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.
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.
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. www.primemedellin.com 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.