Comuna 13, Medellin: Truths About This Famous District [Guide]

Here’s a guide to the best options for visiting La Comuna 13 in Medellin—based on my many visits.

🛑 Stop going to Comuna 13 without knowing how to understand its incredible history. Start making meaningful trips

Comuna 13 is always mentioned on the list of the best things to do in Medellin.

Is it really worth the trip? Should you go alone or with a guide?

Since 2015, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to visit Comuna 13, and now you can take advantage of all my top tips.

Here’s what you’ll get if you read my guide c.a.r.e.f.u.l.l.y:

  • Where are my 2 favorite café?
  • What’s the first thing you should eat when visiting Comuna 13 (and it’s not an arepa)?
  • The main differences between a self-guided tour and a paid tour.
  • My favorite moment of the day for exploring la Comuna 13.
  • Where are the best artists?
  • And more!

Who are we 👋

Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Here, you will find everything you need to fall in love with this beautiful country easily.

My Favorite Comuna 13 Tour

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Over 90 of our readers decide to explore Medellin and its surroundings with this local expert monthly. 

With your bilingual private guide, meet the locals and enjoy beautiful experiences from Comuna 13 through Medellin downtown to lesser-known neighborhoods.

  • Have lunch with local families.
  • Excellent local guide.
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What is Comuna 13? Is it worth it?

Having visited Comuna 13 multiple times over the years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative journey of this neighborhood from a troubled past to a vibrant, artistic hub. Here’s a dive into why Comuna 13 is not just worth the visit; it’s a must-see in Medellín.

Why Comuna 13 Stands Out

  • Street Art and Atmosphere: The murals in Comuna 13 are not just graffiti; they’re a canvas of the community’s heart and soul. With each visit, the bustling streets, filled with music, street dancers, and local bars, capture the essence of its transformation. The artwork is a narrative of struggle, resilience, and hope, making every wall and turn a discovery.
  • A Lesson in History and Urban Development: The transformation of Comuna 13 is a testament to what community efforts and government support can achieve. With projects like the escaleras electrical, a series of outdoor escalators spanning 1,260 feet (384 m), the once isolated neighborhoods have been connected to Medellín.
  • Cultural Experience: Beyond the art, Comuna 13 offers a rich cultural experience. Live rap, hip-hop, and breakdancing performances are common spectacles. The local shops and cafes, offering delicious coffee and refreshing beer, add to the charm. The warmth of the community and their willingness to share stories add depth to the visit.

Guided Tours: A Must

While I’ve explored Comuna 13 solo, with a private guide, and as part of a group, each experience had its unique value. However, to truly grasp the stories and history, a guide is indispensable. Not only do they offer insights into the intricate murals and landmarks, but they also facilitate encounters with locals, adding layers to the understanding of the district’s rebirth.

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The History of La Comuna 13

Comuna 13

Let’s dive into one of Medellín’s most fascinating chapters, the story of Comuna 13.

Originally an illegal settlement in the 1960s and 70s, Comuna 13 became home to about 1,500 families fleeing conflict from various parts of the Antioquia Department. These early settlers had little to start with, building their homes from whatever materials they could find and living without basic amenities like running water or electricity.

Fast forward to the ’90s, and you’d find Comuna 13 somewhat of an anomaly in Medellín – a bustling neighborhood with a homicide rate lower than the city’s average despite the prevailing violence elsewhere. This relative peace was maintained under the watchful eyes of leftist urban militias, but not for long.

The entry of the AUC, a right-wing paramilitary group, marked the beginning of a drastic change. The violence escalated, homicides skyrocketed, and forced displacements became the order of the day, setting the stage for Operation Orion in October 2002. This military offensive, intended to eradicate left-wing rebels, saw over 1,000 soldiers and police officers (and tanks and helicopters) storm the comuna, turning it into a battlefield.

Sandwiched between the bullets, with no electricity, the inhabitants hid under their beds for several days before taking to the streets with white handkerchiefs to stop the fighting.

Despite the operation’s initial portrayal as a victory, it left deep scars within the community. Allegations of human rights abuses, detentions without trial, and mysterious disappearances continue to haunt the narrative.

Yet, amidst this tumultuous history, Comuna 13’s spirit of resilience began to shine through. Art emerged as a powerful form of expression and healing. The walls, once silent witnesses to violence, now narrate stories of hope and resilience through vibrant murals and graffiti.

How to visit Comuna 13 in Medellin

Navigating your way through Comuna 13 can be a bit of a puzzle if you’re not familiar with the area. Not to worry, I’m here to give you all the tips you need for a memorable visit.

Where is Comuna 13? Where Should You Start?

Comuna 13, also known as San Javier, sits along the western fringes of Medellin in Zone 4.

If you’re joining a tour, which I highly recommend for first-timers, your meeting point will likely be at the San Javier metro station (line 2).

However, if you’re more of an adventurer and prefer to go at it alone, prepare for a 25-minute walk to where the colorful graffiti starts to unfold. You can use this map link to guide you to the beginning of Comuna 13’s street art scene.

How to Get to Comuna 13

Metro cable medellin (1)

Getting to Comuna 13 is part of the adventure:

  • By Metro: The most straightforward way to reach Comuna 13 is to head to San Javier metro station. From there, you can either hitch a ride on a green bus (221i or 225i) or enjoy the 25-minute uphill walk to the escalator’s foot
  • Taxi: Don’t like walking for 25 min? Expect to pay around 10,000 COP from the metro station.
  • Via Cable Car: It’s a fantastic way to add another layer to your Comuna 13 adventure. Instead of getting off the metro at San Javier, take the cable car to Aurora (included in your ticket). You’ll get a superb view of Medellin. Then return to San Javier.
  • Uber: For direct and hassle-free access, Uber gets you right to the starting point of your Comuna 13 exploration. Try to avoid pick hours (6am-8am; 5pm-7pm)

Comuna 13 Self-Guided Tour

While the idea of wandering through Comuna 13 on your own might seem enticing, it’s important to remember that this area is huge and comes with its complexities.

  • Safety First: Although many parts of Comuna 13 welcome tourists, some barrios are best avoided. You should stick to Las Independencias and 20 de Julio, home to the densest street art. And I encourage you to venture during daylight
  • Helping the community: Going with a local guide not only ensures your safety but also enriches your visit. Comuna 13 tours focus on sharing the community’s story rather than glorifying its dark past. Make sure your tour has genuine community ties.
  • My Experience: On my first visit, I explored Comuna 13 without a guide. Yes, I saw the graffiti, but I missed out on the stories behind them. It was fun yet somewhat shallow.

What to do in La Comuna 13

Now let me walk you through some must-dos that can’t be missed when you’re in this dynamic district of Medellín.

Look for Graffitis: The murals in Comuna 13 are a deep dive into the community’s soul. They’re not just pretty; each one tells a story of struggle, resilience, and hope. Keep an eye out for white cloths symbolizing a cry for peace, the Colombian flag’s colors representing national pride, and birds as symbols of freedom. These motifs are more than just art; they’re the voice of Comuna 13.

Tomplanmytrip note: Unfortunately, some street art is becoming more and more hidden because of the shops that are set up on the street. Your guide will be able to show you where to go to get out of the tourist zone (like Barrio Latino).

Cremas and coffee:

  • Cafe Waikao de la 13 and Aroma de Barrio: These cool cafés offer a perfect blend of coffee and culture.
  • Casa Doña Alba or Cremas Doña Consuelo: Here’s where you can enjoy ‘mango maracuya’, a unique ice cream flavor. I often find myself torn between the two, trying to decide which one I prefer.

Performance Arts: You’ll find them everywhere in la Comuna 13. Just follow the music beat. Don’t hesitate to check out Casa Kolacho, a hub that fosters rapping and dancing talents in the youth.

Enjoy the Views: To absorb the beauty of Comuna 13 from above, take the electric stairs. They offer a panoramic view of the area, allowing you to see the vibrant colors and hustle from a unique perspective.

Best Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour Medellin

Exploring Comuna 13 in Medellín isn’t just about seeing the area – it’s about immersing yourself in its vibrant culture. And you’ll need to book a tour for that 😉

Types of Tours

  • English-Speaking Guides: Essential for those who don’t speak Spanish. It ensures you fully grasp the history and stories behind the murals.
  • Free Walking Tours: Zippy Tour is a name that pops up often. While free, a tip of around 30,000 COP is expected. These tours are a great option for backpackers. But keep in mind that larger groups might mean you won’t catch every word the guide says. And believe me, you’ll be many.
  • Paid Group Tours: Opting for a tour with fewer people can enhance your experience. Booking in the morning is advised for a more intimate encounter with the art and its narratives.
  • Private Tours: For those seeking a more personalized experience, private tours, like the one I had, offer flexibility and deeper storytelling. Not only do you get to navigate Comuna 13 intimately, but you also support local residents directly.

Private Comuna 13 tours: my review

Our day kicked off with our guide, who knows Medellín inside out, picking us up for a trip to La Comuna 13. We took the metro and then a cable car to La Aurora, all while our guide shared fascinating stories about how the city has changed over time.

When we arrived in La Comuna 13, we were surrounded by bright and colorful murals. It was like walking through an outdoor art gallery, with each painting telling a story of hope and determination. Our guide led us around, explaining the meaning behind the artwork and introducing us to the community’s vibrant spirit.

The best part of the day? It was definitely lunch with Stella and her husband. They’ve lived in the Comuna for years and had so many incredible stories to share. Their hospitality made our meal feel like a gathering of old friends, full of laughter and genuine connections. It was a perfect example of the warm, welcoming nature of Medellín’s people.

Why I like this expert

I like to recommend this expert for exploring Medellin because she focuses on building experiences that have a real positive impact on the lives of the locals and the travelers. She has a knack for finding perfectly bilingual local guides who know the city inside out and are always VERY friendly.

You can contact her directly by using our online form. This won’t cost you extra – we simply connect you with her, and then she’ll reach out to you through WhatsApp. We do this to help travelers get in touch with reliable local agencies and ensure you get the best prices. It’s our way of supporting our favorite local agencies and ensuring you have direct access to top-notch services.

Book with locals
Discover Medellin secrets with our favorite expert

Over 90 of our readers decide to explore Medellin and its surroundings with this local expert monthly. 

With your bilingual private guide, meet the locals and enjoy beautiful experiences from Comuna 13 through Medellin downtown to lesser-known neighborhoods.

  • Have lunch with local families.
  • Excellent local guide.
Chat with this expert
Easy, quick and risk-free—Talk first, book later.

Why Take a Tour?

Picking the right tour matters because it influences not just what you see, but how you connect with the place. Whether it’s trying local street food, listening to firsthand stories from residents, or learning about the community’s strides toward positive change, each tour offers something unique:

  • Local Economy: Participating in tours helps support the local economy.
  • Cultural Immersion: Tours provide an opportunity to engage with contemporary culture, be it through street food or interactive performances.
  • Educational Value: Understanding the history and significance of the murals enriches your visit.

Q&A: Comuna 13

If you’re planning a trip to the vibrant and colorful Comuna 13 in Medellín, you’ve got questions, and I’ve got answers.

How Long Do You Need in Comuna 13?

A visit to Comuna 13 can vary in length, but here’s the scoop:

  • On your own: You’ll probably spend about 2 hours exploring the area, snapping photos, and taking in the street art and atmosphere.
  • With a guide: This is where it gets even richer. A guided tour usually lasts around 4 hours. That extra time? It’s spent diving deeper into the stories behind the murals and the community’s history.

When to Visit La Comuna 13

Timing is everything. Here’s what I’ve found works best:

  • Mornings are golden. It’s less crowded, and you dodge the midday heat. Pro tip: Privately booked tours can kick off as early as 8 am—perfect for early birds.
  • Think twice about Sundays. It’s the busiest day of the week. If you can, choose a weekday to explore.

Is Comuna 13 Safe?

Here’s the big question on everyone’s mind. And the answer is: Yes, with a caveat.

  • Common sense is key. Guard your valuables and consider the front-pack method for your backpack.
  • Stay on track. The alleyways can be confusing, so you better stick to the main paths.

What to Bring at La Comuna 13

Preparation makes perfect. Here’s what you shouldn’t forget:

  • Comfy shoes: You’ll thank me later. The terrain is steep and stair-heavy.
  • Sun protection: Sunscreen, a hat, or even an umbrella for shade.
  • Cash is king: With no ATMs and tempting local crafts and snacks, Colombian pesos are a must.

What to Visit Before Comuna 13

To really grasp Comuna 13’s essence, a stop at Medellín’s Museo Casa de la Memoria is essential. It sets the stage for understanding the history of armed conflict in Colombia—extreme Left wings against paramilitaries.

Can You Stay at La Comuna 13?

Absolutely! Try staying in a local’s home. I recommend Call Me Mami Hostal—nestled in a quieter part of Comuna 13—La Loma. Blankita makes you feel part of the family with activities, safety, and that unbeatable local connection. If you’re up for experiencing Comuna 13 beyond the typical tourist trail, “Call Me Mami” should be on your list.

Bottom Line: Comuna 13

Comuna 13 is a vibrant community bursting with life, color, and stories waiting to be heard. Whether you’re walking through its streets solo or joining a guided tour, there’s no doubt you’ll leave with a deeper appreciation for Medellín’s history and culture.

I’ve learned that choosing the right tour can significantly enhance your experience, offering insights into the beautiful murals that you might otherwise miss. Remember, your visit not only enriches your travel experience but also supports the local economy and helps sustain the community’s ongoing transformation.

Book with locals
Discover Medellin secrets with our favorite expert

Over 90 of our readers decide to explore Medellin and its surroundings with this local expert monthly. 

With your bilingual private guide, meet the locals and enjoy beautiful experiences from Comuna 13 through Medellin downtown to lesser-known neighborhoods.

  • Have lunch with local families.
  • Excellent local guide.
Chat with this expert
Easy, quick and risk-free—Talk first, book later.

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I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.

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