Communa 13. Our best pick in Medellin


Our favourite pick for things to do in Medellin. Located very close to Ondas Hostel you can get their either on foot or a quick hop on the metro. The Communa 13 is probably one of the best representations of how much the city has changed in recent years. Lets have a look at how things were in the past.

Recent History:

Comuna 13 was once most dangerous neighborhood in Medellin which at the time was rated as the most dangerous city in the world. Due to the community’s location near the highway made it a prime spot for criminals to operate their illegal activities. Whoever controls the Communa 13, controls the San Juan highway  which leads west and out of the city towards the north and the Caribbean coast. The biggest culprits for all of the violence in the neighbourhood were the guerrillas, paramilitary groups, drug cartels and local gangs. There was always a constant struggle for criminal control which unfortunately created a very dangerous environment for the everyday resident inside the Communa.



October 16 of 2002 there was an operation launched by the Colombian military called “Operation Orion”. It was highly controversial at the time and its main focus was to remove the left-wing rebels from the Communa. The operation involved over 1,000 policemen, soldiers, including an aircrew of helicopters attacking the area . During  the siege, it was impossible for the inhabitants to seek medical attention for the wounded, so the community took to the streets in solidarity flying white rags as a sign for peace. The fighting eventually stopped but the peace didn’t last long. A new group was quick to take advantage. The paramilitaries filled the hole left behind in the power struggle and seized control. Their boss “Don Berna”, was one of Pablo Escobar’s loyals.  Violence continued and during the year 2010 the Communa 13 held more than 10 percent of the cities homicides.


There was a big push from local artists to speak out against the violence and crimes. Several famous artists including Juanes, J Balvin, Jowell & Randy held a free concert with the goal to promote peace in the area. However the gangs fought back and more than 10 hip hop artists were murdered and many more were made to flee their homes.

Local residents became fed-up and began voicing their discontent and anger of all the violence that had been occurring in the Communa. The chose to do this through art and community event projects. Street art exploded in the area and you can see evidence of their struggle with multiple scenes of white rags raised for peace and solidarity.

Art started being used as a way to save the city and as a vehicle for creative and political expression. Artists started using the walls as canvases to tell their history, beautifying the area and bringing optimism and peace of the residents, children, and visitors.


Present day:

In present times there has been a big shift in the feeling and atmosphere in the area. Residents are now no longer afraid to leave their homes and their quality of life has changed for the better. As you walk through the Communa, you will find kids  playing football in the streets, street vendors  selling fruit and empanadas, residents walking about the Communa going about their daily business. The overall feeling of the Communa 13 is one of positivity, creativity and hope.

Things to see and do:

There are several tour options for the Communa 13. The majority of them are free with local residents running the tours and then asking for tips at the end. The benefit of this is that you get to experience the history of the neighbourhood through the eyes of a local. Each of the guides has their own unique perspective and experience of life in the Communa, from the past to the present. Our two top picks are Stairway Storytellers and Zippy tour.

One of the biggest highlights of visiting this bustling neighbourhood is all of the local street art and music scene. Hip Hop is big in the Communa 13 and there are a lot of up and coming artists in the Communa at the moment. Street art and culture play a big part of what the Communa is today. All of the tours that you can do through the Communa will take you to these amazeing murals and give you a bit of the history behind a lot of the art.

The public outdoor escalators. Communal 13 is one of only 3 countries in the world which have public outdoor escalators (and the only country to have them in a poor neighbourhood). These have created a positive difference throughout the area as it has allowed elderly and less mobile people access the city centre for work opportunities. When you visit the Communa you will notice that it is laid out across a hilltop (and quite a steep one at that) and so accessibility and mobility had been a real concern and hindrance  for many of the residents. There are 6 in total, they are free to use and are patrolled by some of the friendliest security guards Ive ever met.

The other piece of public transport that has had a major impact on the area is the The metrocable. It is easily  accessed from the San Javier metro station, at no additional cost. Yo can ride the metro cable all the way to the top and you will have an amazing arial view of the area. The birds eye view gives you a unique experience of the community below. You will see a lot of poor areas and it gives you a nice visual representation of some of the less fortunate areas of the city.

You can volunteer in the Communa 13 with several community projects being underway at any given time. have several workshops throughout the week where you can volunteer your time and teach English to the locals. Due to the sudden influx of tourists into the area the locals are learning the importance of speaking English so there is a big community that show up to the classes as they are trying to take full advantage of the opportunity. Its a great way to chat and meet locals from the area. Prime also have several volunteer projects that you can also be involved in or you can always support their charity by signing up to Spanish or English classes with them and 10% of your course fees goes directly back into the Communa 13.

Method to the Madness: The Code & Culture of Colombia’s Barra Bravas

This is a guest post by Simon Edwards.

When it is game day, everything changes in the city.

Team shirts appear in every neighbourhood, from the pristine $50 replicas in the fancy malls, to the locally made, one-off loose representations of the current shirt on the downtown streets.

The radio plays salsa infused homages to the local team; beers are popped open; Aguardiente (Colombian firewater) is enthusiastically forced into the hand of anyone in the vicinity who doesn’t passionately plead and resist.

The city is buzzing with excitement and anticipation.

On such an important and esteemed occasion, a community will of course look to its leaders to set an example and direct proceedings.

This is football, so the usual rules do not apply.

Your value is not measured by your bank balance, the quality of your shirt, or the comfort of your seat; you are judged on your passion, your commitment, your dedication.

If you are not going to sing until you can no longer speak, bounce until you can no longer walk, and live the joy and suffering until you are deluded, broken and cynical – then you are nothing more than a spectator.

Monday to Friday’s elites are now at the bottom; covered, comfortable, contemptible. The guy they crossed the street to avoid yesterday is now king. They marvel at his work; as fans, their reputation will be judged on the work lead by these mulleted maniacs.

In Colombia, teams are not good or bad, they are ‘grande’ (big) and ‘su papa’ (the ‘father’ of smaller teams). This means a team is judged not only on current league position, as is often the case in Europe, but principally on trophies, history, and importantly by support and stadium displays.

In the Premier League, stadiums are principally where fans go to watch football; in Colombia, stadiums are where fans represent their city, their club. Their culture.

In the most hardcore sections of the stadium, watching the game is often an unnecessary luxury. The constant movement of flags and banners, everyone around you bouncing in a sea of marijuana smoke, means you are a participant, not a spectator.

You are doing your job, sacrificing yourself for something bigger. The barras are the protagonists in this great drama, not the interested observers.

Method to the Madness

Despite often coming from the country’s poorer neighbourhoods, Colombia’s barra bravas attend games home and away all over Latin America, and thousands even made the trip to Japan for the World Club Cup final.

They plan, prepare and coordinate mass stadium displays. This can mean 45,000 fans working together to follow the instructions of the barras to lift and sometimes turn pieces of plastic, arranged and distributed by the groups.

In addition, they have flares and fireworks, as well as huge, intricately designed banners that are unravelled and retracted at key points in the game. Deportivo Independiente Medellin once had a banner made of a single piece of material that covered all four sides of a 45,000 capacity crowd.

Throughout the game, a full band with a variety of instruments will provide the backing for constant singing from the supporters. The songs do not start and stop depending on the action; their hypnotic rhythm never ends.

There is a song for every occasion: whether it is time for the referee to be reminded that his mother is a sexual miscreant, that the players require more ‘eggs’ (balls), or if the fans wish to declare their undying, passionate love for the club.

Many of the songs feature the rhythm of Argentine ballad, hence the romantic notions of dying for the club and loving self-sacrifice, with some having more traditional Colombian influences (Deportivo Cali’s modified rendition of Grupo Niche’s Cali Pachangueroa is a personal favourite).

While often maligned, Colombia’s barra bravas are truly incredible. A true embodiment of what can be achieved through bottom-up community partnerships.

Law now states that Colombian clubs cannot provide direct funding to the barras, so these incredible displays are now predominantly funded by barra-led initiatives; to be the biggest, you need to be a true business.

Los Del Sur (LDS) is the barra of the fan groups based in the south of the stadium for Atletico Nacional games. The group funds displays and trips with dozens of money-making initiatives, including selling branded LDS merchandise, operating multiple LDS-branded shops, and selling albums of studio versions of the songs heard in the stadium.

In addition, the barras are involved in selling drinks and food, selling tickets outside the stadium, and also, at times, less legitimate business ventures – drugs, prostitution, extortion, et al.

Stadium Management

The most important barras have a defined hierarchy, with an overarching group and leadership above smaller blocks with their own leaders.

Los Del Sur is the overarching Atletico Nacional barra, and within that group there are subgroups such as Prada Verde and Mafia 89.

The overarching group will have direct links to club officials, police, and logistics groups who manage operations within the stadium.

Within the ‘popular’ sections of the stadium – areas where tickets are cheapest and the hardcore fan groups are based – there are set positions for each group. The band will be the front row of the second tier, while there are sections reserved for each block of the barra.

The more central sections are reserved for the more important and influential fan groups – keeping this spot depends upon travelling to away games, singing, and contributing to the running of the barra as a whole. It is vital that each part of the barra pulls its weight; those who don’t can lose prominence or their spot.

The barras and the logistics teams manage everything within their own section of the stadium. Logistics teams must wear different coloured shirts and are responsible for managing the lines outside the stadium, helping police as fans enter, checking for any problems in the stand, and keeping fans off the pitch.

Logistics team members are always fans themselves, who provide a relatable link for fans between themselves and the authorities.

Police check fans as they enter the stadium and have a presence around the ground before, during and after the game.

They are strongly discouraged from entering the stands, particularly the populares, as this can be inflammatory and heighten tensions; emotional, intoxicated fans can respond angrily to uniformed officers inflicting what can be perceived as ‘unjust justice’ within the areas the fans can police themselves.

Alcohol, knives and drugs are banned from Colombian stadiums, but they are always present in the ‘popular’ sections of the stadium; I recently saw two drunk fourteen-year-olds doing coke off an eight-inch knife during an Atletico Nacional game.

This week, fans of America de Cali and Deportivo Cali ended up brawling on the pitch and around their stadiums for hours after the final whistle in the Cali derby.

The incident was reportedly sparked by America fans breaking into the away section to fight with Deportivo fans. Women and non-barra Deportivo Cali members ran onto the pitch to escape the violence, and the whole system of stadium management collapsed.

This incident happened 24 hours after Colombian football authority DIMAYOR President Jorge Perdomo announced a government-led initiative to implement Taylor Report-influenced stadium reforms to improve security.

Improving Stadium Safety

Perdomo’s proposal for implementing Taylor Report-style reforms will be difficult in Colombia.

It is vitally important that the barras play a key role in this process, as they are best placed to implement the recommendations and work with the fans directly; attempting to impose new regulations on fans will create conflict, and will both negatively impact on the stadium experience and slow the intended progress.

The barras are the most effective instrument for enacting change, but also the biggest possible impediment to the process.

The number of seated sections in Colombian stadiums is increasing rapidly, which will help with stadium management. That said, within the populares, traditional seating will not be accepted – simply put, fans will not sit on them.

This means tailored solutions will have to be introduced, as is the case within the Atanasio, where the seats are only sturdy plastic squares built into the terracing – perfect for jumping on.

Within the more modern stadiums, turnstiles work fairly well, and the number of tickets allocated for each section is generally carefully managed. That said, at the smaller stadiums, there is greater possibility for counterfeit tickets, and while the stadium is split into sections, these are often huge, and overcrowded pockets is a problem.

Colombia is a long way off implementing designated seating in their stadiums. This was a key aspect of the Taylor Report, but it would be impossible in Colombia at this point in time.


The role and deployment of the police is also something that would require review. I have attended games where there have been literally more police than fans, with authorities rolling up in vehicles resembling a tank, and others where the police were massively under-resourced and actively avoiding conflict.

The former is a huge waste of money, and can turn a minor profit to a significant loss for smaller clubs, as the clubs themselves are responsible for contributing to policing costs.

With the latter, it means the police are the most vulnerable group within the stadium, and are unable to effectively do their job.

I attended a Medellin derby in the north stand with the hardcore Medellin fans. Police numbers were too low, and for this game, security checks were heightened, which meant fans would be entering the stadium late for the game.

As a response, the fans decided to push the police aside, and a wave of thousands of fans rushed into the stadium without being checked or presenting their tickets.

Changes are clearly needed, but changes must reflect and build upon existing fan culture.

The incredibly dedicated fans – and the barras who have refined their craft over generations – make for an amazing stadium experience. Steps must be made to ensure this experience is always a safe one, but authorities must tread carefully to preserve what is truly special, and ensure the collaboration of South America’s football leaders.

List of the best FREE or (basically FREE) things to do in Medellin

Metro cable San Javier

The metro cable was a government project to help the people living in poorer communities on the outskirts of the city commute to and from Medellin to help them work. The cable car runs from the metro station San Javier to a station on the valley La Aurora. The best thing about this ride is that you have a bird’s eye view of one of Medellin’s most interesting neighbourhoods, The Communa 13. If you get out up the top of the cable cars at the last station and walk over to the right then you will have an amazing view of the city looking down over where you have just come from. The view is spectacular both during the day as well at night. Don’t miss this opportunity to see a not so polished and more authentic part of our beloved Medallo!

Cost: 1 metro ticket 2300 pesos. Approx 0.85 USD. Or if you are on the metro for another reason then you can utilise that ticket and not pay any extra

How to get there from Ondas

Walk the 2 blocks down to La Floresta train station. Take the metro to San Javier metro station (3 stops). It’s also the last stop on the train line so everyone has to get off. Then without leaving the station you join the queue for the cable cars.

Pueblito Paisa

Pueblito Paisa which translates into “Little Paisa Town” is a replica of what a traditional Paisa village looks like. Showcasing the typical housing and small-town structure that can be seen whenever you travel to the smaller towns dotted throughout Antioquia. The architecture and color schemes were the standard during the turn of the century. Whenever I walk around this place I feel like I’m out in the countryside and almost wish that it was surrounded by farms and you do feel like you have stepped back in time. Pueblo Paisa is set up with a traditional stone fountain in the middle of the town square and is surrounded by the church and rectory, the mayor’s office, a barber shop, and a one-room schoolhouse. There are also several restaurants where you can eat typical Paisa food including bandeja paisa, cazuela, sancocho and obleas. If you walk up to the lookout as well you will have a nice 360 degree view of the city from its unique perspective of being propped on a lone hill situated right in the middle of the city. Or you can take advantage of the small museum that they have which includes a display may crafted onto the table in the centre of the room.

Cost: Free

How to get there from Ondas: Pueblito Paisa is located in a tricky position in terms of public transport. The easiest way to get there is by taxi (approx 10mil pesos or $3.50 USD). You could walk if you were feeling full of energy (approx 45minute walk) or get the metro to Exposiciones and then walk from there (approx 15minute walk from the station). The reason why we recommend the taxi is because you have to climb up the hill to reach the pueblo. If you can split the cost between some other people then it’s by far your best option.

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Jardin Botanico

The botanical gardens in Medellin are a great escape from the urban development that every city has. A 5-acre sized park that can offer you the perfect escape from city life and when you want to get back to nature. Filled with various species of plants, flowers, insects and animals and architecture. Often the host for events throughout the city including cultural festivals, music concerts, and the book festival held every year in the gardens you can see why the organisers choose the same spot every year. Surrounded by various neighbourhoods, a university, Parque Explora the gardens are always filled with a large variety of people including young couples, families, university students and people just wanting to relax and enjoy some nature. There are several different paths you can choose to follow or just make your own way around the gardens. There are plenty of educational sign posts helping you identify all of the different species. Make the most of this natural escape from the city for a few short hours, feed the iguanas which roam around freely, or setup a picnic next to the lagoon were the turtles and fish swim around. There are plenty of vendors selling all sorts of snacks, treats, coffee and drinks to make sure your nice and comfortable.

Cost: FREE

How to get there from Ondas: Walk the 2 blocks to La Floresta metro station. Take the train to the end of the line and get off at San Antonio station. As you leave the train turn left (this will take you to the trains heading north) and go down the stairs to the next platform (Don’t leave the station you are just changing train lines) from there you take the metro to Universidad station. From there you will see the park right next to the station. Simply walk down the steps and make your way towards the entrance.

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Comuna 13

Check out our separate post dedicated to the Communa 13. Definitely, my favorite place to recommend to tourists in Medellin.

Cost: Free

How to get there from Ondas: Take the train to San Javier metro station. There you can take the bus that says Communa 13. Or you can take a taxi (approx 7 mil pesos $2.25USD)

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Estadio Atanasio Girardot

I love this place. I feel like you can go through there at any time throughout the day and see a whole bunch of activities happening at any one time. This complex is huge, and it needs to be. Hosting up to 9 Pools, 1 full sized soccer stadium as well as smaller training fields, baseball diamond, athletics track, basketball courts, yoga studio, weightlifting training, free outdoor gym, beach volleyball courts, fencing, gymnastics arena, skate park and many more. It’s your sporting entertainment centre regardless of your chosen sport. This includes being a spectator in the amazing soccer stadium when watching the very animated and exciting local teams Atletico Nacional or Independiente Medellin. Check out this article to read all about soccer in Colombia. There are also regular outdoor free dance classes. More aimed at fitness than traditional dancing each class always pulls a big crowd and is a fun way to work up a sweat when you need a break from your regular training. If you register with Inder then you can often utilise the facilities for free, you just need to make your reservation in advance online. But other parts like the outdoor gym and the dance classes can be used for free without reservations.

Cost: FREE

How to get there from Ondas: You can walk to the stadium in 10minutes by walking towards the metro station, passing underneath the train line and then turning right and following that all the way down to the stadium. You can’t miss it. Or you can take the metro to Estadio station from where you will see the sporting complex to one side.

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Free Salsa Classes in one of the city’s best Salsa Clubs “Son Havana”

Being an Australian guy I never considered myself a dancer and I would even go as far to say that I hated organised dancing (in terms of following a structure aka with steps), but it didn’t take me long to change my mind. One of my most favourite things to do in the city now is go out dancing, much to the surprise of my friends and family back home. Part of Colombian culture is to dance and only after one weekend in Medellin you will learn this fact. One of the best styles of dancing is Salsa and even though most clubs will play crossover music which will include bachata, reggaeton, merengue, electronica, salsa and latin pop there are a few dedicated clubs in the city to the love of Salsa.

One of those is Son Havana which apart from offering free salsa classes every Wednesday and Thursday nights from 7.30PM also has live music on either the Friday or Saturday as well. It’s only a small venue but it is always packed and prepare to witness some of the best dancing in the city. Always a very friendly and open atmosphere the place can really turn electric once the music starts playing. Guys and girls will be asking you to dance left right and centre and don’t expect to dance with the same person for more than a couple of songs. Only a 10 minute walk from Ondas it’s a must-see for anybody with a keen sense of adventure.

Cost: Salsa classes are free. Friday and Saturday nights has a 10mil cover charge to pay for the live band.

How to get there from Ondas: Its just a short stroke from Ondas however the quickest way to go is very zig baggy so you may get lost. Confirm on the map first where you are going or the alternative is to walk up to San Juan and then head down towards La 70 until you hit the 73 and then you go left one block. Alternative option is to take a taxi (5mil or approx 1.75USD).

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Plaza Botero

An outdoor museum with 23 famous statues crafted by the famous Colombian artist and sculptor Fernando Botero. In the dead center of the city, tourists can come to enjoy the Colombian artwork and walk around visiting museums, cathedrals, and other attractions right around the plaza. Plaza Botero is extremely accessible, located right outside of metro station Parque Berrio. A lot of people think that Botero’s style is to portray people in an overweight fashion but the truth is he displays people and objects in a disproportional fashion. There is a slight difference in what the artist is trying to portray. Pay attention to the male and female sculptures where you can see where the paint has worn away due to the large magnitude of people who have rubbed their genitalia for good luck.

Cost: FREE

How to get there from Ondas: Walk the two blocks to the metro station. Take the metro to San Antonio station, from there exit left and walk down to the lower platform and take the train 1 stop to Parque Berrio. From there you get off the station and walk towards the castle. There you will see the statues as well as numero street vendors selling all sorts of fruits, hats and wristbands.

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Probably one of my favourite things to do in the city due to the fact that it’s so raw and untamed. Centro whose nickname is “El Hueco” or “The Hole” in English is basically a gathering of sellers and buyers trying to do business. If you want to find the cheapest place in the city for various things including shoes, tools, backpacks, phones, kitchenware, wood, some forms of electronics, linen, bedding, fabric etc then centro is the place for you. I always like going down there because apart from the hustle and bustle from people moving about, you will see a whole assortment of regular people going about their daily lives. This is an un-censored part of the city so expect to come across homeless people, beggers, prostitution, drunks, drug addicts, thieves, buskers, groups of people playing dominos, school kids, families all going about their own business. During the day the area is relatively safe as long as you don’t go looking for trouble but at night you have to be more on your guard.

Cost: FREE

How to get there from Ondas: Walk the two blocks to the metro station. Take the metro to San Antonio station, from there exit the station and you are in the heart of centro.

Museo Casa De La Memoria

This museum came about from the “Victims of Armed Conflict Care Program” and the mayor of Medellin deciding to open a museum that offers a place for the victims of the armed conflict and their families to dignify, collect their memories, and disseminate their views on the violent town and country.

For all of those who are interested in learning about Colombia’s violent past though the use of videos, written statements, real life talks from past survivors, photographs and various exhibitions displaying a whole array of interesting and intriguing insights then this is the place for you. Instead of choosing to ignore the past, my hat comes off the mayor of Medellin for his vision in creating this museum. And the best part is that it’s free to use.

One of the lasting affects that this museum has had on me is the way that everything feels very very real, through the testimonies and the imagery you will literally leave with goosebumps. Done in a very respectful and educational manner this is a truly eye-opening experience. This isn’t a museum for the light-hearted as you will come face to face with broken families and immense pain.

Cost: FREE

How to get there from Ondas: Walk the two blocks to the metro station. Take the metro to San Antonio, from there you leave the metro station and mount the Tram line (tramvia). Take it to the station bicentenario and from there its a short walk to La Casa De La Memoria.

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Plaza La America

Plaza La America is a farmer’s market five minutes walking from Ondas. The Market is packed with the freshest fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, herbs, plants and even artisanal products. In the market, you will get a very cheap and authentic local experience with local residents all over this none touristic neighborhood going to shop for their groceries for the week. Colombia is famous especially for its fresh fruit varieties so what better place to try them all by going down to where their farmers sell their produce direct and wholesale.

Cost: Free

How to get there from Ondas: Plaza la America is only a short 5 minute walk from the hostel. Head out and go to LA 80 the main road and turn right. At the second set of traffic lights turn left and take the first right which will hook you around and have you walking slightly uphill along side the river canal. About 100m on your left-hand side you can cross the canal and then turn left and you will find the market about 50m on your left-hand side.

Ondas Language Night

Of course, our famous Language Exchanges had to make the list. You can read about them in full detail with this article _____________________ but now with 2 every week its hard not to see why they are so popular. Sitting on the rooftop with a drink listening to good music and meeting your Colombian neighbors you is the perfect way to relax and learn Spanish at the same time.

Cost: Free

How to get there from Ondas: Make your way up to the rooftop terrace or the cafe every Wednesday and Friday.

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Every Sunday (and public holidays) the city of Medellin closes its major streets to allow cyclists, Runners walkers and everyone in between to exercise safely on the streets. Promoting outdoor physical activity the local government sets up space all over the city to allow people to enjoy some outdoor activities in a safe environment. Expect to see a lot of local sport enthusiasts, couples, families with their dogs, young to the very old, out and about while enjoying their Sunday morning. If you are interested in exercise or just want to wander around the city with all the other exercise enthusiasts you will enjoy this aspect of Medellin.

Cost: Free

How to get there from Ondas: The meeting place changes every week. Check their Facebook page.