Medellin, Colombia is known for there dope graffiti art. I was told by expats that I must I sign up for a free Communa 13 tour with Zippy Tours to see the best street art.
I used UBER to transport me to the San Javier Train Station. It is to be noted that UBER is technically illegal in Colombia. You can still use the app but the driver may ask you to sit in the front seat, so it does not appear as if you are using a taxi-like service.
I was praying that I would make it on time to the tour because of traffic. We were caught behind bicycle riders which significantly delayed our drive time. I attempted to communicate with the driver asking if he would assist in calling the tour company. It was an epic FAIL because he did not understand my mediocre Spanish. Thank God, Zippy tour guides, Laura and David were still waiting for stragglers such as me.
Communa 13 History
About 10 minutes later, we began our uphill trek to Communa 13. In the 80’s and 90’s, drug cartels were loyal to drug pin Pablo Escobar. This neighborhood was once labeled as the most dangerous place in the world due to the high rates of crime, gang and drug activity. Laura our tour guide remembers this time in history as she personally has friends and family that were negatively impacted and killed.
In October 2002, “Operation Orion” was ordered by the Colombian government and then president Alvara Uribe Velez. The goal was to take down the left wing Guerrillas located in Communa 13. Over 1000, police and armed military invaded the community over several days. Unfortunately, many of the community members were caught in the crossfire. Many were arrested, wounded, killed or simply disappeared. Years later residents of the community still suffer from the innocent lives that were lost during that time.
Young people have used hip-hop and graffiti art as a form of self-expression. Beautiful murals are adorned throughout Communa 13.
As I attempted to take a picture of a mural, a guy walked by and began cussing saying, “This is stupid” He walked away quickly but appeared upset that tourist was in the community. I asked Laura, “if people were upset by us being there”? She replied, “some people are happy because it creates income while others may not be pleased”. While I thought it was a rude comment I can empathize with his frustration of tourist taking pictures of the neighbor he lives in. I guess I would be unhappy if I constantly had paparazzi and tourists outside my home.
Revitalizing Communa 13
Laura our tour guide was extremely proud to be conducting the Communa 13 tour because several years ago, she stated that tourist would not be free to come to this neighborhood.
In order to revive the community, They have built the orange escalators. Prior to the escalators being built, resident had to take a 35-minute strenuous hike up the hill to there homes. It now takes 6 minutes to reach their destination.
We also saw young kids break dancing and small children performing. It reminded me of my cousins making up songs and dances to perform for our family.
It is a free tour but prepared to tip your guides at the conclusion of the tour. The tour guides do not take you back to the San Javier station. I did not know this and was pretty nervous about using the bus and train by myself because I don’t speak Spanish. I’m happy to report that the train is very similar to stations in Los Angeles and therefore easy to navigate. I didn’t have the opportunity to take the metro cables but I hear the ariel views are awesome.
If you visit Medellin, I highly recommend you take the Graffiti Communa 13 tour as it is rich in history and culture.
Which mural stood out to you the most and why? I hope you learned something new about Communa 13 and graffiti art!