Reclaiming Community Spaces in Medellín, Colombia

During the 1980’s, Medellín was the murder capital of the world. In this post, I talk briefly about the conditions during the city in this time and the terrorist acts committed under the orders of the drug lord Pablo Escobar. No traveller in the world would have considered Colombia to be a place that they wanted to travel, let alone the crime hotspot of Medellín. Today, Medellín is a traveller’s favourite and highly recommended by every person in Colombia that I came across. Colombia itself is truly making its mark on the well-trodden backpacker route around South America and is shedding its reputation of danger and crime.

Comuna 13

One of the most interesting and most bizarre attractions that you can visit in Medellín is the San Javier neighbourhood, also known as Comuna 13. A particular section of the neighbourhood has several levels of houses adorned with colourful street art, with modern escalators built between each level. It can be quite surreal to walk into what at first seems to be regular, non-affluent neighbourhood, only to encounter fully functional escalators. Comuna 13 used to be one of the most infamous and dangerous parts of Medellín and today has become a tourist attraction in its own right.

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The surrounding neighbourhood also has a large library and several green park spaces for youths to enjoy themselves in a safe environment. Although some locals stared at me, presumably because they are not that used to seeing foreigners in their neighbourhood, I never once felt unsafe or unwelcome. The local government has poured money into improving the neighbourhood and providing safe spaces and improved transportation systems, but the main change has come from the residents themselves. The beautiful, vivid street art demonstrates perfectly a community of people wishing to express themselves and improve their own livelihoods.

I found it so inspiring to see people take control of their own community identity and overcome the devastating violence that used to plague their neighbourhood. I truly believe that community projects at a grassroots level are the most effective and sustainable way to improve the development of an area. Giving residents control over their own space also fosters pride and brings a community together. It also helps to attract tourism to the area, with several shops situated within the main street art section, and a few tourist operators working within the area. Although I went to the community alone, I have heard good things about this company, which runs tours by a local resident and hip hop artist.

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Visiting Independently: Take the B line on the metro to San Javier station. At San Javier, find a taxi driver and ask him to take you to ‘las escaleras eléctricas’. It’s approximately a 5 minute drive, but my taxi driver had to pull over to ask for directions a few times so it took a bit longer. When you want to leave, it’s easy and safe enough to walk all the way down the hill and eventually you will get back to the San Javier station. It’s about a twenty minute walk.

Parque de las Luces

Situated in downtown Medellín, Cisneros Square used to be a hotbed of violent crime and prostitution within the city. It was a dark and dingy place that no one would want to venture into, especially at night. These days, the square is flanked by a large, modern library and the square itself is filled with numerous large sculptures resembling columns. At night, the columns turn on, illuminating the square with light, hence the name of the Park of Lights. Symbolically, these sculptures serve as beacons of hope and a movement to reduce crime within the city. I still wouldn’t recommend visiting the area at night, especially not alone, but it serves as a symbolic step in the right direction of a city trying to forge a new identity for itself.

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Medellín is still a city where you need to take precautions. I wouldn’t recommend walking around alone at night in downtown parts of the city and it is recommended to maintain a close eye on your valuables and not flash expensive goods during the day. However, the city has made leaps and bounds in improving its safety and its reputation with travellers, and is a highlight of many travellers’ time in Colombia. I find it truly inspirational that the government and the citizens have taken it upon themselves to reclaim their spaces and work together to build a better, safer Medellín.

By | 2017-08-22T15:48:26+00:00 June 5th, 2017|travel inspiration|16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Imbarc (@_Imbarc) June 20, 2017 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    Really interesting stuff, and brilliant to see Medellin shedding its old skin! Some of the more intricate work reminds me of C215…

    • Her Travel Therapy June 20, 2017 at 10:40 pm - Reply

      I think paisas have a lot of pride in what Medellin is becoming, and rightly so. What other place can claim to have transformed itself so rapidly?

  2. lloyd July 22, 2017 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    wow! i love grafitti and street art and this place has some fantastic work! what i love is that maybe next month there will be a new piece thrown up, so thank you for catching this art before it changes 🙂

    • Her Travel Therapy July 22, 2017 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      I love street art too, it’s always so full of life

  3. noelmorata July 23, 2017 at 2:35 am - Reply

    Wow, I love all the street art and public places in this city – so colorful along with the buildings in the neighborhoods

  4. Tanvi July 23, 2017 at 7:09 am - Reply

    Loved the photos!! I’ve heard that Medellín is not so safe! Is it true?

    • Her Travel Therapy July 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      It’s pretty safe, you just have to take the precautions that you would in any big city. I was always walking there alone, even at night, and nothing bad happened.

  5. rhiannontravels July 23, 2017 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Graffiti and street art is so fun to look at! I love the bright colours and vibrant vibe it has 🙂

  6. Mel and Marcus July 23, 2017 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Some great artwork and glad to see it hasn’t been covered with crappy ‘tags’. To find the escalators between levels is amazing. Hopefully this will another small thing to help the area.

  7. Natasha July 23, 2017 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Columbia is never somewhere I considered going to but after seeing and hearing about it, its somewhere I could see myself! I am interested in the history of Pablo Escobar so hearing a bit about him made the article for me! Great read.

    • Her Travel Therapy July 23, 2017 at 8:09 pm - Reply

      It’s my favourite country in the world, I truly think it has something for everyone 🙂

  8. Candiss | Lost Not Found July 24, 2017 at 3:44 am - Reply

    Colombia seems like such a cool place to visit. I love how they are slowly but surely coming back from the devastation of the drug cartels!

  9. Indrani July 25, 2017 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Sounds so positive and good that government has taken the initiative to keep the places clean and remove the stigma attached to it. I am in love with the graffiti there!

  10. Life is a Hotel July 26, 2017 at 4:53 am - Reply

    I admire street art. Some people are very talented and the only way they can show their talent to the world is painting the walls. For sure these talented people make our normal and boring streets looks very colorful. I really like it 🙂

    Best,
    Kasia

  11. Cat July 26, 2017 at 10:07 am - Reply

    It is nice to see that the government put in effort to put the city safe. I can’t believe how vibrant Medellin looks with all the street art! I can see why it is such a popular destination!

  12. AllGudThings August 1, 2017 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    Wow! I loved the colorful street art around Medellin. It makes the whole place look vibrant. It is great to know that government has made efforts to make the city safe.

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