Medellín used to be known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Up to 3,000 people were killed every year, hundreds injured. The whole city was in firm hands of the cartel. Till the death of infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar the Medellin cartel ruled the streets and Favelas of the city in central Colombia. The so called Narcos used to fuel the violence between Guerillas and Paramilitary groups even more.
After the death of „El Padron“ Guerilla Gangs and Paramilitary continued the war in the favelas of Medellin. Comuna 13 a city part, home to more than 200,000 Colombians was one of the main „war-grounds“.
I took a taxi from El Poblado (a pretty good place to stay in Medellin) to San Javier. The driver told us that years ago he didn’t drive into Comuna 13 unless it was really necessary.
In 2002 Paramilitary groups went into Comuna 13 and killed up to 7,000 people in only 3 days searching for Guerrilas hiding in the Comuna. (Government claim „only“ 70 kills) Bodies were buried up the hills of Medellin and form the biggest mass grave in all over South America. We heard some really sad and shocking stories while walking through the Favelas with our guide from „Zippy Tours“.
book a tour
Zippy tours is a free walking tour (you decide how much you pay your guide) starting at „San Javier Metro Station“ every day at
10 am. Just make sure to be there at around 9:30 to tell the guides that you are about to join them on their way into the infamous Favela.
Our guide George first tried to get to know everyone. We were an international group, French, Germans, Americans, Dutch, Ethiopian, Austrian and Indian travelers all got together to learn more about what happen in the early 2000s.
Our first stop led us to an old play ground. This used to be one of the drug selling points back in the days. Today the government installed a soccer fields, new play areas and free Wi-Fi for everyone. It‘s an easy concept - give the people free internet and a lot of young people will hang out in this area. Crowded areas are never the best spots for dealing with drugs - problem solved. At least for this area of Comuna 13.
Next we visited a brand new school. Up to 1,000 students are currently studying in the new building. The place offers three basketball courts, Play Stations and several other cool activities for kids. All to keep them away from the streets and avoid them to join gangs that are still active (not that brutal anymore) in this area. Then joined a Hip Hop dancing group and watched them perform for the whole group - had to dance hip hop as well at the end (man, we were not even doing that bad I think). Great fun.
entering the favela
The people in Comuna 13 already understand how to make money with tourists. In 2018 the first foreigner visited the Comuna. The main street to the favela is full of small shops offering gifts, shirts and useless stuff.
The city installed escalators into the hills to simplify the walks up in the heat. Another clever idea of the city to get tourists into the area and crime out of it. This was also a main reason why even Colombian citizens started to visit Medellin again.
In the neighborhood itself we heard stories about how difficult it was for people living here to get a job. Most companies wouldn’t hire people from Comuna 13 because they were not sure if the employee would attend work the next day. Gang zones changed day by day, one wrong turn in the Favela and you got shot. Back in the day - if you were born in the hills of the Comuna, your life had only two ways - become a drug seller or an assassin for a gang. You didn't get the same chances as others in Colombia or the rest of the world.
Back then they didn't care if you're a man, woman or a small child - if you where at a wrong place at the wrong time your life was ended just like that. Terrible stories about kids getting shot like animals - just disgusting, you could feel, that George (our guide) was really touched by all the stories he told. This made this tour special as well.
the comuna today
In 2023 this area has turned into a cool urban party zone. Absolutely loved the vibe and the place. Every family in the Comuna is trying to make some Pesos of the tourists. Most sell paintings, drinks, shirts and small gifts.
You can literally see in their faces that they are happy that the new way of making money is to be a tourist hotspot and not one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world any more.
The whole place is packed with stunning graffitis. As you might already know I'm totally into that. I couldn't believe my eyes when I first entered. There is one photo spot after another and behind every corner you find something new and cool.
We had dinner up in one of the restaurants and enjoyed the sunset over the massive sea of houses in Medellin. I have to admit, when I first heard that there are Favela Tours I was thinking back to the time i was in Rio de Janeiro where the Favelas are still a "no go zone" and I was not sure if I really wanted to do this Tour in Medellin. Let something be said - this is absolutely safe and absolutely a place you want to visit.
5 things you don't wanna miss
- Take a guided tour into the Favela
- Have a beer with the locals
- Buy some really nice paintings to bring back home
- Take a photo tour and check out all the crazy graffitis
- Take your time and read some stuff on the internet about the history of this place before you visit it