Comuna 13 History
Comuna 13 is one of the 16 “communes” or comunas of Medellín, Colombia. Also known as San Javier, this comuna is located on the west side of the valley of Medellín. This neighborhood was once considered the most dangerous in the world, based off murder rates. With the ease of access to the San Juan highway, this was the perfect route for the cartel to transport drugs, guns and money from rural Antiqua to the city of Medellín.
Chaos was daily life for this population dense community, as residents were too poor to have means to get to Medellin for work, and little opportunities resided on the mountainside. Since the 80’s, Comuna 13 was ruled by the Medellín Cartel, which came with strong social tensions with the government, large class differences, and daily combat. Residents lived in fear, subdued to the cartel, so something needed to change. In 2002, the government decided to carry out “Operation Orion” which was an attempt to overthrow the cartel militias. This left people of the community in crossfire, with many injured and killed. The civilians raised white flags, literally, to stop the fighting. The government thought this to be one of the most successful operations, lowering the murder rate from 360 to 80, but this is controversial with the people of Comuna 13. They believe the rule went from one corrupt leader to another, and murder rates dropped due to disappearances vs. deaths. With all of that being said, things today are in much better shape.
Hip hop and art have become a great form of expression for the residents. Today, it’s famous for the colorful murals covering the buildings that sprawl up the mountain. It is still a poor community, but there is a great amount of hope, with tourism aiding immensely. You will feel perfectly safe visiting, which I highly recommended you do.
Take the metro from Medellin and get off at the San Javier stop. From there you can walk (about 25 minutes) or take the bus. The bus will pick you up right outside the metro station, and you’ll ask the bus driver to take you to “escaleras electricas”. I walked, using the GPS on my phone to get me there.
If you don’t want to explore on your own, I suggest you do the Medellin Grafitti Tour, which is led by local street artists (the Casa Kolacho) who are responsible for over 90% of the murals in Comuna 13. Find more info about the tour, here. They will teach all about the history of the city, which is so worthwhile!
Take a look at all of the amazing creations…
You may even catch some of the artists in action. Admire the craft and beauty!
Make sure to ride the escalators, that were built to allow residents to have means of transportation to get up and down the mountain for better work opportunities.
Do your best to interact with the local people. They’re so friendly and open to share their culture with you!
There is a lot of street food in Comuna 13, but make sure to try the Arepas de Chócolo (corn cake with cheese), icecream and jugo (juice).
There are little outdoor playgrounds and courts sprinkled across the neighborhood where you can…well, play.
Another thing you should do while you are there, is ride the cable car. You can get on line J, at the San Javier metro stop. This will take you in a loop to the top of the mountain and back down, giving you brilliant panoramic views. Must do!
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