November 13, 2018, 6:48 pm
Colombia is a country of resilience and no place embodies that attribute quite like Comuna 13. If you’re traveling in Medellín, Colombia, be sure to take a few hours to visit the neighborhood with a tumultuous past, but a bright future. During a recent trip to Medellín, I was fortunate enough to tour Comuna 13 with Uncover Colombia. The trip gave me an opportunity to see how art is woven into the fascinating history of a neighborhood in an authentic atmosphere, away from Medellín’s affluent areas where most tourists stay during their travels.
The tour started with a winding car ride, as the neighborhood is tucked away in Medellín’s rolling mountains. Once we arrived, we made our way down narrow stairs flanked by modest but colorful houses. Women sweeping the stairs paused to let us pass and their children enthusiastically said hello – pouncing on the opportunity to practice their English.
Our guide introduced us to a man named Jorge who was born and raised in Comuna 13. At 26 years old, Jorge’s community drastically changed for the better throughout his childhood. Jorge took us around his Comuna 13 and with the help of our guide’s translations, told us how this neighborhood used to be the most dangerous area of Medellín. And since Medellín was also once known as the most dangerous city in the world, saying Comuna 13 was rough is an understatement.
During the tour, we learned in the mid 2000’s, the government stepped in and began helping Comuna 13, but that was only after a 2002 government raid to rid the area of insurgent groups reportedly left hundreds of civilians injured, dozens missing and an unknown number dead, according to Colombia Reports.
Jorge did not dwell on this incident, instead choosing to explain how families later received new roofs, new houses and community centers as part of the government initiative to improve the area. Six sets of escalators were also installed beginning in 2012 so the area’s 3,000 residents had an easier time moving around the neighborhood. Once you begin walking around the steep Comuna 13, you’ll understand how these elevators really improved the quality of life for residents.
The tour wasn’t a long history lesson. Along with facts about the past and plans for the future, Jorge told us about the beautifully intricate graffiti that adorned many walls and buildings in Comuna 13. Artists will really appreciate a Comuna 13 tour, we we learned the significance of many of the pieces and we even got to meet one of the most prominent artists in the neighborhood. We learned Comuna 13 hosts graffiti festivals and competitions that draw artists from all over South America.
Tips for Visiting Comuna 13
- Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking up and down a lot of stairs.
- Take a guide so you can learn the context and history of Comuna 13 as opposed to just looking at some cool graffiti and calling it a day.
- Bring some cash. Delicious Colombian fruit can be purchased at little stands along the sidewalks and there are also souvenirs for sale.
- Pack an umbrella. The tour is outside and there’s always a chance of rain.
Other Things to Do in Medellin
Touring Comuna 13 should only take a couple hours, so travelers might be wondering what else to do during their time in Medellín. I suggest taking a day trip to Guatapé, where you can explore the colorful colonial town as well as climb Piedra del Peñol, the huge rock that lends for a breathtaking view from the top. For nature lovers, Parque Arví is a huge natural reserve that can be reached by cable car. And downtown Medellín is home to the Antioquia Museum, which houses work from famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero, among other museums and shopping districts.
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