You know that saying, “you can never go back”?
Back in 2015 when we first visited Communa 13, we loved it. Our tour guide provided us with a wealth of information about the neighborhood, the neighborhood was gritty and real, the people that lived there were friendly and seemed genuinely happy that tourists were visiting their neighborhood, and the art was interesting. You can read about our 2015 experience here (even though stupid me didn’t write down the name of the company through which we booked the tour).
Fast forward to 2020. Communa 13 is an entirely different place. It has turned into something that feels fake (like Disneyland or the Wisconsin Dells). There are bars (at least two that we saw) catering to the tourist crowd and selling Communa 13 branded beer. There are souvenir stands everywhere. There are hip hop dancers putting on a show every so often. The streets are crowded with tourists and there are food vendors everywhere.
I wish I knew how the locals felt about all of this. On the one hand, they may be happy because they are making money right in their own neighborhood. On the other hand, they may be annoyed because what once was their neighborhood has turned into a completely overrun tourist playground. In fact, I read on one website that 25,000 tourists visit every month now. And, I read that kids are now dropping out of school to beg for money instead. Indeed, there were signs all over telling tourists not to give money to children.
What I can tell you is that the awful tour we took (booked through Toucan Cafe) in 2020 sure wasn’t going to answer those questions for us. Instead, when we saw “no turist” scrawled over a piece of art, our guide tried to tell us that it was just a message that we should try to understand the community and not act like tourists. Yeah, right.
Is Communa 13 still worth visiting? I honestly wish I knew. We intentionally picked a tour that utilized locals so we would be giving back to the community (and we would highly recommend that anyone booking a tour to Communa 13 do the same). But….
Unfortunately, our tour was awful. We were instructed to meet at Toucan Cafe at 1:40 pm for a 2:00 pm tour. As best we can tell, we were instructed to arrive early just so we would buy a cup of coffee before the tour. We didn’t even arrive to Communa 13 until 3:30. At that point, we were instructed to sit on some steps in a construction zone while we learned a bit about the history of the area — this could have been fascinating but (1) the local guide only spoke Spanish so everything had to be translated making everything take twice as long and (2) our guide’s English was so garbled and incomplete that I completely tuned out. We didn’t see a single piece of art until 4:15 pm and then our guide ran us through the neighborhood at breakneck speed barely explaining anything about the art and not explaining anything about the artists (all the while generally standing right in front of the art so we couldn’t even take photos while she spoke). I felt like if we had had a better guide, we could have learned so much more about the transformation of the community.
(Note, you can visit Communa 13 completely on your own and, unlike in 2015, I would say it is probably perfectly safe to do so now as long as you stick to the main areas. But, I don’t think you will get much out of the experience other than seeing some nice art.)