Comuna 13 Medellin Colombia

The Certified Backpackers Guide

comuna 13 medellin colombiaComuna 13 Medellin Colombia

The Certified Backpackers Guide

Even before stepping foot into Colombia, I had heard countless stories and warnings of danger attributed to the country’s violent and tumultuous past.

The city of Medellin, in particular, played a significant role in this dreadful history as the fortress of the Medellin Cartel that was founded in 1976 by none other than the infamous Pablo Escobar.

From point on between the period of the late ’70s through the early 2000’s cartels, paramilitary groups and a vast assortment of rival gangs plagued the city of Medellin with senseless violence to the point that it gained the deplorable title as “The Murder Capital of The World”.

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However, during this savage drug infested period, no community, in particular, experienced more violence and bloodshed than the notorious neighborhood in Medellin called Comuna 13.

Sounds like a beautiful place to be reading about in a travel blog to visit right?

Well in fact since the days of holding the illustrious title as “The most dangerous neighborhood in the world”, Comuna 13 Medellin has been completely transformed into one of the most revitalized neighborhoods in all of South America.

Currently touted as one of the best places to visit in Medellin as well as one of The Most Instagrammable Places In Colombia this is one destination you will not want to miss.

Keep reading to discover everything there is to know about Comuna 13 Medellin Colombia.


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Comuna 13 Medellin History

colombia medellin comuna 13

You truly can’t appreciate the beauty of a place like Comuna 13 Medellin until you are fully able to comprehend its horrifyingly violent past and all it has managed to overcome.

Before 2002, Comuna 13 was not just considered “The Most Dangerous Place in Medellin,” but in fact the entire world.

In particular, the area of Comuna 13 known as San Javier, had an astronomical percentage of the violence and became known as a “No Go Area” of the Comuna.

Imagine that for a moment…

Not just living in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world…

but actually, being subjected to live in the “worst area” of that particular neighborhood.

girl running through comuna 13

In fact, at one time the murder rates of San Javier had risen so gargantuanly high, that it forced the displacement of thousands of residents throughout that location.

The locals at that time literally could not walk to the corner store let alone step foot out of their front door without the chance of being struck down by a bullet.

As a matter of fact, you didn’t even have to leave your home to find danger.

Half the time danger would simply just walk right up to your doorstep.

Believe it or not, a significant portion of the fatalities actually occurred from stray bullets piercing people’s houses and killing them where they sat and slept.

It must have been a truly terrifying experience for every single resident living within the Comuna to be living every single day in complete and utter terror.

However, thankfully all of this senseless carnage would come to end in 2002 and mark a new era in the comuna.

A Time For Change In Comuna 13 Medellin

On October 16, 2002, the government carried out Operation Orion, which was a military raid of Comuna 13 that successfully removed a majority of the rebel groups that terrorized the community for years.

Over 1000 armed forces supported with attack helicopters were deployed to Commune 13 to fight the battle.

The brief but violent war lasted for 5 straight days before the bloodbath eventually concluded on October 20.

Although the raid was widely portrayed as a success by the media, considering the location of the conflict amongst a comuna that was home to over 100,000 residents, the victory did not come without some consequences.

Now, this is where things get quite interesting…

Technically on paper, it was only reported that 9 innocent victims lost their lives in the ensuing chaos with three of them being children.

However, in actuality, the number of casualties was much higher.

According to our very informative Comuna 13 tour guide (of whom I highly recommend), the actual number of civilians that were killed in the crossfire remains unclear.

This was primarily because the majority of civilian deaths were misreported as the opposing guerillas within the comuna that were killed during the ensuing battle.

However, this was not done by accident.

The real reason for the grossly inaccurate death toll was in part due to the government attempting to keep a lid on the reported number of casualties in order to make Operation Orion appear to be more of a success than what it actually was.

The statistic of the 9 reported victims was a figure that was comprised of only the individuals that died in the hospitals of Medellin, however, did not include anyone who died within the Comuna during the conflict.

Instead, those individuals who died during the battle were misrepresented as a part of the enemy death toll and left to be forgotten about, just as the Colombian government had intended.

Though many residents were displeased with how the events of Operation Orion unfolded and are still fighting for the rights of their loved ones that were lost during this conflict, the times that followed after this turbulent event were the beginning of the first real signs of change within the Comuna.

With all of this negative publicity and government cover-ups put aside for a moment, the neighborhood of Comuna 13 experienced a significant drop in the murder rate from 357 to 72.

However, there is still some debate over whether Operation Orion or the crime boss Don Berna can be thanked for that.

Either way, this was the changing point within the Comuna.

What is Comuna 13 Medellin Like Today?

comuna 13 graffiti

Though it still struggles to move beyond its tumultuous past, the neighborhood of Comuna 13 has been transformed from one of the most dangerous places in the world into a beacon of optimism and adversity.

Despite the city’s prominent history of violence and drug trafficking by virtue of Pablo Escobar and the cartel, the city of Medellin has managed to bounce back in these later years and in 2012 had even been named “The Worlds Most Innovative City.”

One of the biggest challenges the comuna faced was being located on the steep hillsides of the Medellin mountain range.

This unfortunate location meant exceedingly steep winding roads, that made everyday tasks like transporting goods, construction and even traveling home after an honest day’s work an almost impossible task.

The 12,000+ residents of Comuna 13 were subjected to hike up hundreds of meters just to carry out simple daily routines on roads that were even in some places considered too steep and narrow for cars to travel on.

comuna 13 escalators

However, thanks to one of the city’s most distinguished innovations, The Escaleras Electricas, which is now known as the largest assemblage of outdoor escalators in the world, conditions around the comuna have changed quite dramatically.

The Comuna 13 escalators are split into six different sections totaling 384 meters in length and allow residents to climb to the peak of the steep hills of Comuna 13 Medellin in just 6 minutes.

Unsurprisingly enough this dramatic change over the years has helped Comuna 13 gain heaps of positive attention from the travel community and has now become one of the most visited destinations in Medellin.

Though this neighborhood still does face it’s fair share of obstacles, at least now with innovations such as the Comuna 13 escalators and a high spirited resilient working class, the city now stands a fighting chance.

How To Get To Comuna 13 From El Poblado?

comuna 13 free walking tour

The easiest way of reaching the Comuna 13 neighborhood of Medellin from the popular tourist neighborhood of El Poblado is by train.

Comuna 13 is located along the western hillside of Medellin about 20 minutes by train from the neighborhood of El Poblado.

The first step is to take Line A (The Blue Line) four stops from El Poblado to the San Antonio stop.

From there you will need to get off Line A and switch to Line B (The Orange Line.)

Take Line B all the way to end and get off at San Javier Station.

However, don’t worry because since San Javier’s past reputation as the most dangerous section of Comuna 13, it has now transformed into one of the safest parts of the Comuna.

If you are joining a free walking tour, the location just outside the station terminal will most likely be the meeting place.

However, if you do not have a Comuna 13 walking tour scheduled, then you can either choose to walk from this point to the Comuna 13 escalators or you can choose to take a taxi.

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Walking To The Escalators

If you have somehow managed to eat your body weight in Empanadas and fried chicken (like we did) and feel the need to walk, expect the journey to take around 25 minutes at a leisurely pace.

Search up “Escalators Comuna 13” or “Escaleras Electricas Comuna 13” and it should pop up right on your google offline maps.

However, unless you plan on walking straight to the escalators, plan the walk time to be a bit longer than 25 minutes since there are loads of cool things to see and delicious foods to try along the way.

More Empanadas and Fried Chicken anyone?

However, more important than the food, keep a look out for all the eye-popping Comuna 13 graffiti along the way.

Each piece of artwork has its own significant meaning and backstory so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

This is one of the reasons why a majority of people elect to take the Comuna 13 Free Graffiti Tour in order to see some of the most iconic pieces throughout the Comuna and learn their history.

Taking A Taxi To The Escalators

A trip from the San Javier metro station to the escalators should cost you around 5000 – 7000 COP (which is approximately $2 USD).

Although this is a quick and easy way to reach The Comuna 13 escalators, I highly advise against it unless you are legitimately pressed for time because you are going to miss out on a lot of beautiful sights along the way.

Common Questions About Comuna 13 Medellin

self-guided Comuna 13 tourIs It Safe To Do A Self-Guided Comuna 13 Tour?

While the neighborhood of Comuna 13 has come a long way since back in the day, do remember it is still considered “The Ghetto”.

Therefore, you will not want to visit during dark and you will want to stick to populated areas.

Now is definitely not the time to go get yourself “wanderlost” exploring off the beaten path as some travelers like to do. 

However, as long as you visit during the normal tourist hours, I do believe a self-guided Comuna 13 tour would be quite safe.

Despite all that being said I still strongly advise against it.

Safety concerns aside, there are many benefits of joining one of the numerous Comuna 13 free walking tours that a self-guided tour just simply can’t provide.

Why Should I Join A Free Walking Tour?

The obvious benefit of joining a free walking tour aside from safety is all the knowledge and insight you will gain from having a professional tour guide show you around.

Instead of aimlessly wandering through the vast labyrinth of Comuna 13, a tour guide will not just explain the significance and the history of iconic monuments throughout the neighborhood, but they will introduce you to places that you would have otherwise completely missed exploring on your own.

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Not to mention that a majority of the tour guides are actually from and still live in the neighborhood of Comuna 13 Medellin.

This gives you an inside track to the real-life stories and events that have plagued this city for years allowing you a deeper understanding and appreciation for all the struggles this neighborhood has managed to overcome.

graffiti in comuna trece

Without this insight and knowledge, a journey throughout the streets of Comuna 13 Medellin becomes nothing more than a superficial visit taking photos of countless works of pretty street art.

However, in a destination with so much significance and history as Comuna 13, a journey through this neighborhood should be so much more than that.

Are The Comuna 13 Free Walking Tours Actually Free?

No, technically the walking tours are not free because once the tour concludes you are expected to tip your tour guide.

There is no specified amount that you are required to tip so tour members are simply asked to only pay what they can afford.

However, don’t be a cheapskate.  Remember that these people are working hard for their money just as you would, so please tip them accordingly.

50,000 COP goes a long way for the locals of Medellin and they are very appreciative of this.


What Is The Best Comuna 13 Tour? 

Although this is a bit of a difficult question to answer, I did enjoy my particular tour very much and felt that thanks to my guide from the Comuna 13 Graffiti Free Zippy Walking Tour I now have a deeper understanding of the cities history.

If you would like to reserve this same free Comuna 13 walking tour, I have provided the link down below.

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