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Comuna 13 in Medellin: From Drugs to Art & Tourism

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Welcome to Comuna 13 Medellin! This district has not only fascinating history but a lot to offer for your travels. Colombia has been linked for decades to drug dealing, due to drug lord Pablo Escobar. 

Comuna 13 Medellin (known as "San Javier") was one spot where dealers could be found. Nowadays, this has changed for the better, and now it is safer, prettier, and a source of income for the families that live here through tourism.

Let's dive into the story of a place that was able to revert its terrible reputation. This is Comuna 13 Medellin.

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What is Comuna 13 Famous For? The History of Comuna 13, Medellin

In the '80s, Pablo Escobar took control of the whole drug dealing market in Colombia. Medellin was a city where a lot of this was happening because Comuna 13 was a district where he found a lot of people sunk in poverty. and he offered them big amounts of money to work for him.

It was a tough time for the country, as that led to a war that took over a lot of lives.

Comuna 13 Medellin-4

Comuna 13, Medellin used to have a dark history.

At the beginning of the '90s still, Comuna 13 Medellin was the focus of people being killed, kidnapped, intimidated, drive-by-shot, creating the most hostile environment for both locals & tourists. After Escobar's death in 1993, the area became vacant for a drug lord, which led to a civil war of power.

This remained like this for two decaded, until the government decided to bring this to an end.

What is Comuna 13 Famous For? What Comuna 13 Medellin is Now

In 2013, Medellin was declared "City of the year" by The Wall Street Journal & Citigroup. This was due to the renovation of Comuna 13 particularly.

Comuna 13, Medellin

Comuna 13 has changed drastically from its dark past.

The idea behind it was brilliant; instead of keeping a poor and dangerous district in the shadows, they brought it to the public attention. The whole area was covered with graffiti, locals used their houses as souvenir shops, and they're even were escalators built for people to move up without any efforts.

Comuna 13 Medellin-16

Comuna 13 transformed from poverty to tourism.

This huge transformation did more than curing a civil war. It brought money to local's pockets, it made the whole district much safer, and it attracted a lot of tourism to it. Nowadays, it is one of the most popular spots to visit in Medellin.

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Another great thing that helped Comuna 13 Medellin was the cable car system created to connect areas uphill easily. Just like in La Paz, Bolivia, the cable car system is cheap, efficient, and very well organized. Having a station in Comuna 13 San Javier was a game-changer because now people can easily reach the area and enjoy the renovated district.

Comuna 13 in Medellin
Comuna 13, Medellin, best things to do in Colombia
Comuna 13 Medellin-5

Comuna 13 is high in the hills of Medellin, but now is much better connected to the city center.

Where is Comuna 13 in Medellin?

Comuna 13 is perched above the city, along the western side of Medellin. It is located 10 km northwest of Poblado, and is inside the neighborhood of San Javier.

where is Comuna 13 Medellin

Comuna 13 is on the western outskirts of Medellin.

How to Get to Comuna 13 Medellin

There are a number of ways to visit Comuna 13 in Medellin! Here are the different options:

Tours to Comuna 13 Medellin

Taking a tour to Comuna 13 is definitely one of the most popular options for visiting. You can either organize one online, or go on your own and find a tour guide right outside the metro station of San Javier.

Having a guide is a great way to learn more about the history and culture of Comuna 13, and helps support locals, as well as adding an additional level of safety and security.

Here are a few different tours that we found for you to Comuna 13 Medellin:

Can You Go to Comuna 13 Without a Tour?

You can certainly visit Comuna 13 without a tour! Actually, both times that I went I decided to go on my own. While having a guide is a great way to learn about the finer details and stories, it's of course more affordable to go on your own.

How Do I Get to Comuna 13 on My Own?

In order to go on your own, you'll have to take the metro to San Javier station.

After you reach Comuna 13 San Javier station in the cable car, you are minutes away from the main entrance to the district. The moment you leave the station, you will notice signs all over the place that show how to get there by walking (it's a 15 minutes walk). 

Another option if you don't want to walk is to take the bus #225. It is right outside the station, and drops you right at "las escaleras".

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Comuna 13 Medellin: What to Expect

After you get here, have your camera ready to capture every single corner of the area. Here are some highlights:

Don't have time to read the whole article and want to save it for later? Just pin it!

Comuna 13 Medellin Pin
Comuna 13 Medellin Pin
Comuna 13 Medellin Pin

Climb the Rainbow Stairs

Right before arriving to Comuna 13 Medellin you will see this set of stairs on your left hand side. It's incredible to see how high they can get! The colors feel endless, and it is truly.a warm welcome to this vibrant neighborhood. Would you go all the way to the top?

Comuna 13 Medellin rainbow stairs

Also don't miss out on enjoying the other staircases that run right next the escalators. They are colorfully painted, and there are some shops waiting to be discovered along the sides.

Pop Into The Neon Museum

Before heading up, you will notice on your left a small entrance to a museum that has one particular feature: the whole museum is a 3D art exhibit.

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Local artists have created figures that you can only truly appreciate with 3D glasses (given at entrance). There's no fixed price to get in, they just ask you to contribute to their artwork with a donation. We can't recommend you hard enough to get in here. This experience it's an amazing thing itself.

Comuna 13, Medellin, best things to do in Colombia
Comuna 13 Medellin- neon museum
Comuna 13 Medellin Neon Museum

Graffiti, Graffiti, Graffiti

The main thing that covers the walls of all Comuna 13 Medellin is graffiti. From faces to animals, from flags to shapes, the whole area is covered with pieces of art created by locals.

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One particular type you will see more than once is the figure of the elephant. This is due to its big memory, and it's an analogy of the history of Medellin and Colombia. Even though they have been through a lot, and they have done some bad things, they remember. They remember what was done in order to never repeat it again in the future.

Comuna 13, things to do in Medellin Colombia

The street art in Comuna 13 is so vibrant and colorful.

It's a beautiful representation of where they come from, where they are, and where they want to go.

Grafitti in Comuna 13, Medellin
Comuna 13 Medellin-19
Comuna 13 Medellin- elephan graffiti
Comuna 13 Medellin- graffiti

Comuna 13 in a place where artists come to express themselves.

Watch the Freestyle Dance

A lot of locals are very talented, and they want to share it with the world. You will find all kinds of dancers. Some of them dance by themselves, and some others dance as a group. Some will take turns to perform. But wherever you find them, the only thing you won't find is a dull performance.

Comuna 13 Medellin- dance style

These young dancers brought so much life and rhythm to the atmosphere.

Listen to the Freestyle Rappers

Not only are there some great dancers, but there are a few freestyle artists that will perform throughout the day. Not only are they super talented and fun to watch, but they actually engage with all of the audience, rapping about them, as well as making them get up to dance.

Take in the Stunning Views

Being perched up in the hills of Medellin, it is no surprise that the views here are just stunning. Take a look around and you will even find small side streets that lead to unobstructed views from all different angles.

Comuna 13 Medellin views
views at Comuna 13, Medellin
views of Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia

Comuna 13 has some of the best views of the city of Medellin.

Visit the Coffee Shops

Something Colombia is world known for is its coffee. There's just something about their soil and water that makes those coffee beans to be strong and incredibly tasty. We all know it, and they know it as well.

Colombian Coffee

Don't miss out on trying the coffee here!

That's why there's a coffee shop in every single corner of the country, and Comuna 13 Medellin wasn't going to be the exception. We encourage you to choose between an iced coffee, a cappuccino, and an espresso. They're all so good that you may as well get one of each (and a bag of beans to take home!).

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Ride The Sling Shot

The second time I went to Comuna 13 I was able to appreciate just how much this wonderful place has grown. On top of artists performing and being able to enjoy the vibrance of the area, there are also a few activities. One of these is a sling shot, which flings you up in the air. It's a true adrenaline rush, and gives you beautiful views of all of Comuna 13, Medellin.

sling shot Comuna 13, Medellin

The sling shot is a new fun activity to enjoy at Comuna 13, Medellin.

Get a Drone Shot

Want to capture the beauty of Comuna 13, Medellin from above? Well now there are talented drone pilots that will take photos and videos of you to take home with you!

Drone shots at Comuna 13, Medellin

This company now takes drone videos and photos for you to take home!

Shop for Souvenirs

Lastly, of course, you couldn't visit such a cool place without taking something home. Some of the best things you can take with you are:

  • Earrings: You can find anything from fruit seeds, to crafted copper.
  • Re-shaped cans: They used old soda cans to create unique items like a french coffee press or a pot. They are super original, and definitely a great souvenir.
  • Mini coffee mugs (with a little coffee bean (chocolate covered) inside). They come with the name of the city or the country, and they're very representative.
Comuna 13 jewelry
Comuna 13 Medellin souvenirs

These earrings were made from painted watermelon seeds!

How to Get Around Comuna 13 Medellin

The area of Comuna 13 is a pedestrian-only area that goes up a steep hill. The different levels are connected by escalators making it handicap friendly. If you'd rather walk, there are also staircases on either side of the escalators, which are also full of little shops, and some other cool street art!

Comuna 13, things to do in Medellin Colombia

Make sure to check out the colorful stairs next to the escalators!

Food & Drink at Comuna 13

All along Comuna 13 you will find plenty of places to eat and drink. From boutique coffee shops and cute ice cream shops to stand alone bars and rooftop ones, there are a ton of different spots to stop by. We personally loved stopping for a cup of coffee, and also indulging in the delicious homemade ice pops that they had.

ice cream in Comuna 13 Meddelin

Make sure to try the amazing homemade ice cream pops!

Is It Safe to Walk Around Comuna 13?

Comuna 13 Medellin has become a huge tourist attraction, and is perfectly safe to walk around! 

If you decide to go on your own, there are going to be A LOT of locals waiting for you at the cable car station, ready to tell you how dangerous it is to get to Comuna 13 Medellin by walking. Instead, they will offer a "safe path" to get there, as well as a walking tour in the area at a reasonable price. If you'd like a tour, you can certainly go with them. However, don't feel pressured or worries, as there is no issue going on your own.

We do suggest limiting your visit to day light hours, as it can become a bit more dangerous at night when tourism dies down.

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Things to Consider While Visiting Comuna 13 Medellin

Here are a few things to keep in mind while you are visiting Comuna 13 in Medellin.

Comuna 13 Medellin views

Bring Cash

Comuna 13 offers all kinds of art, accessories, and souvenirs. Just keep in mind that a lot of these people are crafting these by hand in their houses, you many shops will be a table along the streets.

We found things as amazing as earrings made with watermelon seeds. Just keep some cash on you to be able to get them, and support small shops.

Make sure to bring cash so you can support the small businesses and artists.

Only Visit During the Daytime

Even though we mentioned Comuna 13 Medellin is a lot safer these days, that doesn't mean it's the safest place on Earth. Enjoy everything it has to offer, but do it before the sunset. After that, be sure to be on your way back. Chances are you will probably still be fine, but we wouldn't recommend you to take a chance on it.

Comuna 13 Medellin-8

Comuna 13 is much safer now, but you should still be cautious.

Bring Comfortable Shoes

Despite there being escalators everywhere, it's good to explore the different sets of stairs. You'll end up doing more walking than you think, so make sure to dress comfortably.

Comuna 13, things to do in Medellin Colombia

Make sure to dress comfortably, since you'll be doing a bit of walking.

Things to Bring When Visiting Comuna 13 Medellin

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Comuna 13 Medellin has proven to do one heck of a cultural change around, and that's why it's as popular as it is. If you want to see which other spots you can visit, or how you can explore more of the city, making sure to check out our full Medellin travel guide. If you want to discover other amazing cities throughout the country, take a look at the other Colombia travel guides to see what else this gorgeous country has to offer.

As well, if you want to do a longer trip through South America, then take a look at the other South American Guides to discover everything it has for you to see.

Ready to book that next trip? Let us do the work! Not only will we help you discover the best spots, but we'll also help you save in the process of doing so! Want to learn just how? Take a look at our different travel planning services.

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