Memoria in San Javier names the people who were killed or disappeared in the military actions of 2002. Photo credit: Vanessa Reyes,

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.

Electric stairs for Comuna 13
One of the six covered outdoor escalators that reduced the 28-story climb up the hillside from a sweaty 30 minutes to only five, making life in the barrio much easier.
View of Medellin Colombia from one of the escalators in Comuna 13
The higher you go on the escalators, the more spectacular the city views.
Colorful banners and murals on a street in San Javier, Medellin, Colombia
One of the streets approaching the hill with the escalators in Comuna 13



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.

A street artist painting a new addition to Comuna 13
A street artist in action applying his newest work to Comuna 13.

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.

    Woman eating a mango paleta in Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia
    Enjoying a frozen mango “paleta” in one of the shops
  • 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?

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  1. It’s been two years since we visited Comuna 13, and it appears it’s time to go back. It is indeed one of the crown jewels of Medellin’s rebirth from the bad old days, and even without the escaleras electricas the barrio is now vibrant and hopeful. When we toured the comuna two years ago, we kept marveling at the political will required to get things done there, and the obvious success of it. We’ll go back soon.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Let us know when you want to go back and we’ll tag along 🙂

  2. It’s sad to read the tragic history of this community but what an amazing transformation. The street art is stunning and I can only imagine how life has changed for the better with the series of escalators (brilliant!).It must have been fascinating for you to revisit.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It really is a remarkable story and a fascinating neighborhood. We enjoyed seeing things that have changed, and yet what has remained the same since our last visit.

  3. Joseph Mathews Reply

    Comuna 13 is on our schedule for February with a guide from Medellin City Services. They’re a bit pricey, but we want to save some of “walking energy” for the acutal site not walking to a Metro station from Provenza. I am totally fascinated by Medellin’s rebirth and “first world” infrastructure in so many ways. Medical care, parks, museums and such a wide variet of fuit, food and whatever. Thanks for this post.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      So glad you’re coming to Medellin and will be visiting Comuna 13. If we could offer an alternative, the driver/tour guide we mentioned above, Juan, is fantastic and very reasonable. He has helped us out in innumerable ways and has become a good friend. Let us know if you’d like for us to connect you with him.

  4. Wow that street art is something else. Looks incredible and so colourful. The quality is very good too isn’t it? Not just graffiti like so many other cities. Really looks worth exploring.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Yes, the quality of the murals is fantastic. One of our favorite places in Medellin!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks! It’s a fascinating place.

  5. Blimey! We thought we’d seen a lot of the street art when we visited Comuna 13 back in 2018, but these examples are just stunning. Especially the pooch! Just another excuse for us to make our own return visit. And we’ll book you as our guides next time!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thought I had already responded, but alas . . . no! Anyway, yes, my crystal ball sees a return to Colombia in your futures! The interesting thing about the art at Comuna 13 is that it’s always changing. Very different than our first visit in 2016. Happy holidays to you both!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Doh, sorry! Thought I had replied. Really looking forward to your return visit! On Friday we’re touring another, lesser known neighborhood that has had a rebirth – film at 11. Hugs to you both!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you so much, and thanks for stopping by our blog 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! Comuna 13 really is inspiring – an example of what can happen if people have real opportunities to change their community.

  6. Street art in some Latin American countries is simply stunning. I adore your pictures! And really made me nostalgic of my own country in Sout America. Lovely piece, thanks for sharing! I’m happy that I’ve found a blog that covers Latin America in depth.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you so much! As expats in Colombia, we’re really enjoying this fantastic part of the world.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I swear, he sits up there all day just to pose for the turistas! Gracias – hope you had a nice day yesterday. I remember Christmases at anchor – so peaceful.

  7. I visited Colombia a few years back and I was gutted that I missed out on visiting Medellin. That street art is sublime! I’m a massive street art/ mural fan (I’m from Bristol UK, the home of Banksy – so it’s always been something I look out for whenever I visit other cities around the world) I had no idea the urban art scene was so big here. Thank you for the enlightment. I’m now even more desperate to get back to Colombia.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Bogota also has amazing street art; in fact, there’s a graffiti tour there where you can learn all kinds of fascinating things about the street art culture. I think we have a blog post on that 🙂 Anyway, thanks for your comment. Huge fans of Banksy, BTW!

  8. Your post brings back memories of my recent visit Comuna 13 in November. It has interesting street art but looks a bit too much crowded and commercialised to me. Anyaway it was nice to visit this place. Thanks for sharing!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Yes, we were pretty amazed at how much more commercial and touristy it’s gotten since 2016. But we still love the vibe there 🙂 Thanks for visiting.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks – it really is a remarkable place!

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