Colorful Comuna 13 and the Escaleras Electricas

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Not too long ago, Medellin was considered one of the most dangerous cites in the world primarily due to the violence of drug cartels, gangs, and guerrilla warfare. But today, it’s frequently named as one of the most innovative cities in the world thanks to progressive urban planning initiatives and the resilience of its people.

Go back fifteen or twenty years, though, and the city was a far cry from what it is today. Comuna 13, a neighborhood high above Medellin on the valley’s western mountainous slope, is where the majority of the violence and homicides occurred. It was known as the most dangerous neighborhood in the city in its day (albeit most neighborhoods were pretty dangerous back then, I think). But like the city of Medellin as a whole, Comuna 13 has made some tremendous strides and is now home to a plethora of beautiful street art, talented street performers and the famous Escaleras Electricas (escalators) that have allowed residents to more easily ascend and descend the steep streets leading to and from the community.

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You can see the orange-rimmed escaleras to the right

A few days ago, Johnston (a friend from California who’s riding his motobike all the way down to the tip of Argentina and just so happened to be in Medellin the same time I was – small world, right?) and I set out to explore the neighborhood of Comuna 13. We took the metro to San Javier station then boarded a bus that took us to the top of the escalators. Once at the top, we explored the colorful streets filled with exquisite murals, watched street performers take their turns at showing the crowd their breakdancing moves, and sampled snacks from the street food vendors lined up along the sidewalk.

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From there, we descended the 6 escalators that, together, zigzag down the steepest part of the neighborhood. It was quite remarkable, actually, to have such modern conveniences right alongside some of the poorest homes in the city. Like the metro system in Medellin, though, I could tell that the residents are quite proud of these escalators. They’re clean, they’re well maintained, and they have no doubt improved the quality of life for the residents of Comuna 13. If you ever find yourself in Medellin, I highly recommend checking out this incredible neighborhood!

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