Comuna 13, Medellin. From Notorious to tourist hot spot

Comuna 13. A place that evokes fear amongst many people. Everyone knows Colombia is safe to visit nowadays, but what about one of the most notorious districts in the world for warring drug Cartels? In a city famed for Colombia’s most famous citizen, Pablo Escobar, you wouldn’t necessarily think there would be such a vibrant tourist scene. Medellin is one of the most beautiful cities on earth, but Comuna 13 has it’s own unique story to tell. Once one of the most dangerous places on earth. Is it now the safest place in Colombia for a tourist?

Comuna 13 Medellin

The history of Comuna 13


District 13 has a tumultuous past from it’s strategic position within Pablo Escobar’s empire during the 80’s and early 90’s. After Pablo’s exit Comuna 13 had a power struggle between the Paramilitary, FARQ and ELN for its strategic position for drug and weapon smuggling. Leading it to be named as one of the most dangerous places in the world. In 2002, after 20 years of violence, the government decided to intervene with 10 operations. The most notable called Orión.

Soldiers in District 13 Medellin

 

The operation involved 1,500 officers, two helicopters and one tank and was carried out on the streets amongst the houses of normal people. It is assumed the Paramilitary helped the government to identify gang members. The siege lasted three days with locals being forced to hide inside, some without food or water as there was no warning from the government to prepare. Three days of terror, surrounded by gunfire and bombings. Until one woman, desperate to feed her children, came out with a white flag and ended the shooting. The Paramilitary took over the area, and are in charge of the area to this day. Still ruling by fear.

Colourful houses District 13 Medellin

 

Hope for Comuna 13

 

But there is some hope for Comuna 13. Starting in 2006 a new mayor decided things must change and the government must make up for the past. In 2008 a new cable car was built to connect the people to the rest of the city. Then in 2011 escalators were put in to allow easy movement on the steep mountain slopes. And now a huge pathway is being built to connect the community further. The walls are covered in street art and tourists poor in to see the troubled yet beautiful area. The people in Comuna 13 are warm and welcoming, having been through so much, they seem happy just to live in peace.

 

 

It is now seen as a global model for transformation. When money is invested into poor areas, instead of brut force and arrests, real progress and change for the better can happen. People just need the opportunity. Read the story from a local here.

Help Comuna 13 Medellin Colombia

 

Is it safe to visit Comuna 13, Medellin?

 

In a word, yes. Medellin is now a safe place to be a tourist but Comuna 13 is probably the safest place to be in Colombia. As mentioned earlier, the Paramilitary still have most of the control in the area with the government overseeing. It’s a strange co-existence that I’m unsure could exist anywhere else on the planet. The Paramilitary are feared, laws are by neighbourhood and straying too far between them can have deadly consequences. Much like the Mafia, money is payed by all businesses to the organisation to ensure safety for residents. Are they better than the drug cartels of past? It’s not for us to say. The locals seem to think so, though they rule with an iron fist, the area is now prospering.

 

Of course tourism is a huge reason for this prosperity. The upshot is tourists are seen as very valuable commodities. There are severe penalties for any harm to visitors, for example robbing a tourist can result in a beating. Even ripping someone off or exchanging bad words is dangerous for a local. It could seem like there is a falseness to the peace now enforced on the area. But that couldn’t seem farther from the truth. People are genuinely warm and welcoming. Passionate to share their stories through art and music. 

Escalators for hope Comuna 13 Medellin

 

The Street Art In Comuna 13, Medellin

 

District 13 is now one of the top things to do in Medellin. It attracts over 25,000 tourists a week. Although the history is a big draw, the street art is surely the main attraction to visit in Comuna 13. Stories from the areas past are told through murals painted from a place of deep passion and hope for the future. It’s impossible not to get caught up with the communities struggle through these moving works. Do a street art walking tour with a local like the one from Comuna 13 tours.

 

Street Art Comuna 13 District 13 Medellin Colombia
Street Art Comuna 13 District 13 Medellin Colombia
Street Art Comuna 13 District 13 Medellin Colombia
Street Art Comuna 13 District 13 Medellin Colombia
Street Art Comuna 13 District 13 Medellin Colombia
Street Art Comuna 13 District 13 Medellin Colombia

How to travel better for less

These are the companies I use to travel the world for less. The reason long term travel is cheaper than you think is often down to shopping around for a great deal, here I’ve done the hard work for you!

Skyscanner – For flights at the best prices this is my go to site. I have also started using them for car hire and they can’t be beat!

Booking.com – I always book with this site if looking for cheap accommodation as the filters are so easy to use. Become a genius member after five bookings and get great discounts too!

Air BnB – Sometimes you can find great local places to stay on Air BnB. In some countries, like Cuba, it’s the only way to book!

Transferwise – A debit card you can use all over the world and get great exchange rates with no hidden fees. This bank has saved me £100’s in bank fees!

Monzo – A similar travel card to the above with additional features like joint accounts and bill splitting.

World Nomads – Travel insurance is one of the most important things you can have while travelling. Don’t leave home without it! World Nomads provide the very best cover.

What to pack – Here is my ultimate list of what to pack for every trip, available on Amazon. Plus eco friendly alternatives to your toiletries.

Omio – The place to go for all of your public transport needs in Europe. Save a bundle!

G Adventures – A sustainable, fun, responsible travel company. I’ve travelled with them many times and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their amazing trips of a lifetime.

Have you always dreamed of a life in travel? Subscribe to the newsletter for tips and actual links for different careers in the travel industry. All you have to do is take the first step!

Some links in this post are to affiliate sites. If you purchase something through them, I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. I am very grateful when you use my links to make a purchase!