Comuna 13, Medellín: A History of Art and Resilience

From a past of violence to more colorful days, the Comuna 13 is the most inspiring place you will ever see


Welcome to Comuna 13, a neighborhood that has overcome a tumultuous past to become one of Medellin’s most inspirational chapters.

Once notorious for its challenges, Comuna 13 has reinvented itself into a symbol of Medellín’s rebirth. From the iconic outdoor escalators that whisk you up the hillside to the rhythm of hip-hop beats that echo through the streets, Comuna 13 invites you to experience its unique blend of history, culture, and innovation.

So, are you ready to explore a place where every wall, stairway, and alleyway is a street art canvas and every resident is a storyteller?

Suggested Read: The Ultimate Guide for the Digital Nomad in Medellin

The history of Comuna 13 in Medellín

The history of Comuna 13 in Medellín is an inspiring narrative of resilience, transformation, and rebirth. Once notorious for being one of the most dangerous areas in Medellín, Colombia, this community has emerged as a symbol of hope, creativity, and social innovation.

Comuna 13, located on the western slopes of Medellín, was historically marginalized, facing neglect from urban planning and public services. During the 1980s and 1990s, as Medellín grappled with the violence spurred by drug cartels, Comuna 13 became a strategic route for smuggling arms and drugs due to its geographical position.

This period was marked by intense violence, with the area becoming a battleground for control between rival drug cartels, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla factions.

This situation wouldn’t change until the early 2000s when the government began investing in social and infrastructural projects to rebuild the area.

Following the conflict, efforts were focused on healing and rebuilding the community from the ground up. Investment in public infrastructure, such as the innovative outdoor escalators and cable cars, improved accessibility, connecting Comuna 13 to the rest of Medellín and fostering economic development.

Education and social programs were introduced to empower residents and provide alternatives to involvement in criminal activities.

The Role of Art and Community Projects

Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour

Art became a pivotal medium for expression and transformation within Comuna 13. The walls that once bore the marks of bullets now tell a different story through murals and graffiti. Local artists, many of whom lived through the darkest times, began using street art to depict stories of resilience, peace, and community unity.

Cultural collectives like Casa Kolacho have played an important role in using art as a tool for social change. Through workshops, graffiti tours, and community projects, they’ve engaged the youth and the broader community in dialogues about their identity, history, and hopes for the future.

These projects have beautified the neighborhood and enhanced the local’s perception of self-worth but have also become a powerful tool for social commentary and a magnet for tourism, bringing new economic opportunities to the area.

Cafés, shops, and tour businesses have flourished, providing employment and encouraging a sense of pride and ownership among the residents.

Two very symbolic street artworks you should check out during your visit are the one with a young girl symbolizing the innocence of youth amidst the chaos of violence and the one with a bird breaking free from chains, a metaphor for liberation and the pursuit of peace.

Comuna 13 Today

Today, Comuna 13 stands as a testament to the power of community resilience and creativity in the face of adversity. It is a popular destination for both national and international tourists, drawn by its colorful art, cultural tours, and the compelling stories of its inhabitants.

Tourism has played an important role in Comuna 13’s transformation, with the neighborhood becoming the most visited attraction in Medellín. Guided tours, often led by locals, offer insights into the history and culture of Comuna 13, providing an authentic and immersive experience. It is definitely something you should not miss while in the city.

Nowadays, the community continues to face challenges. However, the spirit of Comuna 13 remains focused on progress, peace, and social innovation.

What to Do and See in Comuna 13

Here’s a guide to what you can do and see in this colorful and dynamic neighborhood:

Explore the Street Art

The most striking feature of Comuna 13 is its extensive street art that covers buildings, staircases, and walls. These murals tell stories of the community’s struggles, hopes, and dreams. A guided street art tour can provide context and insights into the meanings behind these powerful works of art.

Ride the Outdoor Escalators

One of the innovative solutions that helped transform Comuna 13 is its outdoor escalators. Once one of the most dangerous parts of Medellín, these escalators were installed to improve mobility for residents living on steep hillsides. Today, they also offer visitors a unique urban experience and great neighborhood and city views.

Participate in Cultural Workshops

Kids dancing in a workshop in Comuna 13, Medellin

Engage with the local community through cultural workshops offered in Comuna 13. From graffiti art classes to learning about traditional Colombian dance or participating in a hip-hop workshop, these activities offer a hands-on way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Enjoy Local Gastronomy

Comuna 13 offers a delicious array of Colombian street food and traditional dishes. Don’t miss the chance to try local favorites like arepas, empanadas, micheladas, and freshly squeezed fruit juices from the various street vendors and cafes. Supporting these small businesses is a great way to contribute to the local economy.

Visit Casa Kolacho

Casa Kolacho is a cultural center and a hub for the hip-hop community in Comuna 13, offering music, graffiti, and breakdance workshops. It plays a significant role in engaging the youth and keeping them away from violence through art and culture.

Shop for Local Crafts

Comuna 13 has several small shops and markets where local artisans sell their crafts. From handmade jewelry and clothing to unique souvenirs and art, shopping here not only provides you with unique mementos but also supports the local artisans directly.

Take in the Panoramic Views

Thanks to its hillside location, Comuna 13 offers some of the best panoramic views of Medellín. There are several lookout points throughout the neighborhood where you can take a moment to soak in the scenery and reflect on this community’s transformation.

Engage with the Community

The true heart of Comuna 13 is its people. Engaging with residents through a guided tour, workshop, or a conversation at a local cafe can provide deep insights into the community’s resilience and hope. Remember to approach these interactions with respect and openness.

How to visit Comuna 13 with a guided tour

Many tour operators provide guided tours at Comuna 13. We strongly advise you to pick one led by local guides since this is a great way to support the community. You can book a street art tour here.

Another great way to get to know the community is doing a street food tour (this one is the one I did).

Wear comfortable walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing. Comuna 13 is located on a hillside, so expect some steep paths and stairs.

Be aware that the Comuna is still home to many people, so respect their privacy and boundaries. Only take pictures in authorized places, and do not enter private property without the owner’s consent.

Spending money there, even a little, is also very appreciated.

As weird as it might sound, tours in Spanish were a lot less crowded during my visit, so if you understand the language, it might be worth giving it a shot and practicing your skills.

Book a free walking tour with a local guide in Comuna 13 here. The booking is free of charge, and you can cancel your reservation up to 6 hours before the tour. 

How to get to the Comuna 13

Getting to Comuna 13 is super easy, thanks to the city’s comprehensive and user-friendly public transportation system. The neighborhood is accessible by metro, bus, and taxi, making it a convenient destination for both locals and tourists.

By Metro

The closest metro station to Comuna 13 is San Javier, which is on Line B of the Medellín Metro.

Once you arrive there, you can take a short taxi ride or a bus or even walk to the base of Comuna 13 if you feel like it.

By Bus

Look for bus routes that mention “San Javier” or “Comuna 13” as their destination. These buses are available from various parts of the city.

You can catch a bus from the San Javier metro station.

By Taxi or Ride-Sharing Apps

Taking a taxi or using a ride-sharing app like Uber is a popular choice among visitors.

Taxis and ride-sharing services in Medellín are generally considered safe and reliable, although Uber operates despite Colombian government restrictions. They are very cheap, too.

Frequently Asked Questions About Comuna 13

Is it safe to visit Comuna 13?

Yes, Comuna 13 has become much safer in recent years, thanks to community efforts and investments in security. However, like any tourist destination, it’s essential to stay aware of your surroundings, keep valuables secure, and follow local advice.

How do I get to Comuna 13?

Comuna 13 is accessible by Medellín’s metro system. Take the metro to San Javier station, from where you can take a bus, taxi, or even walk to the neighborhood. Guided tours often offer transportation options as well.

What are the best times to visit Comuna 13?

The neighborhood is most vibrant and lively during daylight hours, particularly in the morning when the weather is cooler and the streets are less crowded. It’s also worth visiting during local festivals for a unique cultural experience.

Can I visit Comuna 13 without a guided tour?

Yes, you can explore Comuna 13 on your own. However, joining a guided tour is highly recommended to gain deeper insights into the history and meanings behind street art and to ensure you don’t miss any hidden gems.

Are there any costs associated with visiting Comuna 13?

Visiting Comuna 13 itself is free, but you may want to budget for guided tours, local food, souvenirs, and donations to community projects. Guided tour prices vary, so check with individual providers.

What should I wear or bring when visiting Comuna 13?

Wear comfortable walking shoes, as the neighborhood is hilly with many stairs. Also, consider bringing water, sunscreen, a hat for protection against the sun, and some cash for small purchases.

What else is there to do in Comuna 13 besides viewing the street art?

Beyond the street art, you can participate in cultural workshops, enjoy local gastronomy, visit community projects, and experience the neighborhood’s music and dance scene.

Editor of Yes, Summer! I am a Brazilian journalist, writer, and digital nomad. I have been traveling the world, telling stories, and tasting local beers since 2010. I am the co-founder of 360meridianos, a reference in travel writing in Brazil, and author of the newsletter Migraciones. On social media, I'm always reachable at @natybecattini.

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