My name is Frank and I run a travel agency based in Bogota, Colombia. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please write them in our comments section. Thank you and have a great trip to Colombia!
Graffiti Tour in the Comuna 13
Last week, I went to the “Feria de Flores Medellin” (Festival of the flowers in Medellin), and during my stay, I was able to meet up with my colleague, Kabala, in “Comuna 13”, one of the most iconic places to visit in Medellin. Kabala currently lives and works in this formerly dangerous area as a tour guide. Whenever I talk with him, whether it’s through text or face-to-face, he always refers to me as “Papi”, which means “Daddy”. I am still not sure why he calls me that.
I brought along a friend from Switzerland, Hitch, who is the same age as my dad. We all used to play Ice Hockey together.
We took the metro and arrived early. We had a coffee and then met Kabala shortly afterwards in the station.
Kabala looks like a straight-up gangster with all of his tattoos. Had I not been two heads taller than him, I definitely would have been scare. He explained to me that he was going to be leading a tour today and that we were waiting for some of the others to arrive. Minutes later, more people began to arrive, and in the end, we were a group of 10 tourists. Comuna 13 is certainly a hot tourist destination in Medellín.
Something that I still remember is the welcome speech and the introduction ritual. We all had to hug each other and introduce ourselves to each other. Most people didn’t know each other but nobody really felt uncomfortable. When we were done with the introduction we walked over to the street and waited to catch one off the buses to bring us uphill. After a fifteen minutes ride we arrived at the bottom off the district.
From there, the neighborhood did not look like anything special, but as we started to walk into it I realized how calm it actually felt. Also, it was very strange that in such a remote place quite a lot of tourists were walking around. Mostly young people and many blond girls. This was kind of very funny to me as I know how Colombian men usually react to blond girls, but there nobody bothered them, which was great. This is the way one can enjoy a Colombia travel.
Kabala lead us to the first corner and started to explain the history of the Comuna 13 and how life was there some 10 years ago. He also introduced us to a shop which made the best empanadas in town. Of course, everybody tried some and he was right, they were quite tasty. It was amazing how much graffiti was everywhere, almost every wall was a piece of art. Some were really stunning and I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Fortunately, I had my camera with me!
We uphill and deeper into the district until we arrived at the first escalator. Yes, I just said escalator! Medellin’s government has decided to install escalators to assist the region’s poorer citizens in traveling around the city. In addition to escalators, there are also cable cars that make climb a bit easier.
I immediately spotted the sticker with “Schindler” written on it. Schindler is a Swiss escalator company, but I learned the company only took care of maintenance. The escalator was actually built by a Japanese company.
At this point we stopped for a snack and enjoyed some delicious homemade ice-cream. As it turned out, we had unknowingly signed up for a food tour!
The further up we got, the better the view became. Along the way, I spotted a sort of main road that that the inhabitants used as a highway for their scooters. Although it was a great district with lots of beautiful graffiti and some good infrastructure, it was still a very poor neighborhood. But the combination made sense and was very interesting. The tourists rushing into the zone was a very interesting contrast.
The locals certainly are quite clever in making their zone attractive to tourists. The key is that visitors interact with locals along the way, which means tourist activity directly supports local businesses and the community more generally. This process leads to an increase in local sales that not only benefits shop owners but everyone involved in the value chain.
Tourism has dramatically improved the community’s wellbeing, as it decreases the need for dangerous activities like robberies. For me, this focus on tourism has turned the neighborhood around so much so that today young blond foreign girls can safely walk through the streets. A true success story!
One of the local guides told us that Bill Clinton had paid a visit here some months ago. As he didn’t take a large security force with him, nobody recognized him!
I really enjoyed my afternoon in Comuna 13, as it is a great success story that offers a different view of Colombia. I strongly recommend that everybody who travels to Medellin stops at Comuna 13 for a tour!
More information about Medellin you will find in my Medellin Colombia Travel Guide.
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