Medellín’s District 13 was once one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world. It was so unsafe that even police didn’t venture in. During the time of Pablo Escobar the Comuna was run by the militias and it was quite a stable place (albeit hugely violent, with 657 police officers killed in his name, many of them by the children Escobar recruited). Once Escobar was killed, all the alliances fell with him and chaos reigned as guerilla groups fought for dominance. The situation was getting worse and worse, with 2002 being the bloodiest year, so the government stepped in and sent in 1,500 troops to take some semblance of control back. Arguably it only partially worked as it’s still run by mafia with all the businesses paying protection money to someone or other.
A week before I went to visit Comuna 13, the government took out one of the second-rung leaders within the gang. This led to a sudden power struggle and the shootings began. It’s interesting really. When the government intervenes, their action leads to a short-term increase in violence rather than a reduction, and overall it is hard to believe there is a reduction. So is it worth it?
In general these days, Comuna 13 is much safer for outsiders and it is home to some of the best graffiti in the city. It is definitely worth a visit and you can find out whether it’s safe to go with or without a group when you arrive. I think it’s worth taking the guided tour though as you get an impressive amount of insight into the culture and also you can be shown the best graffiti.