Rodrigo is our CO-Owner, former CEO, and a passionate traveler. Curating experiences for IMPULSE has made him fall in love with his own country again and inspired him to turn tourism into a tool for transformation.


Comuna 13, located in Medellín, Colombia, is a unique destination with a history that has no comparison worldwide. It has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from one of the city's most violent areas to a bustling tourist hotspot. My journey with Comuna 13 began before its streets filled with tourists, giving me a unique perspective on its evolution. This post explores the multifaceted impacts of tourism in Comuna 13 and proposes a way to approach tourism in the “peripheral” areas of Medellin, in a conscious way. 


Most of Comuna 13 was created with informal settlements by communities that were forced to leave their lands in rural Colombia because of the internal war of the ’60s to ’90s. This, like many informal settlements by displaced people, was underserved and leaked of the presence of the state. For this reason, urban militias filled in the lack of presence of state institutions. Added to that, Comuna 13's strategic location made it a target for significant military operations, notably during the early 2000s. These government-led efforts aimed to reclaim the area resulted in severe consequences for the civilian population. Subsequent infrastructural developments in public transport (like metrocable, and the famous outdoor escalators), together with smart public policies that gave Medellin its recognition for social innovation marked the beginning of a new era. This gave the right conditions for community-led initiatives, mainly focused on street art, music, and community empowerment to flourish. The transformation Comuna13 had, set the stage for tourism but also brought new challenges.


The transformation led to a surge in tourism, attracted by the area's compelling narrative of change and vibrant street art. The neighborhood now sees thousands of visitors each week. However, the rapid growth of tourism, rising from a few hundred to approximately 25,000 visitors weekly, has brought both opportunities and significant social challenges.

Photo: One of the early groups we had in C13. Now, this spot of public space is full of vendors.
Group of travelers in comuna 13



Street art and hip hop have played crucial roles in the community’s healing process, transforming the neighborhood walls into canvases that depict the community’s resilience and hopes. These artistic expressions have not only beautified the area but have also provided a voice to the youth and a form of peaceful resistance against the social struggles they face.


The massive influx of tourists has created notable negative impacts in this community. Here are the main impacts we have perceived and heard from local residents. 

  • Overwhelmed public utilities: Water supply, sewage, and garbage collection were never designed for floating populations of these proportions. Making local residents experience sanitation challenges. 
  • Noise and Congestion: Daily life is disrupted by constant tourist activity, affecting the tranquility and privacy of residents. Life in the street make part of local communities in Colombia. Quoting the words of a local resident “Before, the street was part of my house, now my house is part of the street”.
  • Cultural Commodification: The commercialization of street art and local traditions raises concerns about the authenticity and respect towards the community’s cultural expressions. 
  • Economic Displacement: Increased demand and economic interest have led to gentrification, pushing long-time residents out due to rising costs.
  • Incentives for illegal groups: although it is perfectly safe for travelers to visit, some illegal groups still have action in the area, financing from charging “protection money” to local businesses. 


In response to these challenges, our company has implemented several key changes to ensure our tours contribute positively to the community. As a result of a 6-month project I led, we came up with a new version of our Comuna 13 tour, but most importantly, we are encouraging our travelers and readers of this blog to consider visiting other up-and-coming communities where community-based tourism is just starting to gain strength, and their authenticity and narratives of street art, resiliency, and local culture and as strong as Comuna 13, like the case of Afrotour at a non-tourist area of Comuna 13 or Moravia’s Blooming at a neighborhood that emerged from Medellin’s city dump. 

Local Guide in Comuna 13Our local guide tells the story of Operacion Orion through a mural on our Comuna 13 Struggle and Splendor Tour. 

We understand tourism in Comuna 13 will only keep evolving and we want to be a conscious actor in that development. This is why we are proposing this with our new “Comuna 13 Struggle and Spendor tour”

  • Always hire a local guide, and make sure it is local. People form many different parts of Colombia have flocked to Comuna 13 looking for employment opportunities as informal guides. We believe that local guides who are rooted in their communities not only provide the best insights but make sure that the benefits of tourism stay locally. This is why we are hiring local guides from one of our partner local social enterprises. 
  • Supporting Local Initiatives: Our tours include stops at local projects that focus on education, food security, and employment, such as:
    • A visit to SORA, supporting vulnerable populations with essential services.
    • Collaboration with El Parche, a local brewery that champions social entrepreneurship.
    • Engaging with art and education projects like the "13 Sueños" initiative to empower local youth.
  • Create conversations with travelers about the reality of the territory, not only focus on the positive aspect of the story but talk about the challenges. 
  • Don’t contribute to the exceeded carrying capacity. Our tour will only run in the mornings when it is less concurred, and we won’t run on Sundays and holidays, where tourism peeks. 
Photo: Comun (SORA's NGO leading project). One of the stops of our new tour. 


Whether you take our tour or not, we urge tourists to adopt responsible travel practices by visiting during less crowded times, engaging with community-approved guides, and supporting local enterprises. These practices not only enhance the visitor experience but also ensure that tourism has a positive impact on the community.


Tourism in Comuna 13 showcases the complexities of urban transformation and the double-edged sword of becoming a global attraction. By choosing sustainable and respectful ways to engage with this vibrant community, visitors can contribute to a more positive future for Comuna 13. We invite you to consider other communities of the city where your visit will create a positive impact. If you still feel like you need to visit Comuna 13, experience it responsibly, ensuring we all partake in nurturing rather than exploiting its rich cultural landscape.

This revision aims to deepen the discussion about Comuna 13's journey, emphasizing both the historical context and the ongoing challenges and benefits brought by tourism. We hope to offer a more nuanced perspective that encourages thoughtful engagement with this dynamic community.

Blog post written by: Rodrigo Atuesta, Impusle's travel co-owner.

Special Thanks to Ana Cristina Velez, a friend and local guide in Medellin, who helped us re-think the way we were doing tourism in Comuna 13.

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