Travel: How ‘Narcos’ fuelled tourism in Medellín

Some of the city’s best graffiti artists live and work in Comuna 13. (iStockphoto)
Some of the city’s best graffiti artists live and work in Comuna 13. (iStockphoto)


The interest in the Colombian city of Medellín spiked after season 3 of ‘Narcos’. It has transformed Comuna 13, once the turf of drug lord Pablo Escobar

New Zealand felt the full force of the Lord of the Rings movies. London’s King’s Cross train station, specifically Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, has been under a powerful Harry Potter spell for a good part of the 21st century. Iceland and Northern Ireland are still caught in Game of Thrones. That movies can trigger a tsunami of tourism is common knowledge. But nothing compares to what has happened in Medellín, Colombia’s city of eternal spring.

Post-2018, the Netflix super hit show, Narcos—much like its main character the ruthless drug lord Pablo Escobar did for years—has had a hand in shaping Medellín, especially the district out of which Escobar and other drug lords operated. Had it not been for curious tourists eager to see Escobar’s hometown and territory that was successfully recreated in the series, Comuna 13 would not have become Medellín’s biggest tourist attraction.

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The city has a vibrant night life, great party vibes, gorgeous hikes, adventure sports such as paragliding and mountain biking, loads of football and enough dancing, including salsa, bachata, zouk and more to turn your feet to jelly. Medellín is also the birthplace of Colombia’s most famous painter and sculptor Fernando Botero (1932-2023), who is known for his unique style of depicting all humans as a bloated, plus-sized, exaggeration of their real selves. Among Botero’s most important paintings are his hilarious 1978 version of the Monalisa and the two 1999 paintings Death of Pablo Escobar.

The first time I visited Colombia in 2016 only one season of Narcos was out. That year I didn’t make it to Medellín. The locals in Bogotá and other travellers spoke about its excellent weather, culture and nature but no one spoke about Comuna 13.

The third and final season of Narcos dropped in 2017 and the interest in Medellín spiked. The following year people started showing up in Medellín looking for Escobar’s turf. That led them straight to Comuna 13. The word spread among travellers and Comuna 13 started growing as a tourist attraction.

The residents of Comuna 13 saw an opportunity and seized it. After the minor hurdle that covid-19 presented, Comuna 13 has now completely transformed. Some of the city’s best graffiti can be found here, where the best graffiti artists live and work. Residents have upgraded the interiors of their homes and converted them into home-stays, cafés, bars, stores, restaurants and studios. Many of the locals who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s and had witnessed and suffered the violence first-hand have become guides, leading walking tour groups through their very own neighbourhood.


“That’s where they dumped the dead bodies. Once they played football there with corpses piled up along the touchline.”

The Comuna 13 walking tour that I went on this January was led by one such local who walked us through the streets, enumerating its dangers and adventures.

It started right at the bottom of Comuna 13, in front of a graffiti with loud music blaring out from one of the homes. Along the way we met a graffiti artist and he let us have a go on his piece of wall. The tour ended three hours later all the way on top of the hill at a bar and café with a 360-degree view that our guide started last year.

The guide pointed to a basketball court-cum-football field below and said, “That’s where they dumped the dead bodies. Once they played football there with corpses piled up along the touchline." He could never forget.

For the digital nomads and remote workers, Medellín is perfect—cheap food and drinks, great coffee, comparatively low rents, and a city where people are always up for a good time. It is also safe now. So Medellín, Colombia’s second biggest city after the capital Bogotá, is today one of the most popular cities among digital nomads and long-term travellers looking to live the good life without breaking the bank for a few months.

That it is ideally located for weekend escapes into nature and has enough options for a bender as well as a dance retreat only adds to its long list of positives. The pretty little town of Jardín is just a 3-hour bus ride away and you will find yourself in the middle of a tropical forest where you could go on walks. In case you crave something more active, get on a bus to Guatapé by the lake. In about two hours you could climb the 740-numbered steps all the way to the top of El Peñón rock to enjoy stunning views.

There’s plenty to do in the city too. Weekends during football season are fun and if there’s only one thing you can do in Medellín, it must be watching a football game in the stadium of one of the two local teams—Atletico Nacional and Deportivo Independiente Medellín.

And then there is salsa. The party starts Thursday night and doesn’t stop till the weekend comes to pass. There are plenty of salsa clubs and bars.

Medellín is comfortable and comforting. It felt like home in many ways, not least because of the autorickshaws, or Bajaj, Hero, TVS and Royal Enfield motorbikes zooming around, or vendors pushing carts of fruits and vegetables vendors advertising their mobile carts with the ringing of a bell or a recorded message on cheap speakers. Medellín made me feel alive.

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There are no direct flights to Medellín from India. You could take a long, direct flight to New York followed by a short, direct flight to Medellín. Or fly halfway to Madrid and then fly direct to Medellín. Air India and United have direct flights to New York from New Delhi and Mumbai. Emirates, Qatar and Etihad have convenient flights to Madrid. Avianca has direct flights to Medellín from both New York and Madrid.


Medellín Marriott Hotel in El Poblado. It is close to all the hot spots, restaurants, bars and nightlife.


Explore and hike in Parque Arvi. Walk through the Laurelles neighbourhood and drop in at one of its many cafe-cum-co-working spaces such as Pergamino. Enjoy the excellent Colombian coffee. Go salsa dancing. Take a day trip to Guatape. Visit a coffee farm. Watch a football game at the stadium. Get on a party bus after sunset.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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