Comuna 13 was the most dangerous place in Medellin, if not in all of Colombia, 20 years ago (see the history section below). There were daily murders and the inhabitants could not be sure of their lives. Strolling through this neighborhood as a tourist (and even on your own without a tour guide) was not possible at all. And today? Masses of tourists in flip-flops and sunglasses roam Comuna 13 Medellin, snapping photos of the numerous graffiti scattered throughout the neighborhood. What a change of times.
For us, Comuna 13 (pronounced trece) was one of Medellin’s highlights. The colorful houses, the corrugated iron roofs, the narrow streets. And the confidence in the faces of the people that, despite the bad past, a better future lies ahead of them. Comuna 13 is built on a steep hill and to get from the lower end to the upper one, one has to climb many stairs otherwise. With the newly built escalator, the residents were much more agile and could also get to the city center much easier. Also, the economy and coexistence in Comuna 13 were improved tremendously.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
What to do in Comuna 13 Medellin?
The Comuna 13 really impressed us and is a must-do on your Medellin trip. But what is so special about this once most dangerous neighborhood of Medellin?
It is, of course, the transformation that this district has undergone. With this history in mind, it is impossible to walk unimpressed through the streets of this neighborhood. Secondly, it is the many artistic graffiti that can be seen everywhere and in front of which the many tourists are only too happy to be photographed.
Third, it’s the escalator built in 2011, which, if you add up all the sections, is said to be the longest escalator in the world. It’s not quite as impressive, of course, since the nearly 160 meters just aren’t reached in one piece. Nevertheless, a special highlight in this quarter. But the escalator was not built for Instagram-crazy tourists, of course, but for the residents.
It’s just totally interesting to climb the individual sections of the escalator, exploring each “floor” and treating yourself to a homemade lemonade along the way. On the top step of the escalator, the tourist area is particularly large and you have a fantastic view of the whole neighborhood and Medellin.
How safe is Medellin? A History Excursion
When we think of Colombia, many people think of drugs, cocaine, Pablo Escobar and kidnappings. So did our parents when we told them about our travel plans. And of course it’s true, just a few years ago Colombia was dominated by gang wars and murders were common, especially in Medellin.
The History of the City
Especially in Comuna 13, there was statistically almost one murder per day in the 90s. Medellin was reportedly the city with the highest murder rate in the world as recently as 1991, with a total of 7000 murders. Medellin, and especially Comuna 13, was completely in the hands of the Medellin Cartel. Constant deadly confrontations between drug gangs, paramilitaries and security forces, social tensions and high unemployment brought the city to an extremely desolate state.
Even after the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 and the resulting dissolution of the Medellin cartel, crime did not decrease. The unemployed hit men now engaged in bloody battles with the communist urban guerrillas. Even years after the end of the cartel, Medellin was still the city with the highest murder rate in the world.
The Situation Today
Only gradually did the situation in the city calm down, and the murder rate dropped significantly after the turn of the millennium. With a new mayor, a lot was invested in the city and things slowly started to look up. Proverbially also in Comuna 13, because in 2011 the famous escalator was inaugurated in Comuna 13.
Since then, the living conditions of the people living there have improved enormously. It used to take forever to get from Comuna 13 to the city center, and it was also dangerous. Today, Medellin has become a tourist destination that is very interesting not only for backpackers, but also for families with children from the USA and Europe.
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Hotel Recommendation in Medellin
We stayed in a small hostal in the Suramericana neighborhood in a normal residential area and were within 5 minutes of the metro. Then we only had to go 2 stops to get to the center. It was great to live in a residential area so close to the center among locals and not in the tourist district with all the other tourists.
We can therefore only recommend you to look for a nice hostal near the center, so that you are quickly everywhere and are not endlessly on the metro. Our hotel wasn’t super luxurious, but it had super friendly staff and as we said, you were in the city very quickly. If you want to check it out, just click on the following link:
How to get from Medellin to Comuna 13?
Even on your own, it’s totally easy to get from downtown Medellin to Comuna 13.
There, take either a cab (8000 COP) or a local green bus (1200 COP) of line 225i, both of which will be waiting for you across the street. The cab may take you to the beginning of the escalator, but more likely will stop at the intersection in front, where the buses also stop.
From there you have to walk uphill for about 300 meters until you can take the first escalator. The exact starting point of the escalator can also be found here here at Google Maps.
Do I need a Guide or a Tour in Comuna 13?
It is recommended everywhere, but we think it is not necessary to join a tour with a guide. Not even for safety reasons. We prefer to do such tours on our own anyway and don’t like to join a group. We prefer to decide for ourselves when we go where and how long we take photos of something. Of course, then you miss a lot of information that the guide can give you on the way, often from his own experience.
If you are interested in visiting Comuna 13 you can book a tour with a local guide* here.
But that is the compromise you have to make. We can definitely recommend doing the tour to Comuna 13 alone and without a tour.
In some blogs you read that you should rather not go too far from the escalators alone. We can not confirm that either. Maybe it was different a few years ago, but nowadays (August 2019) the neighborhood is so overrun by tourists that I can not imagine that you could be affected by a significant crime here as an attentive tourist.
The whole neighborhood also benefits so much from tourism (which I don’t begrudge the residents) that an increased rate of pickpocketing or other criminal incidents would be counterproductive to economic development. The locals sell drinks everywhere, show breakdancing or singing interludes or earn money by selling Pablo Escobar T-shirts. My guess is that in Comuna 13, you have to be more afraid of inflated prices for souvenirs than pickpocketing. But this is of course only my personal opinion.