Medellin: Poblado, city center & Comuna 13

Now time to reach the last leg of our Colombian trip: Medellin.

A quick 1h flight got us to Medellin very easily and without any trouble. Flights in Colombia are weirdly cheap, and a great way to get around quicker considering the size of the country.

Once we arrived in Medellin, we decided to get an uber to head to our accommodation. The airport is quite far from the city, making the ride with a taxi quite expensive. However, Ubers are illegal in Colombia, so it’s quite hard work trying to find the drivers at airports, especially without wifi (we had phone issues at the time so relied on airport wifi only).

After struggling for a good 45min, we finally managed to find the driver and headed to our accommodation in El Poblado, the posh and touristy area in Medellin.

Our accommodation was a quiet hostel in which we got a private bedroom with shared bathroom. Another excellent value for money stay at only $29/night.

On our first day we decided to visit our neighborhood, walking around the streets and having a lovely local lunch with pork, rice and beens. We enjoyed walking through the streets nearby, it was full of gorgeous cafes and restaurants and local craft and clothing shops. Really cool!

We finished the day by enjoying a beer at Bonhomia, one of the gorgeous place as stated above, on their nice terrace. Though we didn’t try, their food also seemed to be great.

The following morning we had decided to take one of the free walking tours. After our positive experience in Cartagena, we thought we’d try again in Medellin. We’d also heard it was worthwhile from a number of people we had spoken to along the way. We went ahead with ‘Real City Tour’, a full 4 hour tour of Medellin’s city center.

We’ve learnt so much about the city’s history with drug cartels, Pablo Escobar, Guérillas and para-military groups, and the political issues that surrounds.

It was an amazing introduction to the city, of the history that makes it what it is today.

The center of the city isn’t very pretty. It’s quite busy, full of not so great (counterfeit) shops and small cheap restaurants.

We got to visit the Plaza Botero though, which is probably the nicest thing to see with the Museo de Antioquia and the famous bronze sculptures from Botero doted around the plaza.

Funnily enough, this is a stones throw away from one of the worst areas in the city centre – prostitution (which is legal here), drugs, homelessness. The tour took us through here and a fight broke out as we were snacking for lunch! Police were quick to put a stop to it before it really started. This is a strict no-go area after dark.

After the tour, we decided to head to the Memory museum to further our knowledge of the violent past of the city. It’s quite a cool museum to visit (and its free), but unfortunately not everything is in English so we missed out on a few things.

On our third day we decided to head to Comuna 13, world renowned for being the 2nd most dangerous place in the world in 2010 (losing out to The Gaza Strip).

We went ahead with another free tour (these are brilliant!) to learn more about the area.

Comuna 13 is a neighbourhood located in the hills in the south west of the city. Due to its location and prime transport links to the coast and other major cities, it was the neighborhood of choice for drug cartels and para-military groups.

In Medellin the suburbs are given a rating from 1-6 based on certain criteria, such as schools, hospitals, road access etc. 1 is the poorest, 6 is the wealthiest. Comuna 13 is definitely a 1.

It is split in 3 areas: 1,2 and 3. We visited the bottom part of 3 and 2, and then went up to 1 (the poorest part, furtherest away from amenities and infrastructure).

The area is now super cool and pretty safe. It’s very steep and colourful, full of beautiful graffiti narrating the history of the Comuna. Anyone can paint, it just needs to be pre-approved by the owner of the wall based on aesthetics and the story behind it.

The first area of the Comuna also has an escalator to help you go up the mountain and visit the whole area. In each side of the escalator you can find art galeries and small tourist shops selling items from the Comuna. It was really awesome and interesting to learn again more about the history of Medellin.

After the tour we headed to the north east side of the city towards the Santo Domingo cable car.

Medellin’s transport system is impressive, with their metro system (only metro in Colombia and they’re super proud of it), their escalators and their cable cars.

There are 3 cable cars currently running in the city, linking the high Comunas from the mountains to the main metro lines. We decided to go ahead with the Santo Domingo one as it was recommended by a few locals for having the best view over the city.

Indeed the view from the cable car was quite spectacular, giving us a 360 view over Medellin.

We then decided to get out and stroll around Santo Domingo, once one of the most dangerous area in Medellin. Though now it’s calmed down, it’s still not an amazing place to visit. We didn’t see any other ‘gringos’, and you could tell they don’t get many tourists like Comuna 13. Despite the slightly strange looks we were getting occasionally, everyone was friendly. One guy came up to us and said ‘hey friend, you like my neighbourhood?’, they’re curious and extremely passionate about the area they live in.

We were told the day after that on the day of our visit a big drug lord got caught there, but we didn’t see anything. Apparently the worst time to visit an area is the days that follow the toppling of a kingpin – it causes an often bloody scramble for power between rival gangs.

Despite these ongoing turf wars, it’s very unlikely to see anything until after dark. Also, in these slums they have a very strict no stealing rule, so tourists need not be afraid of losing their cameras or wallets. It’s self-policed by the community – offenders know their neighbours won’t take it lightly should they be seen robbing someone.

We then finished the day by enjoying a drink at Hotel Charlee near our hostel in El Poblado, providing another gorgeous sunset view and some fun times watching the filming of a local Rum advert.

#TheDexplorers

  • Get on board with free tours! They’re such an amazing and cheap way to learn more about a city. There are dozens to chose from in Medellin and all provide an amazing history background.
  • El Poblado is a great area to stay in Medellin. One of the safest and full of bars, restaurants and shops. Absolutely loved it.
  • Hotel Charlee has got a great rooftop bar to enjoy a nice sunset over the mountains.

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