The Comuna 13 graffiti tour is a tour with everything! Not only is there amazing street art, but there are also stunning views, fantastic street food, potential encounters with local graffiti artists, escalators, shopping opportunities and even a slide!
What is Comuna 13?
Comuna 13 (aka San Javier) was once Colombia’s most notorious and dangerous neighborhood. It’s location near the highway made it a prime spot for guerrillas, narcos and anyone else looking to get things in and out of Medellin. And the area’s winding, hilly roads made it difficult for law enforcement to get in undetected. As recently as 2010, the area saw 162 murders for every 10,000 people and was the most violent neighborhood in Medellin.
Now, like so many other parts of Medellin, this neighborhood has transformed itself through accessibility (the introduction of escalators to turn what was a 35-minute walk into a six-minute ride), street art and community solidarity. Tours of the powerful street art began in 2014 and are now a must do for any visit to Medellin.
Who conducts the tour?
There are several companies which run a Comuna 13 graffiti tour, but I would highly recommend you take your tour with Stairway Storytellers. They are a group of Comuna 13 residents who share their stories about the neighborhood in which they grew up.
There is a strong local feel throughout the tour – the guide knew many people and fascinating stories as we wandered the area. He shared personal stories with us, such as how he used to step over dead bodies on his way to school and had considered this normal. There was a 6pm curfew in place for four years. Hearing these stories directly is immensely powerful.
The Comuna 13 graffiti tour was originally designed as a way for students of Stairway to English to practice their English, but it has now become its own entity. This tour goes beyond the street art to provide an immersive experience that helps you to get a real feel for the community in a short period of time. The group behind this are pretty amazing in providing assistance and support to this community, and they very much deserve your support.
The Comuna 13 graffiti tour begins high over the west side of Medellin after meeting at San Javier metro station and then hopping on a local bus. Our guide took us through the different themes of various murals. I won’t say too much as it is one of the most enjoyable parts of the tour to hear these stories, but I will say watch out for the amazing eyes in many of the murals.
We then began to take the escalators – apparently the largest outdoor network of escalators in the world! They were very much welcome on the steep streets of Comuna 13.
One of my favorite murals was the love birds. Apparently, if you are in a relationship, this is the mural for you and a great spot to have your photo taken. Rather sadly, there are then some mushroom murals which are for those who are single! I was curious as to where there was a mural for unhappy couples and one for happy singles, but apparently those designs are yet to be created….
During the Comuna 13 graffiti tour, a motorcycle pulled up and who should be on it but @Chota13, one of the most prolific and talented of Comuna 13’s artists! I am sure that Stairway Storytellers cannot guarantee this for all their tours, but I was lucky enough to be able to take advantage and hop on the back for a quick shot with the man himself!
About halfway through the tour we reached the gift shop! Well, a rather unorthodox yet entrepreneurial gift shop. A guy from the neighborhood has set up a stall that features some of the most popular street art, and you can buy a poster or a t-shirt. I got a t-shirt for my nephew which featured the art of my new friend @Chota13. This was hand pressed using a hot machine whilst I finished the tour, and the owner even came and found me to deliver the product – very impressive customer service!
Then some more amazing street food. There were empanadas on offer, but I cannot say no to mini churros covered in arequipe. I was particularly happy that I could apply the arequipe myself as it ensured I was able to have adequate quantities!
We ended up in the home of one of the street artists – @yorch.art. We were all given baseball hats and paint and told to create our own street art. I have absolutely no artistic skills, so I did what I always do in this type of situation – I outsourced! I rather cheekily asked @yorch.art to do something on my cap and he responded with a stunning work of art featuring a rose – now a treasured possession!
The amazing popsicles! This was a mix of ripe and not-so-ripe mango – and dippable into salt and lemon juice. If you have not tried mango with salt and lemon juice yet, you need to stop reading this and go and remedy the situation immediately – it is an absolute taste sensation!
The regeneration of this area is just amazing. It is so impressive that Comuna 13 is now a thriving area filled with happy children playing and such a positive feel. Yet another massive credit to the wonderful and hardworking people of Medellin.
All photos by Amanda O’Brien
Have you gone on a Comuna 13 graffiti tour? If so, share your experience with us in the Comments section below.
Amanda O’Brien runs the Boutique Adventurer travel blog. After 20 years in marketing and visiting over 80 countries in her 5 weeks off each year, she decided to combine her skills with what she loved and start a travel blog. The blog focuses on adventurous activities and destinations, but usually ends up in a hotel with a high thread count on the sheets. The blog is designed for travelers who are over 35 and is often focused on solo travel.