Comuna 13 is a region in Medellín, Colombia. Medellín was the most dangerous city in the world until very recently. The violence in Medellín was due to the reign of a drug cartel led by the infamous Pablo Escobar. Comuna 13 was the most dangerous section of the Medellín at the time. Since the fall of Pablo Escobar and his cartel, Medellín has transformed itself from a city of terror to a tourism hot spot. Comuna 13 has joined Medellín in that transformation and is now sought out for its vibrant art, street performances, and food culture.
This guide will give you information on the history of Comuna 13, tips on how to visit the region, and advice on what to do there.
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The Violent History of Medellín & Comuna 13
A drug cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, took hold of Medellín, Colombia from the 1970s to the 1990s. The cartel was the king of cocaine distribution on a global scale. During this time, mass murders, police raids, and other violent acts raged through the city. Comuna 13—a region within Medellín—saw the highest concentration of violence and killings. Pablo Escobar was assassinated in 1993, which led to the eventual downfall of his drug cartel, and the beginning of a new age in Colombia.
The Re-Invention of Medellín & Comuna 13
When you visit Medellín, Colombia today, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about the reign of Pablo Escobar. Locals drop the story into casual conversation, and it’s the focal point of many tours and attractions in the city. Colombian’s wreak of pride when they talk about the subject. It’s not that they’re proud of their dark past, but rather, they’re proud of how well they overcame it.
Once Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel fell, Medellín pulled itself together little by little. Projects were resurrected to make the city safer, cleaner, and full of opportunities for its citizens. Public Transportation was built—which includes an efficient metro & cable car system. Parks, museums, and other attractions were built to attract tourism to the city, as well.
Comuna 13 was a part of the re-invention of Medellín in a big way. The local children were taught street art, hip-hop dancing, and rapping. This led to the transformation of the bleak city walls into the vibrant art that tourists flock to today. Locals also dance, sing, and shout from the street signs to get tourists’ attention. Art has become the pulse of the city, and the reason that it’s thriving.
How to Visit Comuna 13
You can either visit Comuna 13 on a tour or alone. I went on a tour with the Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour and recommend them. Here are the details of the Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour.
- Start Time & Frequency: 10AM, Daily
- Length: 4.5 hours
- About: The tour guided us through the area, taught us about Comuna 13’s history, explained the artwork, and took us to a live street performance.
- How to Find the Tour: The group meets at the Poblado Metro Station; which is a central station in Medellin. The group will escort you on public transportation from Poblado Metro Station to Comuna 13.
- Cost: $70,000 Colombian pesos ($20USD) per person. This cost included the fare for the metro, bus & cable car needed to get to Comuna 13. Note: cost of the tour & conversion from Colombian Pesos & USD subject to change.
- What to Bring on the Tour: Comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and a camera.
Local individuals also offer 1:1 tours. A tour from a local is a good way to learn about the area from someone who’s in touch with the community. You can find local tours through word-of-mouth (ask around in Medellín) or through Airbnb Experiences. Type “Comuna 13 Street Art Tour” into the search box and you’ll see a bunch of options pop-up.
Comuna 13 is safe to visit independently if you’d prefer to go it alone. To get there, take the metro to the San Javier stop. Exit the station, take a bus to the “Comuna 13 escalators” and then take the escalators up to Comuna 13’s tourist area. The tourist area is very evident and easy to find. Don’t veer away from the tourist section, as parts of Comuna 13 are less safe than others.
Things to Do in Comuna 13
- Check out the Street Art: The street art of Comuna 13 is the pulse of the city. The art is inspired by themes of peace, unity, pride, expression, and freedom. The artwork also tells the story of Comuna 13’s dark past, at times. If you go on a tour, they’ll walk you past the key pieces of art and tell you about its meaning and the life of the artist.
- Have a Photo Shoot: Tourists line up in front of the street art to take pictures. The vibrant street artwork provides a nice backdrop for a cool photo.
- Take in Views of Medellin from Above: When you get to Comuna 13, you’ll be high above the city. This provides great views of the mountainous city-scape.
- Watch a Street Performance: Comuna 13 is full of locals who love to perform. As you walk around, you’ll see breakdancing and rapping performances erupt.
- Try the Local Street Food: Support the local community and try some of their street food. They serve up some of the Colombian classics including churros, empanadas, and arepas.
- Relax & Drink Some Colombian Coffee: The best coffee in the world comes from Colombia. Stop in a cafe, grab a coffee and enjoy it while people watching.
- Shop for Local Art & Hand Made Goods: Comuna 13 is a great place to shop for locally made art pieces and other hand-made goods.
Before you go...
Comuna 13 is one of the most vibrant cities that you can visit in South America. This, due to the artwork and to the resilient people that live there. The city is full of people who want to express themselves artistically and have a good time. Check out this video below from my trip to Comuna 13, Medellín to get inspired for a trip there of your own.