Escaleras Electricas: things to do in Medellin
…or the giant urban escalators of Medellin
A system of outdoor escalators has been built in what was once one of the poorest parts of the city of Medellin. The escaleras electricas: fun things in Medellin are educational interesting and functional.
In the barrio (district) of Las Independencias, la Comuna 13 de Medellin sprawls down the impossibly steep mountainside. Its residents – twelve thousand citizens – have benefited enormously from this public transport installation.
Not so long ago Comune 13 was considered dangerous and off limits to most people. Steeped in poverty, crime was rife among the narrow little streets and the inhabitants felt disengaged and forgotten by the government. The area was little more than a slum or a shanty town until 2011 when everything changed.
Social impact of the urban escalators
The building of this new transport system has had several benefits.
- It makes the residents feel a part of the city of Medellin; that the government does care about them enough to invest money in their run down area and now includes them in the modern transport systems that serves the city.
- It makes day to day living a whole lot easier for the residents who no longer have to drag everything up and down hundreds of steps.
• It opens the area up, enabling police and security forces easier access and the ability to respond more quickly to crime and troubles
• It has provided a canvas for some astounding graffiti and street art and a space for community exhibits, performances and events which builds a more cohesive community among the residents.
• It has opened the area up to tourists and visitors who are attracted by the street art and the views over the city. Some property prices have began to rise as new residents are attracted to this area and judging by the lovingly painted houses and tiny little gardens and terraces there is a pride in this area.
1500 journeys are taken on these escalators daily, some by visitors or tourists but the majority are made by the local inhabitants of this area just going about their day to day business. They travel to school or work, visit friends and family and get their post delivered.
Prior to the installation of this system the only way to reach the majority of the houses here was on foot. People had to heave children, food and everything else up the 350 concrete steps and along the narrow alleyways which cling to the side of the incredibly steep hillside which is inaccessible to cars or busses.
The area became a no-go area for law enforcement because gangs and criminals could quickly and easily hide and escape from the police among the narrow alleyways because it could take so long for help to arrive; if anybody bothered to notify the authorities at all.
Comune 13 still has a reputation for danger and crime so be careful when you visit – but no more than in any city that you visit. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or flash your camera around – although you will want certainly want to bring your camera here. Check out the latest prices for the compact Panasonic Lumix camera here. It is small enough to slip into your pocket when you are walking around but has a great zoom and is easy to use.
Colourful murals are everywhere. Even the tin roofs of the houses have not escaped the paint brushes and spray cans and they are adorned with flowers and birds which shine in the sun. University students, artists and local people have all contributed to the art which covers walls, doors and alleyways.
Escaleras Electricas: Fun things in Medellin
Obviously riding the escalators and peeping into people’s yards is fun. Take your picture with some of the fantastic murals that are everywhere or you can take a slide down a part of the mountainside. The architect obviously had a sense of fun with these slides.
The staff at the information centre were very helpful when we visited the area and as it was quiet, one lady joined us on our trip back down, pointing out some of the interesting art and even riding the slides with us.
Hopefully, the barrio will continue to be a safer place and vandalism, crime and disconnection will not set in again. Medellin has an amazing city metro system which includes cable cars as well as the escalators and the city planners have been working hard to lift the city out of its shady past by opening up the previous dangerous spaces.
How to get there. Take the Metro train to San Javier station. Cross the road outside the station at San Javier and wait for the bus # 221. Tell your driver that you want to get out at the escaleras eléctricas. You will be on the bus for about fifteen minutes. Leaving the bus you need to continue to climb, bearing slightly to the right. You will emerge at the top of the system of escalators where you will find the offices and administration centre for the transport system housed in a large concrete building. From here, its all downhill, although my friend Lisa (Girl about the Globe) and I went around a couple of times so that we could take it all in.
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Medellin, there are plenty of places to choose from here at Hotels Combined
Medellin is a crowded sprawling city but it is relatively easy to navigate around and there are countless hotels to suit all budgets.
N.B. At the time of writing the number of the bus was correct.
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