Comuna 13 Medellin : Complete Travel Guide

In this article, you will learn ALL the tips to travel to Comuna 13 in Medellin:

Best things to do, places to stay, where to eat, how to get there, and more.

Let’s dive in

medellin comuna 13 colombia
Table of Contents

Commune 13 of Medellin, all you need to know before you go

Medellín’s Comuna 13 has become one of the most visited places in the city in recent times.

Its famous Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour is the best way to get to know this commune in depth, hand in hand with its inhabitants.

medellin colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Why is Comuna 13 so famous?

Well, this may be a bit controversial, but the reality is that it has gone from being a place where you couldn’t enter due to the violence of the guerrillas, paramilitaries, gangs and narcos to a kind of open-air museum that tries to tell what Comuna 13 was before and how it has become what it is now.

medellin comuna 13 colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Is it dangerous to go to Comuna 13?

We must not forget that in the 1990s Commune 13 was one of the most dangerous and violent places in the world.

Today this has changed radically, we were in October 2019, and once you enter Commune 13, you are in a completely safe place.

But don’t forget that there are places and situations that can change for different reasons in a short time.

That’s why it’s better to get an update on the state of Commune 13 before you go, in Medellin.

When you enter Comuna 13 for a visit, guides generally don’t give any recommendation regarding the safety

medellin colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Comuna 13 Some Tips and Tricks

  • If we take pictures of the inhabitants of the commune, you should first ask if you could.
  • It is not recommended to give money to the children who come to you to explain in perfect English some of the graffiti. If they earn money like that, they don’t go to school.
medellin colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Brief history of Commune 13

The city of Medellin is in a valley surrounded by mountains.

The communes that surround Medellín were built informally on the slopes of the mountains.

The origin of the communes comes from their inhabitants, the great majority of them displaced from rural areas in conflict with the guerrillas or paramilitaries.

When they settled in these areas, they built informally, and lacked all kinds of services.

The authorities turned their backs completely on the communes, and they had to organize themselves.

The guerrillas of the ELN, FARC and the CAP (Comandos Armados del Pueblo) initially intended to help the commune against the bourgeoisie that was inheriting them, but it didn’t take long before it became a nightmare.

The first child soldiers who were recruited by these guerrillas and the violence that was being exercised was the turning point.

Then the paramilitaries came to drive out the guerrillas, but that was more violence and killings, as in a war.

And the Medellin cartel did not help solve that war of “shootings” and deaths at any time of day every day.

Pablo Escobar’s cartel fed on young people with no future to turn them into hitmen, kidnappers or extortionists.

During our visit to Comuna 13 we bought a book written by a community policeman from the commune.

He had to live the hardest moments there.

I totally recommend it, it is not very long, you leave money in the community, and besides, you will understand better the story told from inside.

It is called Commune 13 of Medellin, the drama of the Armed Conflict.

Commune 13 was a hell on earth.

More info : Medellin Wikipedia

comuna colombia
Graffitis in Comuna 13 - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Operation Orion

Another of the moments that have marked Comuna 13 the most was Operation Orion.

Launched by Alvaro Uribe in October 2002 to get the FARC, ELN and CAP guerrillas out, he sent some 1500 military and police, along with tanks and helicopters of war.

During the operation that lasted several days, the balance of victims was very high, 80 civilians injured, 17 homicides committed by the Public Force, 71 people killed by the paramilitaries, 12 people tortured, 92 forced disappearances and 370 arbitrary detentions.

The Escombrera

The controversy still continues, since La Escombrera, a place where construction materials and garbage are piled up, which is located in front of Commune 13, is where it is said that those who disappeared during Operation Orion were buried.

Excavations have been made to find the bodies of the missing, but they have not been found.

The expulsion of the guerrillas did not bring Commune 13 back to peace, as it was the gateway for the paramilitaries, specifically the Cacique Nutibara group.

Assassinations, torture and forced disappearances were once again the order of the day.

comuna colombia
Comuna 13 - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Why has Comuna 13 changed?

Well, one of the main reasons is that the authorities have started to invest in improving the services of the commune.

They started with the cable car, a means of public transportation that brought the commune closer to downtown Medellín, and downtown Medellín closer to Commune 13.

And to top it off, they invested in free escalators for the inhabitants of the commune.

This made getting up and down easier.

During the works there had to be a truce, a cease-fire, something.

Not only public works did their work, but also the many social inclusion programs, which opened a new path of opportunities for the youngest.

Something that woke up the youngest and they decided to start painting with graffiti their sad walls stained with blood and marked by bullets, giving them a color that today attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every day.

Even the football pitch, which in hard times was used as a place for public executions, has become a place to play again.

comuna 13 colombia
Escalator in Comuna 13 Medellin - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Not all that glitters is gold

But not all that glitters is gold.

The guides have to pay a small amount of money to the bands for every tourist that enters (3000 COPs – 0,70 euros).

The owners of the different establishments opened because of the massive arrival of tourists also have to pay another small amount.

It is as if the gangs have seen tourism as an easy way to make money without having to kill.

If I’m honest, it was the only place in Medellín where I took out the reflex camera without any fear.

On the positive side, Commune 13 is a hotbed of artists, music, color, graffiti, souvenir shops, restaurants (there’s even a vegan one) and cafes.

That leaves money in the neighborhood and gives opportunities to see a more real future.

In fact, there are social programs in the neighborhood that provide free training in tourism.

Dozens of kids from the neighborhood are guides to show you around.

The negative, although there is a real effort, especially in graffiti not to forget the past, is that certain terrible events are forgotten and can be repeated.

comuna colombia
Comuna 13 - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Graffiti Tour Comuna 13

Well, the Graffiti Tour is the perfect excuse to get closer to Commune 13.

We hired a Free Tour through FreeTour.com, just the day before.

Our guide was a young man from the commune, his grandparents were among the first to start living there.

And we were lucky enough to meet them at their commune house.

Each one of the graffiti you will see represents moments or people that transcended in the history of the commune.

The tour is very interesting, since they will tell you first-hand the history and stories that make this place different.

That it has gone from being a place without future or opportunities to having a real hope.

In addition to graffiti by artists from Commune 13, there is also graffiti by artists from around the world who have been invited to leave their artwork on these walls.

If you like graffiti, you’re going to love the place, and if you’re not a fan, I assure you that you’re going to convert.

Without a doubt, the Graffiti Tour and the visit to Commune 13 are well worth it.

Another perspective of the city of Medellin.

medellin colombia
Comuna 13 : Grafiti Tour - Photo © Tristan Quevilly

How to get to Comuna 13

To get to Comuna 13, the best way is to use the city’s public transportation, specifically the subway.

The people of Medellín are extremely proud of their public transportation system.

They always joke that they have a metro and the capital, Bogotá, does not.

Perhaps this is the reason why the metro is spotless and very well maintained, no vandalism.

Well, the metro stop where you have to get off is San Javier.

This stop is at the end of line B, in orange.

In our case, our Free Tour guide picked us up there.

And there we saw dozens of guides of the Graffiti Tour Comuna 13 waiting for other tourists, or offering the services.

medellin colombia
Medellin Subway - Photo © Tristan Quevilly
Conclusion
Now Your Turn

Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:

Do you have any questions about Comuna 13 or Medellin ?

Or maybe I didn’t mention one of your favorite tips ?

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

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Comuna 13 Medellin : Complete Travel Guide

In this article, you will learn ALL the tips to travel to Comuna 13 in Medellin: Best things to do, places to stay, where to eat, how to get there, and more. Let’s dive in

Comuna 13 : The Essentials

  • What to do in Comunca 13:
  • Best time to go to Comunca 13:
  • Is Comuna 13 Dangerous :
  • How to Get to Comuna 13 :

 

Graffiti at Comuna 13

What was once the most dangerous area of Medellín (and one of the most violent in the world) is now an open-air art gallery and the graffiti at Casa Kolacho is a must in the city.

This commune of Medellin (the 13th of the 16) was created with the displacement of many peasants who were fleeing from the guerrillas (especially from the Colombian Chocó) in the 60s and 70s.

It was also, because of its strategic location, a mountainous corridor that links the southwest region of Antioquia with the sea, a very interesting place for arms trafficking and cocaine export.

With Pablo Escobar behind it, Medellín became the most dangerous city in the world in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Escobar died in 1993 and the idea that the city would move to a transition of peace is a utopia.

New criminal groups emerged and Comuna 13 remained under their control, with many innocent casualties month after month.

Another particularity of commune 13 was the CAP (Comandos Armados del Pueblo) which did not depend on either the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) or the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) but shared with both the need to confront the State.

The CAPs were very successful as they were formed by people from the commune and put political action before military action.

It is important to tell you all this so that you understand the context of commune 13.

At the beginning of the 2000’s, the government of Alvaro Uribe decided to “get their hands on” Medellín and the CAPs (and basically anything that was resistance, especially violent resistance) did not enter into the plans they had for the city.

So in 2002 they began a series of military operations (according to what they told us, operations with war tanks, helicopters shooting at rooftops, 3000 uniformed people…) and the confrontations between the armed groups and the police began.

In one of these confrontations, a stray bullet kills a six-year-old boy, Sergio Cespedes.

In the place where the little boy was killed today there is a playground named after him (‘Parque Infantil Sergio Céspedes’) and some slides in his honor.

We were told that there is only one requirement to go down them: that while you go down, you smile.

That’s what we do :)

Nearby, in the high zone of commune 13, there is a place called “La Escombrera”.

It is where many tons of garbage are dumped each year (more than 900, we are told…), making it one of the largest in all of Latin America.

It is here that the bodies of all the people who disappeared during such operations are believed to be.

At the same time, in the 2000s, a group of young people began to use art as a response to violence and to transform their commune, their home, with graffiti, hip hop and break dance.

One of the pioneer groups of this transformation is precisely Casa Kolacho with whom we recommend you to make the tour and enter commune 13 of his hand.

Daniel (our guide) tells us that it was thanks to the migration of many young people to the United States that they received this hip hop influence, directly from the Bronx.

So commune 13 also has a hip hop collective for young people: Black and White Crew.

The only requirement to be part of the crew is… to keep studying.

Many of the graffiti and murals in Commune 13 speak of freedom and transformation.

And what a transformation Commune 13 has undergone in recent years.

By the way, do you know what the difference is between “graffiti” and “mural”? We learned it here: graffiti is done with spray paint and murals with brushes.

Besides learning a lot and enjoying this gallery, they let us try to do graffiti at the end of the tour.

You don’t need anything else to convince you to do it, right?

You can go on your own to Comuna 13 but in this case, we highly recommend you to do it with Casa Kolacho.

Not only will you learn about what is behind each graffiti or mural, but also the context in which they came about, the history of the artist who made them and, in addition, you have the opportunity to support a local project that deserves it (the “Graffiti Tour” is one of the ways in which the Casa Kolacho Foundation finances it).

You also have the opportunity to tour Comuna 13 with a free tour, something we never recommend since in most free tours the people who do them have a very precarious income and are usually very large (hindering the lives of local people).

There are 2 options to hire the tour with Casa Kolacho:

Hire it with Toucan Cafe, it costs 80000 COP/person (22 Usd) from Poblado.

You have to sign up on the web (we did it the same day at 8am) and be at Toucan Cafe at 9, to leave around 9.30.

They take you by metro from Poblado to San Javier (Comuna 13), and then by bus to the upper part.

In theory 22% of the price goes to Casa Kolacho.

This option is perhaps better for English speaking people, as most of our group did not speak Spanish (we were lucky as the Spanish speaking pocxs were in a separate group in the end, much smaller)

Contract it directly with Casa Kolacho: the one we recommend.

You can contact Casa Kolacho directly through their facebook and pay them the tour directly to ellxs, at a much more affordable price (30,000 COP/person, 8 Euros).

You will have to get on your own (it is easy) to the meeting point they tell you.

How to get there: by metro from Poblado on the blue line, change in San Antonio to the orange line and get off at San Javier.

There we leave and get on a local bus (it is all included in the price of the tour with Toucan Cafe), which takes us to the top of the mountain and then down on foot.

Is it safe? Although it was once one of the most dangerous areas in the world, it is no longer so.

This does not mean that it is a completely safe area, as there are still occasional confrontations between gangs (although not in the area visited on the tour), and it is possible that sporadically some days the tour does not leave if they consider it is not safe.

That’s why we recommend to do it on tour (not on your own) with Casa Kolacho.

El Poblado

The best thing you can do in the Poblado is get lost in the streets until you reach Lleras Park (the neuralgic point of the neighbourhood) enjoying all the urban art that the neighbourhood has to offer.

It is also, in our opinion, the best neighbourhood to stay in (see the section on where to sleep) and where you can eat and go out for a drink, as it has a lot to offer in terms of gastronomy and leisure activities.

El Poblado is so called because it was literally the first populated place in the area and that is why it is so important in the city.

It is the 14th commune of the city and it was the first colonized neighborhood, where the city of Medellin was founded.

There is a sculpture representing this first settlement with an indigenous woman with her breasts exposed: the church across the street forced the statue to turn around…

Another manifestation of the hypocritical double standard of the Catholic institution that cries out for “Free the nipple”.

By the way, the explosion of urban art in the streets of Medellín was the result of a long process, as we were told in the tour of Commune 13.

And the Poblado (Commune 14) together with Commune 13 were among the communes that were most transformed.

As you can see from the metro cable or one of the city’s viewpoints, Medellín has a lot of bricks and little by little its inhabitants began to give life to the city by giving it color.

The government reacted to this by painting it over gray and people reacted by painting it over coarser (for example, the typical penis painting) so the city government decided to organize a street art project.

Currently there is an official project called Pictopia Medellin that is updating the city’s street art every 3 years, it seems.

It won’t take long for you to notice, walking the streets of El Poblado, that you are in one of the most expensive and exclusive areas of the city.

This is where many expatriates live and the gastronomic and accommodation offer is immense.

That’s why we propose other areas where we also explore and stay overnight if you want to stay in a more local neighborhood.

On Sundays, it is also a great plan to rent a bike at the Ciclovía el Poblado (calle 10 #52A-18).

Yes, every Sunday there are arteries to travel around the main sites of the city while practicing some sport.

You can rent a classic, modern or two-seater bike (yes!) and go from El Poblado park to La Frontera in Envigado and return to the starting point.

Bike rental starts from 13000COP/h (4 euros), you can book by whatsapp with 1 hour in advance.

If you are in Medellín just for Christmas don’t miss La Ramada Casa de Oficios (only in December): where you can learn about traditional crafts, get close to local design (and try not to be tempted to buy everything), support entrepreneurs and chat :)

Buenos Aires and its Street Art

Besides getting to know one of the most modern systems of mobility in Latin America , the controversial new tram (since its construction affected the neighborhood in a negative way) takes you to one of the most traditional neighborhoods in the city: Buenos Aires.

The tram is taken at the San Antonio metro station and paid for with the same metro card.

We got off at Alejandro Echavarría and made our way along the tram track, enjoying such a corridor of urban art.

There are several murals and, in theory, they continue to do many more.

When we arrived at the Bicentenario station, we got on the tram again to go back to San Antonio and from there we took the subway.

Parks and green areas

Medellín has many parks and green areas to visit, here we list some of them:

Botanical Garden

A green corner and oasis of peace in which to disconnect, in the middle of the city, and learn about different species of plants, where the butterfly farm and the orchid garden stand out.

Admission is free and open every day from 9 to 16:30.

Arvi Park

Located in the town of Santa Elena, this 16,000 hectare ecotourism destination offers 54 kilometers of walking trails with 9 different degrees of difficulty for you to choose from.

Are you ready to enjoy the diversity of Medellín’s flora and fauna?

Here you have more information about the trails you can walk.

To get to Parque Arví by public transport: for example by metro/metrocable you can get on Acevedo, line K to Santo Domingo and there transfer to line L which will take you to the park.

You also have the possibility to get to know Parque Arví with a tour, like this one which costs 35

Explora Park

It is actually an interactive museum for the popularization of science, and although it may seem like something for children, many adults also go for how well done it is.

If you want to learn science interactively, this is the place!

Unfortunately, there is one part of the centre that we cannot recommend: they have an aquarium and vivarium where they keep animals in captivity, something that involves animal abuse and irresponsible tourism.

If you go, please do not visit these spaces.

Other parks

Other interesting parks you can find in Medellín

  • Barefoot Park: a zen park where they invite you to go barefoot and walk around its fountains, the forest of lovers (made of bamboo), its zen garden or the sand park.
  • Lleras Park: the nerve centre of Poblado, if you stay there you will visit it for sure
  • Parques del Rio: yes, Medellin has a river! The problem is that it was not cared for for years and is mostly contaminated.

A few years ago, a project was created to reuse the spaces next to the river (which in 2019 is still not finished) and is becoming an interesting tourist attraction in the city

Cerro del Pan de Azucar

Get away from noise and tourist pollution and live a quieter experience close to nature at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (the Colombian version of Rio de Janeiro’s famous giant).

To get to the top, at 2138 meters above sea level, you must follow the Way of Life, a stone path reminiscent of indigenous trails and surrounded by different species of trees.

The best: the panoramic view of the city that the viewpoint offers :)

Pueblito Paisa: Medellín by night

The Pueblito Paisa is a recreation on top of a hill of how a little town of Paisa (in the Antioquia region) used to be in the 20th century.

The place itself is a tourist attraction, but its privileged location gives you great views of the city.

So if you want to get a glimpse of the city of eternal spring at night, we recommend that you go to Pueblito Paisa at sunset (or a little earlier if you’re interested in seeing Pueblito Paisa itself) and prepare your eyes (and camera) to enjoy the views.

Museums

Apart from the museum of Antioquia, which we told you about at Plaza Botero, Medellín has many more that are worth a visit.

Modern Art Museum of Medellín (MAMM): our favorite and highly recommended is the MAMM

  • Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 to 18:00, Saturday from 10:00 to 18:00, Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00.Closed on public holidays.
  • Admission fee: 12,000 COP, 9,000 for children under 12 or over 60 and students.
  • Free entrance the last Friday of each month between 18:00 and 22:00.
  • How to get there: Metro line A (blue) and get off at Industriales.

You can also walk from Poblado (that’s how we were)

The museum is very complete and ideal to get into modern and contemporary Colombian art.

It also has something that we loved: each work is accompanied by the context in which it was created, a brief description of the author, and an interpretation.

In addition, it has a view of the city on its terrace, on the 5th floor:

Not only all this: in the museum there is also a movie theater, where we went to see the film about the Wayuu community (the largest indigenous community in Colombia) highly recommended: “Pájaros de Verano”.

The entrance to the MAMM cinema cost 8000 COP (2 Euro) per person.

Other museums that look very good to which we came to go are

Water Museum EPM

Tuesday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.(last admission at 4:00 p.m.) Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:30 p.m.to 6:30 p.m.(last admission at 5:00 p.m.).

Entrance fee: 6000 COP (1.6 euros)

An interactive museum in which to learn about our most precious asset: water.

House of Memory Museum

Tuesday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:00 a.m.to 4:00 p.m.

Mondays closed, except holidays (in that case, closed on Tuesdays)

Built in 2006, it is a place to learn about the armed conflict in Medellin and Colombia in general

What Not to Do in Medellín: Narcotourism

With the success of the series “Narcos” (by Netflix), several tours related to Pablo Escobar (the so-called ‘narcotours’) have emerged in Medellín and the surrounding area.

These tours pass by several emblematic points of the patron saint’s life (the prison ‘La Catedral’ is one of them for example) and even his grave.

On the one hand, personalities like Escobar are part of the recent violent history of the country and one must talk about it to understand the current moment that Medellín and Colombia are going through – and what a transformation he has undergone! as you will have seen from the amount of cultural offerings, a transformation that to a greater or lesser extent also occurred with Escobar.

On the other hand, in many of these tours (if not all) the drug trafficker is spoken of as a “hero” while many of the victims’ relatives are still alive, witnessing all this, with the wounds caused by that tragic period still open.

For example, the official caretaker of the Escobar family’s bed in Medellín’s Jardines de Montesacro cemetery tells how some people (such as the famous rapper Wiz Khalifa) have had their photos taken, have brought flowers, or have paid homage to the bloodthirsty capo by smoking a joint or putting a line of cocaine on his grave.

The mayor of Medellin says that something is being done wrong when in the ‘narcotours’ the tribute is being paid to the murderer instead of the victims.

From our 3 months in the country, we can assure you that the vast majority of people we have met are not happy with this type of tourism, the series “Narcos” (yes, refrain from making jokes with the “hijoeputamalpario”) and how the story of this character is being told.

It is also true that there are many people who continue to admire him (especially in poorer neighborhoods that have been totally forgotten by the Colombian government) since one of the strategies of the drug trafficker Escobar was to “buy” the most disadvantaged population by giving houses to those who didn’t have them, medical services to those who needed them, schools where there were none, etc…

For example, it seems that the neighborhood of the same name in the city (the Pablo Escobar neighborhood, which he created) refuses to change its name today despite several attempts by the government.

Apart from the ‘narcotours’ you will also find T-shirts, mugs and other souvenirs of the narco.

People who sell this type of product to tourists hide behind the fact that they have lived through such a hard time that now that they can benefit from it, they want to take advantage of it.

In our opinion, in this type of tour, morbidity wins over historical memory and, since we promote responsible tourism, our advice is that you should not contribute to and be an accomplice of morbidity tourism (which is also irresponsible tourism).

So if you come to Medellín, remember that there is much more to it than the drug world, and we have taught you that.

Commune 13 of Medellin, all you need to know before you go

Medellín’s Comuna 13 has become one of the most visited places in the city in recent times.

Its famous Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour is the best way to get to know this commune in depth, hand in hand with its inhabitants.

medellin colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Why is Comuna 13 so famous?

Well, this may be a bit controversial, but the reality is that it has gone from being a place where you couldn’t enter due to the violence of the guerrillas, paramilitaries, gangs and narcos to a kind of open-air museum that tries to tell what Comuna 13 was before and how it has become what it is now.

medellin comuna 13 colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Is it dangerous to go to Comuna 13?

We must not forget that in the 1990s Commune 13 was one of the most dangerous and violent places in the world.

Today this has changed radically, we were in October 2019, and once you enter Commune 13, you are in a completely safe place.

But don’t forget that there are places and situations that can change for different reasons in a short time.

That’s why it’s better to get an update on the state of Commune 13 before you go, in Medellin.

When you enter Comuna 13 for a visit, guides generally don’t give any recommendation regarding the safety

medellin colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Comuna 13 Some Tips and Tricks

  • If we take pictures of the inhabitants of the commune, you should first ask if you could.
  • It is not recommended to give money to the children who come to you to explain in perfect English some of the graffiti. If they earn money like that, they don’t go to school.
medellin colombia
Comuna 13 Medellín – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Brief history of Commune 13

The city of Medellin is in a valley surrounded by mountains.

The communes that surround Medellín were built informally on the slopes of the mountains.

The origin of the communes comes from their inhabitants, the great majority of them displaced from rural areas in conflict with the guerrillas or paramilitaries.

When they settled in these areas, they built informally, and lacked all kinds of services.

The authorities turned their backs completely on the communes, and they had to organize themselves.

The guerrillas of the ELN, FARC and the CAP (Comandos Armados del Pueblo) initially intended to help the commune against the bourgeoisie that was inheriting them, but it didn’t take long before it became a nightmare.

The first child soldiers who were recruited by these guerrillas and the violence that was being exercised was the turning point.

Then the paramilitaries came to drive out the guerrillas, but that was more violence and killings, as in a war.

And the Medellin cartel did not help solve that war of “shootings” and deaths at any time of day every day.

Pablo Escobar’s cartel fed on young people with no future to turn them into hitmen, kidnappers or extortionists.

During our visit to Comuna 13 we bought a book written by a community policeman from the commune.

He had to live the hardest moments there.

I totally recommend it, it is not very long, you leave money in the community, and besides, you will understand better the story told from inside.

It is called Commune 13 of Medellin, the drama of the Armed Conflict.

Commune 13 was a hell on earth.

More info : Medellin Wikipedia

comuna colombia
Graffitis in Comuna 13 – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Operation Orion

Another of the moments that have marked Comuna 13 the most was Operation Orion.

Launched by Alvaro Uribe in October 2002 to get the FARC, ELN and CAP guerrillas out, he sent some 1500 military and police, along with tanks and helicopters of war.

During the operation that lasted several days, the balance of victims was very high, 80 civilians injured, 17 homicides committed by the Public Force, 71 people killed by the paramilitaries, 12 people tortured, 92 forced disappearances and 370 arbitrary detentions.

The Escombrera

The controversy still continues, since La Escombrera, a place where construction materials and garbage are piled up, which is located in front of Commune 13, is where it is said that those who disappeared during Operation Orion were buried.

Excavations have been made to find the bodies of the missing, but they have not been found.

The expulsion of the guerrillas did not bring Commune 13 back to peace, as it was the gateway for the paramilitaries, specifically the Cacique Nutibara group.

Assassinations, torture and forced disappearances were once again the order of the day.

comuna colombia
Comuna 13 – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Why has Comuna 13 changed?

Well, one of the main reasons is that the authorities have started to invest in improving the services of the commune.

They started with the cable car, a means of public transportation that brought the commune closer to downtown Medellín, and downtown Medellín closer to Commune 13.

And to top it off, they invested in free escalators for the inhabitants of the commune.

This made getting up and down easier.

During the works there had to be a truce, a cease-fire, something.

Not only public works did their work, but also the many social inclusion programs, which opened a new path of opportunities for the youngest.

Something that woke up the youngest and they decided to start painting with graffiti their sad walls stained with blood and marked by bullets, giving them a color that today attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every day.

Even the football pitch, which in hard times was used as a place for public executions, has become a place to play again.

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Escalator in Comuna 13 Medellin – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Not all that glitters is gold

But not all that glitters is gold.

The guides have to pay a small amount of money to the bands for every tourist that enters (3000 COPs – 0,70 euros).

The owners of the different establishments opened because of the massive arrival of tourists also have to pay another small amount.

It is as if the gangs have seen tourism as an easy way to make money without having to kill.

If I’m honest, it was the only place in Medellín where I took out the reflex camera without any fear.

On the positive side, Commune 13 is a hotbed of artists, music, color, graffiti, souvenir shops, restaurants (there’s even a vegan one) and cafes.

That leaves money in the neighborhood and gives opportunities to see a more real future.

In fact, there are social programs in the neighborhood that provide free training in tourism.

Dozens of kids from the neighborhood are guides to show you around.

The negative, although there is a real effort, especially in graffiti not to forget the past, is that certain terrible events are forgotten and can be repeated.

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Comuna 13 – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

Graffiti Tour Comuna 13

Well, the Graffiti Tour is the perfect excuse to get closer to Commune 13.

We hired a Free Tour through FreeTour.com, just the day before.

Our guide was a young man from the commune, his grandparents were among the first to start living there.

And we were lucky enough to meet them at their commune house.

Each one of the graffiti you will see represents moments or people that transcended in the history of the commune.

The tour is very interesting, since they will tell you first-hand the history and stories that make this place different.

That it has gone from being a place without future or opportunities to having a real hope.

In addition to graffiti by artists from Commune 13, there is also graffiti by artists from around the world who have been invited to leave their artwork on these walls.

If you like graffiti, you’re going to love the place, and if you’re not a fan, I assure you that you’re going to convert.

Without a doubt, the Graffiti Tour and the visit to Commune 13 are well worth it.

Another perspective of the city of Medellin.

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Comuna 13 : Grafiti Tour – Photo © Tristan Quevilly

How to get to Comuna 13

To get to Comuna 13, the best way is to use the city’s public transportation, specifically the subway.

The people of Medellín are extremely proud of their public transportation system.

They always joke that they have a metro and the capital, Bogotá, does not.

Perhaps this is the reason why the metro is spotless and very well maintained, no vandalism.

Well, the metro stop where you have to get off is San Javier.

This stop is at the end of line B, in orange.

In our case, our Free Tour guide picked us up there.

And there we saw dozens of guides of the Graffiti Tour Comuna 13 waiting for other tourists, or offering the services.

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Medellin Subway – Photo © Tristan Quevilly
Conclusion Now Your Turn

Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:

Do you have any questions about Comuna 13 or Medellin ?

Or maybe I didn’t mention one of your favorite tips ?

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

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