Not too long ago, Comuna 13 in Medellin, Colombia was known as one of the most dangerous places in the world and most certainly the most dangerous neighborhood in South America. Now it is an area of peace with absolutely stunning graffiti and mural artwork lining the walkways. This was by far one of my favorite parts of my Colombia adventure.
If you’re ever in Medellin, take the metro to the San Javier station. There you can ask the information kiosk near the street which bus to take to the “Escalas Electricas” and they’ll give you a separate ticket for a green bus. If you know basic Spanish, you’ve figured out that Escalas Electricas means Electric Stairs – and that’s exactly right! There are a good 7 or 8 tiers of escalators running through the barrio, one of those colorful neighborhoods built on a steep hill, making it easier for the locals to get to and from work every day.
If the bright orange and black moving staircases aren’t unique enough, you will definitely find a mural or graffiti artwork along the way that completely strikes your fancy. It isn’t just graffiti in the vandalism sense of the word, each piece is a work of art by well known local and international artists, many of them residents past and present of the community.
You can take a guided tour or meander through on your own. If you go alone, don’t be too flashy and you’ll find it easy to follow close behind groups of people so you don’t stick out too much. I ended my self-guided tour when I realized that I was no longer surrounded by people there to see the art, but rather locals doing their laundry and watching their children play. Respect the fact that you have entered into their intimate neighborhood environment and only photograph the artwork.
You don’t realize how high up you’ve climbed since the stairs did most of the work, but take a moment to breath it all in! The walk back down is quick and there is always a bus running by the same block where it let you off.
This is one of the many instances as a solo female traveling in South America where I chose to ignore the stigma attached to the area and the fear many people have of Medellin’s past. Not out of pride and blind bravery, but because of the remarkable stories of those around me and the kindness of the Colombian people I had grown to love and become inspired by. Get out there and explore this must-see spot!
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If you’re traveling to Medellin, Colombia or somewhere else in South America then find out more about what to do with one of these Colombia Travel Guides.