5 Things to do in the most transformed district of Medellin

Every country has a story, and every city of that country has an inside story. When traveling and exploring other countries, one thing that is always interesting is to know more about their history. What was their process to where they are now.

Colombia is known for being a big part in the drug world and one of the cities that is really know for that is Medellin. And one of the districts that has been through a lot is COMUNA 13.

But like any other extensive violence history, COMUNA 13 also overcame their terror. Now, this district has open it’s doors for the traveler to enjoy the location and people. Here are 5 things to do in Comuna 13.

Welcome to COMUNA 13.

En la 13 la violencia no nos vence!!

-The people of Comuna 13

01. Listen to the history

Not many years ago, Comuna 13, also known as San Javier, was considered the most dangerous district of Medellin, itself being dubbed ‘Murder Capital of the World’ many, many years ago.

It wouldn’t have been wise as a traveler to visit this district at that time. I could only imagine if you would have had family there, that would have been an option, otherwise, it was a no-go.

 In the 1960s and 70s, more than 1000 families were displaced by conflict in different parts of Antioquia Department settled here. They built their houses from basic materials, and there was no running water or electricity, making this an unplanned neighborhood.

Comuna 13 rose to notoriety in the 1980s and 1990s at the height of Colombia’s drug and gang era. Because of its location on the edge of the city and the way its organized (winding streets and an awful lot of places to hide), the barrio became a transit point for drug traffickers, guerillas, gangs, and otherwise unsavory characters. Soon enough, paramilitary groups ELN and FARC were fighting for control of the commune.

The Clean up

The idea to ‘clean up’ Comuna 13 started in 2002 when a newly elected President Alvaro Uribe took a heavy handed approach and launched 10 military operations. The two biggest, known as Mariscal and Orion, were designed to root out the paramilitary. As you can imagine, many residents – regular working families and innocent civilians – got caught up in the fray. At least 20 people lost their lives, almost 250 were arrested, and many more simply disappeared.

The guerillas were defeated. Paramilitaries, who had unofficially supported the government action, moved in. Recriminations for people who had supposedly helped the guerillas were rampant. So much so that nearly 300 people were allegedly abducted and buried in a mass hillside grave called La Escombrera.

The image of Comuna 13 started to change in 2006. Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo Valderrama took a different approach and decided to improve the living conditions for underserved families by involving them in the process. He invested in the infrastructure, including a new metro station and outdoor escalators, to reintegrate the commune with the rest of the city. This approach turned out to be much more effective.

02. Enjoy the views

The more you walk up the hill, the more of the view of the city of Medellin you can enjoy. There are several spots on the route for you to take the next best shot.

03. Enjoy the indoor arts

There are a lot of murals outside, all with a story behind them. But even more are the indoor art shops. No color has been left out here. You can see art from local artists that have duplicated their pieces on canvases or you can have unique jean jackets with artistic paintings on the back.

But besides those elements, most of the shops have an element of being very instagrammable. The whole shop might as be your colorful background for a cool photo.

04. Enjoy the people

You are still in a neighborhood where people live and work daily.

Even though the locals have endure a lot, they are still very proud of who they are and what they can offer the world from their corner of the world. They want you to listen to their story but don’t define them by it. They have lost loved ones, went through times of terror, but still they welcome you with open arms and with laughter. That is the part that you should enjoy. Enjoy their warmness, their willingness to speak English, even though it might not be their best. Like my Spanish is not very ‘good looking’ as Celia Cruz said about her English. The ones that are there, tell you the story of survival and going forward.

05. Enjoy the street artistry

As local artists began to paint their murals depicting the violence and its aftermath, the local government seized upon an opportunity to encourage more of it by paying for their work, too. And, as a result, the murals are now a feature all over the comuna.

Besides the murals, you will encounter different dance groups through the walking tour. Showing how creative they are in all type of artistry.

How to enjoy Comuna 13 the right way?

The best way to enjoy this district, is to book a tour with a local. Book a tour with someone that IS from Comuna 13.

Doing so, you will support the community and get all the extra ins and outs of food, art, drinks and laughter.

Things to consider

Besides the 5 things to do in Comuna 13, consider this points below:

  • Take comfortable shoes, as there is going to be a lot of walking up the hill.
  • You will not feel unsafe, but don’t be flashing your valuables to much around. Behave as you would in any other city. Just keep aware of your surroundings.
  • Have extra cash for tips for street performers and museums.
  • The shops do take credit and debit cards.
  • Best time to visit would be in the morning, and early afternoon.
  • Take an uber or have a private driver to take you there. Parking is a bit hectic.
  • And most of all, just have fun.

Those were the 5 things to do in Comuna 13. Have you been to Comuna 13, Medellin?  Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.

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