What To See In Comuna 13 Medellin And The Drug History Of Colombia

What To See In Comuna 13 Medellin And The Drug History Of Colombia
| 4 min read

The city of Medellin, Colombia is divided into 16 communes belonging to 6 zones. One of which is Comuna 13, San Javier. Located in the center west of the city, this commune was once known as the most violent neighborhood in Medellin. However, these days, Comuna 13 opens itself to visitors who want to explore the area. Dozens of street art and performances fill Comuna 13 Medellin. And that’s why it should be on your bucket list!

Is Comuna 13 still dangerous?

Graffiti tour in Medellin

Unfortunately, Colombia is still often related to drugs and crime to this day, even though Colombians have put the infamous history in the past. Now and then, we still hear news about crime levels in this country, especially in touristy cities like Bogotá, Cartagena, and Medellin. But what people often forget is that it’s no different from any big city in the world. I stayed in Medellin for three months and I encountered no crime. As long as you’re careful and take precautions, you should be okay.

Comuna 13 is now a neighborhood of graffiti

Street arts and paintings filled Comuna 13

Back in the notorious days, Medellin was where Pablo Escobar lived and hid as a fugitive. The police searched for him in many areas of Medellin for more than a year, including in San Javier, the Comuna 13. Now, this area has become a place to explore Medellin’s street art. Walls and houses are painted in colorful pieces, from solid colors, graffiti, to paintings. If you google “Medellin graffiti tour”, you’ll find many other areas that offer graffiti tours as this city encourages street art. However, the graffiti tour in Comuna 13 is like no other. Keep reading to find out why!

A storyboard of street arts

Medellin skyline from the top of Comuna 13

Touring around Comuna 13 is not just about sightseeing around street art. These street paintings are also a historical storyboard. Through shapes and colors, they tell a story of how Comuna 13 transformed into an urban project. Promoting peace and hope, each work of art tells a different story, including those from the early days of the first settlers. To learn more about the important works of art it’s best to find a local guided tour.

That being said, you can tour around the neighborhood’s hill by yourself, free of charge! There are outdoor escalators on seven different levels to take you up the steep hill with ease. Once you get to the top of the hill, you can see Medellin’s skyline and its famous red-brick buildings. Make sure to take some photos here! In case you get tired, thirsty, or hungry, plenty of local shops and vendors are ready to serve you at every level.

Comuna 13 is a local neighborhood

Children playing in Comuna 13

Comuna 13 did not just transform its appearance, but also the lives of those who live in the area. The houses in Comuna 13 are owned and occupied by locals. This is still a real living neighborhood, not just a tourism spot. As tourism blossoms, locals are able to generate more income. That plus the local community’s urban regeneration project help improve the lives of locals. Among the visitors, you will see locals going around the neighborhood minding their own business. While adults sit around talking to each other, children are busy playing and having fun. Some of them even perform hip-hop dances!

Don’t be surprised if you see a group of people gathering in random spots. They’re probably watching kids performing dance routines. Loud music fills some corners of the neighborhood, while chatters and laughter fill the rest. Souvenir vendors can be found on most levels. There’s also a small museum on level 7 promoting the work of local artists. You get to buy some paintings to bring home as souvenirs if you like!

How to get there

Street arts welcome you from the start

Walking around the graffiti neighborhood will take around an hour. That doesn’t include stops to take photos, browse through souvenir shops, and enjoy some food or beverages. All in all, you will probably need two hours to explore Comuna 13 Medellin.

San Javier is located in the western part of Medellin. The easiest way to get there is by taxi. But I suggest you try getting on a metro as the Medellin Metro is one of the best mass transportation systems in the world. So, don’t miss it while you’re in town!

To get on the metro, you need to have a transit card called the Civica. There are two kinds of Civica cards: personalized and eventual. The personalized Civica is free and easy to get, all you need is a passport but it’s only available at San Antonio Station. The other one, the eventual Civica, is available at ticket booths in any station but it costs 5,000 COP (around 1.3 USD) extra, excluding the ticket charges.

Top up your Civica card at any station to use it on all metro and some buses in Medellin. To get to San Javier, you need to get on Line B that connects San Antonio and San Javier through five other stations. The entire ride costs 2,355 COP (around 0.7 USD) with personalized Civica and 2,650 COP (around 0.8 USD) without.

Once you get to San Javier Station, exit the station and walk towards the bus stop right next to it. Keep in mind that many people will offer you paid graffiti tour services outside the station. If you’re interested in a guided tour, you may consider this. But if you plan on exploring by yourself, just keep walking towards the bus stop. Look for bus 225i (be careful not to mistake it for bus 225). The bus will take you straight to the graffiti neighborhood, which is its only stop. The bus fare is 1,200 COP (around 0.3 USD) and you can pay with your Civica cards.

A celebration of history, peace, and hope

Getting to the neighborhood is an experience in itself. Let alone the works of art awaiting at the top of the hill. Help Medellin, Colombia, and its people move on from the notorious past by celebrating their new way of life. Join the fun and be a part of San Javier’s new history!

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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