Home South AmericaColombia Comuna 13, a Neighbourhood Transformed by Art

Comuna 13, a Neighbourhood Transformed by Art

by Kat
Artwork by Chota 13 in Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, Medellin, Colombia was often dubbed “the most dangerous city in the world.” It was infamous for Pablo Escobar, drug cartels, murders and kidnappings. However, since those dark times, Medellin has undergone a dramatic transformation. The government has invested in public transportation and social programs that have increased safety and improved the quality of life in many neighborhoods- particularly Comuna 13. In 2013, Medellin was named the “most innovative city in the world” thanks to its modern and clean Metro system. This Metro system is a source of a pride for the citizens of Medellin.

Comuna 13 History

Comuna 13 was once considered Medellin’s most violent neighbourhood. Due to its convenient location near Medellin’s main highway, it was the gateway to a popular drug-trafficking route. In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar controlled the area. After his death, gangs and paramilitary groups fought over the neighbourhood, with murder rates tripling between 1997-2002. Many innocent civilians were killed or injured.

Since those troubled times, Comuna 13 has transformed into a much safer place thanks to the Metrocable system. These cable cars connect Comuna 13 to the rest of Medellin, providing its residents with more convenient access to the city and jobs within it. The Metrocable improved safety as it allowed people to avoid walking through dangerous territories.

The Medellin Metrocable connects the neighbourhoods in the mountains to the city below.

The escalator system, which has six sections and a distinctive orange roof, has also increased the quality of life for the residents of Comuna 13. What was once a strenuous 30-minute climb (equivalent to 28 stories) up a steep hill is now only a 5-minute escalator ride. Before it was built, residents had to climb up and down the stairs if they wanted to go shopping, visit the doctor, or go to work.

The escalators in Comuna 13 make life easier for its residents

In the late 2000s, local artists started creating street art depicting the area’s violent history as well as expressing their desire for peace, hope and transformation. Many of the murals are of birds, which symbolize freedom. Medellin’s government provides funding for local artists to create street art in the area. It has also donated money to open schools and libraries. The art has created more opportunities for the local youth and helped steer them away from drugs and violence.

Street art of two boys and birds in Comuna 13, Medellin

How to Get to Comuna 13

To get to Comuna 13, you need to stop at San Javier metro station. From there, you can either walk for 15 minutes or take a small green bus that goes directly to Comuna 13. The bus has a small sign that reads “Escaleras Electricas” in the front window.

 Safety in Comuna 13

Although safety in Comuna 13 has improved a lot, it’s better to visit it with a tour or at least in a small group as lower crime doesn’t mean no crime. Gangs still exist, so you should visit Comuna 13 in the daytime and avoid wandering away from the main paths.

Comuna 13 Tour

Since I wanted to learn more about Medellin’s history and the street art, I decided to take a tour. I chose Comuna 13 Tours and booked by email. Response time was very quick. The tour cost 70 000 pesos and the guide collected the money from everyone at the end of the tour. The price includes an arepa and juice at a food stand and a delicious popsicle at the end of the tour as well as metro and bus tickets.

I met the guide, Walter, and the rest of the group at the Poblado metro station entrance. Walter spoke excellent English and told us lots of interesting facts during the tour.

From Poblado Station we took Line A of the metro to San Antonio station. I was amazed at how spotless the stations and trains were. From there we switched to Line B and traveled to San Javier station. At San Javier station, we took a ride on Line J of the Metrocable. I had taken cable cars before, but over scenery, not over actual houses or buildings, so it was a fascinating experience! Being able to ride in a cable car over a city felt very futuristic.

View from a cable car in Medellin, ColombiaFrom the cable car, you can see the contrast between Medellin’s rich areas and poor areas. The wealthy neighbourhoods are lower, mostly in the valley while the poorer neighbourhoods are perched high up along the mountainsides.

View of the city of Medellin, Colombia from a metro station

A lower-income area of Medellin as seen from the MetrocableAfter the cable car ride, we boarded a small green bus at San Javier station. It was a short ride to Comuna 13, where almost immediately we saw street art!

Painting in Comuna 13

Street art of elephants in Comuna 13, Medellin

Street art of a bird in Comuna 13, Medellin

Street art of a macaw and tiger in Comuna 13One of the most famous artists in Comuna 13 is Chota 13 (Instagram).

A painting by artist Chota13 in Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia

Art by artist chota13 in Comuna 13Sometimes during the tour, you can meet the local artists or visit their gallery. Walter took us to meet Jorge (Instagram) and look at the artwork in his gallery. If you want, you can support local artists by buying their artwork, but there wasn’t any pressure to do so.

At the top of the escalators, you will find even more art. There is a painting of two lovebirds and couples are encouraged to take a photo with the birds! The mushroom art is supposed to be for solo travellers.

Street art of two loving birds in Comuna 13. Couples are encouraged to take a photo with them!

Paintings of mushrooms in Comuna 13While admiring the art we passed by teenagers break-dancing and listening to hip-hop music. Children were shouting and playing happily, so Comuna 13 felt very safe. Twenty years ago, people were afraid to leave their homes even during the day, so that shows how much conditions have improved since then!

Children play next to a mural in Comuna 13, Medellin

Mural of a boy, Comuna 13As we made our way back downhill, Walter took us to an old man’s house for some homemade mango popsicles. They were delicious! We sat on the porch and enjoyed them. After our snack, Walter escorted the group back to Poblado station and helped everyone with directions or hailing taxis.

Colourful houses in Comuna 13, MedellinI’m glad I visited Comuna 13 and saw the area’s impressive transformation for myself. Comuna 13 is truly a symbol of hope for Medellin and has a bright future ahead of it!

Learn how Comuna 13, once Medellin's most dangerous neighbourhood, has transformed through street art by taking a tour.
Learn how Comuna 13, once Medellin's most dangerous neighbourhood, has transformed through street art by taking a tour.

Learn how Comuna 13, once Medellin's most dangerous neighbourhood, has transformed through street art by taking a tour.

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4 comments

tanya March 17, 2018 - 4:15 am

A really interesting read and really well written. I think it’s fab you put the effort into learning more about the city. My parents in law loved Medellin and the people there, and you’ve just added another reason to visit!

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Lauren March 17, 2018 - 5:32 am

What a refreshing read – its always so much more fulfilling visiting somewhere slightly off the beaten track with such a vibrant history – literally! Street art is one of my favourite things to photograph and discover within a city and you have captured Comuna 13 so beautifully!

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The Curious Sparrow March 17, 2018 - 12:20 pm

Stunning artwork and lots of interesting facts 🙂

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Lieselot De Brauwer March 17, 2018 - 1:49 pm

Beautiful street art! It really makes a place so much more special. And the view from that cable car is also pretty spectacular!

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