Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour Medellin – The Comuna 13 Tour with Medellin City Services

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Comuna 13 Medellin was once one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Clinging to the hillsides, this Colombian neighborhood was the worst of the worst. The police had no power there. Drugs, guns, and gangs ruled. Now the area is thriving and is considered one of the best examples of urban renewal. On our Comuna 13 tour, we saw just how far it has come. Here are the highlights from our graffiti tour Medellin.
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The Comuna 13 Tour with Medellin City Services

Less than 20 years ago, Comuna 13 Medellin was a very dangerous place. Gangs, drug lords and gun dealers used the hillside to traffic in contraband. It was also home to some of the poorest of the poor, and they were trapped in one of the most perilous urban centers during the height of Colombia’s drug trade. Roads were narrow and the community was fairly cut off from the city. That benefitted the criminals of course. On the other hand, it made jobs and other opportunities extremely limited for everyone else.
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Comuna 13 Tour graffiti tour Medellin PIN 3

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Why Graffiti Tour Medellin?

So why the hell would we consider visiting? A Medellin graffiti tour? Are you crazy? Actually no. A lot has changed in the last 20 years, and now Comuna 13 is (relatively) safe and thriving. Teamed up with Medellin City Services, our Graffiti Tour Medellin is more of a Comuna 13 Tour. Consider both of them in the same category. For example, much of the best Colombian street art is in Comuna 13 Medellin. That’s why any graffiti tour Medellin experience will spend a considerable time there.

The Comuna 13 Medellin Tour

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Our Comuna 13 Tour began with a pickup at our accommodation. Our guide, Sergio, had been doing the Comuna 13 tour for Medellin City Services for several years. Once in his car, he explained the history of Comuna 13 Medellin to us as we drove to the area. Through the last two decades of the 20th century, Comuna 13 was a no-go zone for anyone who didn’t want to risk their lives. Then in 2002, the strongman president launched an immense campaign to clean up the area. That campaign included thousands of troops and even helicopter gunships. Once phase one was complete, the city installed escalators up the hillsides.
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escalator collage Medellin graffiti tour
Clean, modern and well-designed, these escalators helped usher Comuna 13 Medellin into a new era. Community centers sit at the top of many of these escalators, providing places for local kids to go. Now locals could easily get up and down the hillsides to work in the cities. No longer trapped, families began to prosper, and with a newfound safety in the area, local artists came in to give the walls some local color. Galleries and cafes opened. Then local dancers and rappers began to perform for the growing crowds of visitors, both local and tourist alike. The graffiti tour Medellin experience takes you through the story of Comuna 13. By the end, we left with a new sense of hope.

Graffiti Tour Medellin

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Sergio from Medellin City Services took time to explain the most important street art in Comuna 13. In fact, there were many elements to Colombian street art that we would have missed without his guidance. For example, birds played symbolic roles we would have otherwise missed. In one mural, Sergio explained that penguins represented the family. In another, he told us about the Maria Mulata (Great-Tailed Grackle) and its role in Colombia. We also learned that the frequent hummingbird imagery was a reference to the helicopters that shot into the town during the battles of 2002. The Phoenix was possibly the easiest aviary symbol to interpret. After all, this Comuna 13 Medellin tour is all about rising from the ashes.
chota Comuna 13 tour
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Other symbols emerged as well. For instance, many murals depicted hillsides of houses. In some, doors were closed and lights were on. This represented the dark times when everyone stayed inside. Then there were Comuna 13 houses depicted with open doors. This represents the present day when residents feel safe to walk and play outside. Sergio also told us about some of the best Comuna 13 street artists. The name Chota came up a lot, as we saw many of his murals. In fact, at a home selling his work, we saw a picture of Bill Clinton with the artist himself. Of course, much of the Comuna 13 Street Art contained Spanish phrases or Colombian slang. Sergio interpreted these for us as well. Themes of nonviolence, hard work, and public service were common.

Our Experience with Medellin City Services & Graffiti Tour Medellin

7 Sergio Medellin City Services
We thoroughly enjoyed our Comuna 13 Medellin tour with Medellin City Services. Our guide Sergio was passionate and considerate, taking time to answer our questions along the way. The tour was unhurried, and I felt that I had enough time to stop and take pictures as I liked. We also enjoyed the snacks along the way. Yes, our Medellin Graffiti Tour included a stop for a paleta. What’s a paleta? Think of it as the Latin American equivalent of homemade popsicles. I had the Mango & Salt paleta and it was fantastic.
coffee tasting graffiti tour Medellin
Our graffiti tour Medellin experience also included a stop at a coffee tasting. This was in Spanish of course. After all, the rest of the audience for the demonstration were from around the region. Our kids are comfortable in Spanish, but Sergio was kind enough to interpret for Keiko and me when we couldn’t follow.

Transportation in Comuna 13 Medellin

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We arrived by car, but after our Comuna 13 tour, Sergio took us on Medellin’s amazing public transportation system. We rode the Tranvia, which was as clean and efficient as anything in Japan (and believe me: we know a lot about Japan). Then we took the Metrocable, one of 5 cable car lines that climb Medellin’s hillsides. These were not built s tourist attractions, although they are incredibly scenic. Instead, this another face of public transportation in Medellin. Like the Comuna 13 escalators, the Metrocable opens up more opportunities to those who live on the outlying hillsides. And according to Sergio, it saves countless hours of commute time for Medellin residents.
After this, Sergio introduced us to some new fruits. This wasn’t part of the tour, I’m sure. We just happened to be passing a guy selling them on the sidewalk and he asked if we were interested in trying. Sergio described the fruits and helped us get a good price.

Graffiti Tour Medellin: Our Verdict

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Planning to visit Medellin? Put a Comuna 13 tour on your list. It’s a fascinating window into the history and culture of the city and provides amazing photo opportunities at every step. Medellin City Services has a lot of different tours to choose from (we were especially tempted by one of their Layover Tours but ran out of time), but the Medellin Graffiti Tour is definitely worth your consideration.


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Disclaimer: Our Comuna 13 Medellin Tour was sponsored by Medellin City Services, but it was really interesting and we think everyone should see the area. This Comuna 13 Medellin travel blog post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something or book a hotel using one of the links here, we might get a small commission. You pay nothing extra, so don’t worry. Also, everything you see in this Comuna 12 Medellin post is my personal opinion. I only recommend places, activities, and gear that I believe will genuinely help you find the best things to do in Colombia, like this Medellin graffiti tour. If you have any tips for seeing Medellin street art, please let us know!