Glancing at the map, you see a hillside section of the city, a comuna that most foreigners do not know.
Why would they? Most foreigners are in Poblado, while others have found comfort in Laureles or one of the other up-and-coming areas of Medellín. Villa Hermosa, or Comuna 8, also used to have a bad reputation, some of it deservedly so but most of it a simple case of selection bias.
That’s fine. Climbing the hills to Comuna 8, east of El Centro, was a great experience for me.
I found Villa Hermosa to be a very mellow place, something like a suburb yet part of the city, a place you can live in peace, away from the crowds and traffic and nightlife in so many other parts of Medellín, if that’s what you want.
Settlement in this area started in the 1940s, mainly as a place for farming and also in close proximity to downtown Medellín. One of the city jails was also part of the district.
Today there are almost 136,000 residents in the 18 neighborhoods here, according to the city’s redevelopment plan, most of them working class families. About 69 percent of the people are ages 15 to 64.
Just over 94 percent of the comuna falls into the estratos 1 and 2 categories, with estrato 6 being the wealthiest.
No sections of the district are considered estrato 5 or 6, but I did see some nice houses there, and like much of Medellín, found comfort in the trees lining the many of the streets.
I also saw a new gym that opened recently, and I thought the sculpture of a huge frog at one of the street corners was amusing.
Better known landmarks are a beautiful park and modern library.
Places of Interest
That library, Biblioteca León de Greiff, used to be the site of the jail. It’s now a partially open-air facility with several sections, the main ones for books and an auditorium for movies and other presentations.
Next door is La Ladera, a park similar to the unidad deportivas, or sporting complexes, in other parts of the city, only on a smaller scale. There are football courts, pavilions for eating and relaxing, even a nice pool for the hotter days.
It’s also worth noting that one of the main roads from Medellín to Santa Elena passes through Villa Hermosa as it winds its way back and forth up the mountainside. Those prone to motion sickness may want to take Las Palmas highway instead.
Like many of the non-foreigner-populated districts, the food here is mainly targeted to locals, meaning lots of comida típica.
Because my roommate’s girlfriend Yesenia lives in the area and was nice enough to show me around, I was lucky to get a homemade lunch of chorizo, fried banana, beans and rice, and fresh fruit juice too.
With a handful of small supermarkets and tiendas, residents can easily find their favorite ingredients to prepare a meal at home.
The biggest attraction might be Parque de Villa Hermosa, a small plaza next to the primary church in the comuna, something each district has.
On weekends, Yesenia said, the park fills with people looking to socialize.
Around the park, there are small bars and tiendas where people can have a few drinks as well.
There are none here. The closest one is probably Camino Real en El Centro, where you can take the red bus that says Villa Hermosa to get back and forth between the comuna and downtown.
Statistics gathered by Colombia Reports show that the homicide rate in Villa Hermosa is a hair higher than the city average, or about 43 per 100,000 people, compared to 42 per 100,000 citywide. In 2012, the rate in Villa Hermosa was about twice as high.
And if you go back to the early 2000s, the turf wars were bad enough that the neighborhood of La Sierra, at the easternmost fringe of the comuna and city, was the subject of a documentary by the same name.
But like most parts of the city, there is motive for these crimes, and provocation is easily avoided by using common sense.
Cost of Living
The lack of foreign interest and investment helps keep costs down here, so you should be able to find a comfortable, unfurnished two-bedroom place for 400,000 pesos a month (about $210).
There are modern medical clinics, restaurants that deliver and small grocery stores, providing convenience to comuna residents. But I didn’t see a lot of new development here, which means you can expect prices to remain affordable for the foreseeable future.