Touring Bogotá’s Street Art Scene

Colombia has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to crime.  And I’ve heard all sorts of stories about travelers getting robbed while visiting Bogotá.  So as I was walking back to my hotel in the middle of the night, I was a little on edge.  The streets were deserted, it was dimly lit and eerily quiet.  My boyfriend and I were only a few short blocks from our guesthouse when I heard the sound of footsteps racing toward us and saw four silhouettes emerge out of the darkness.  I’m a bit anxious by nature, so as the four figures rushed toward us I immediately assumed we were going to get robbed.

My heart was in my throat when they came to an abrupt halt a few feet to our left – and then I heard the unmistakable sound of a spray can.  After a hurried tag the boys ran off and disappeared into the night.  I felt a bit foolish when I realized this was just a slight act of vandalism – not an attempted robbery.

In the light of day, graffiti is everywhere in Bogotá.  Hasty scribbles like the one I witnessed litter almost every wall in the historic district of La Candelaria, in central Bogotá.  It kind of pained me to see, considering that many of these buildings and churches are hundreds of years old.  Residents and business owners find these tags to be such a nuisance they actually repaint their building facades every two months in order to maintain the colorful and impeccably preserved buildings that La Candelaria is famous for.

Touring Bogotá's Street Art Scene - The Travel Lush

Touring Bogotá's Street Art Scene - The Travel Lush
A freshly painted facade.

 

During my time in La Candelaria I had an increasingly low tolerance for this sort of mindless graffiti, especially on historic buildings.  But let’s face it, while these tags give graffiti a bad rap, the stigma surrounding this art form goes deeper than that.  For me, the word “graffiti” conjures up some pretty negative images such as crime, gangs and violence.  That being said, I am an art lover.  And, much to my surprise, during my time in Bogotá I grew to have a serious appreciation for not only graffiti but other forms of street art as well.

Touring Bogotá's Street Art Scene - The Travel Lush



As I came to learn, the city is a hub for some world-renowned and seriously talented artists like Stinkfish, Crisp, Rodez and Lik Mi.  Wandering around Bogotá’s streets there are remarkable works located literally around every corner – massive murals adorn the sides of buildings, sculptures are hidden in the most unlikely of places and trendy stencils decorate the city’s walls.

I was so taken with the street art scene that I decided to sign up for the Bogota Graffiti Tour.  I’m typically not a fan of organized tours, but this is one of the best I’ve taken in a long time.  And it’s a definite must-do if for those who are as street-art-obsessed as I am.

Touring Bogotá's Street Art Scene - The Travel Lush

 

Touring Bogotá's Street Art Scene - The Travel Lush
This piece was done by Stinkfish, a well-known Colombia street artist.

 

Not only did the 2-hour tour offer a fantastic introduction to some of La Candelaria’s best street art – including many hard-to-find pieces – but it also provided a great lesson about the history, politics and methods behind this controversial art form.

homeless 1

Touring Bogotá's Street Art Scene - The Travel Lush
Critiquing the culture of consumerism through a 1950s ad.

 

I always pictured street artists to be shrouded in mystery.  Like Banksy, they only emerge in the cover of night, stealthily leaving their mark while keeping their anonymity intact.  But this isn’t the case in Bogotá, where city officials have taken a shockingly progressive attitude toward street art.

During the tour, our guide explained that this push to regulate graffiti artists stems back to 2011, when police officers gunned down a 16-year-old boy as he was tagging his signature logo – Felix the Cat – under a highway bridge.  The shooting caused a major outcry in Bogotá and was a catalyst for the city’s current street art movement.

Contrary to what I expected, I learned that street art is actually welcome and encouraged in Bogotá.  In fact, in the past couple of years there has been a major push to regulate graffiti.  This means that artists are free to paint, spray and stencil wherever they want – with the exception of public buildings and monuments.  All an artist has to do is knock on a door and ask the building’s owner for permission.  It’s as easy as that.  Gone are the days where streets artists only come out in the dark of night to illegally commit acts of vandalism.  Artists are now able to work in the light of day.  And the punishment for illegal tagging is a mere ticket and the confiscation of paint.

Touring Bogotá's Street Art Scene - The Travel Lush

mural - girl

One impact of this lax stance is the prevalence of some seriously outstanding art which adorns the city’s buildings, overpasses and walls.  And it was Bogota’s street art that ended up being one of the things I enjoyed most about this amazing city.

Practical Info:

  • Bogota Graffiti Tour: bogotagraffiti.com
  • Cost:  By donation.  I paid 25,000 pesos ($12 USD)

Are you a street art fan, like me?  What is your favorite city to find street art?

 

 

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

20 thoughts on “Touring Bogotá’s Street Art Scene

  1. Nice photos. :)
    An interesting story about graffiti scene in Bogota. I can agree with you about graffiti: it really disgusts me, when I see something like “I was here” written on some monument. But having such a nice graffiti is something completely different. This kind of art should be encouraged more everywhere.
    Otherwise it looks like you are really enjoying it in Colombia. Enjoy also for the rest of us, sitting at home. :)
    Have fun!!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I have a huge problem when people deface monuments or ancient temples. But most of the graffiti in Bogota was spectacular. And what’s cool about Bogota is that they’re really encouraging street art by decriminalizing it. It’s pretty awesome how progressive city officials are about it. And, yes, I’m definitely enjoying myself :)

  2. I actually love street art :) I don’t have a favourite city for street art but I loved the pictures in this post. Especially the one by Stinkfish.

  3. The realistic painting of the woman is stunning. I adore street art (not ‘graffiti’)so this was really fun to see. Ahh, if only I had half of the talent that those artists did! Love the sculptures as well.

    1. I know! I could not stop staring at that piece. It’s just incredible. I was so surprised at how amazing the street art was in Bogotá. The artists there are so talented!

  4. Bogota looks extremely colourful! I can relate to the street art there, it compares to what I have seen in Melaka and Penang while in Malaysia. Graffiti there always seem to be tolerated; it’s a way of life. Colombians are very talented, though, judging by some of these pics. 😉

    1. I never made it to Melaka! Everyone raves about it and I’m really feeling like I missed out. Yeah, there are definitely some seriously talented artists in Bogota. Artists actually come from all over the world to work in Bogota since the laws there are so much more lax compared to other cities. That’s part of the reason there’s such an abundance of amazing work!

  5. I chuckled at the beginning of your post – bc I would have thought the exact same thing! I am definitely a worst case scenario type of person (and pretty paranoid as a result). Loved the statues, and the last pic by Stinkfish is beautiful.

    1. Haha, sometimes I can be so ridiculous! Those statues were so cool. They were in the most random places which I thought was just so creative. And it’s awesome that city officials don’t take them down. I am definitely in love with all of Stinkfish’s work. So beautiful!!

  6. I love street art so much! I’ve never been on a tour, but I think it would be so interesting. The photos you got are great! That is so cool that they allow street artists to do their thing in the open, that’s how it should be everywhere! :)

    1. I’m totally not a fan of tours but this one was so intriguing to me. And I’m so glad I did it because it really gave me a deeper knowledge of this amazing art form! Yeah, it’s really cool that it’s not a crime. It has really allowed artists to create some amazing pieces!!

  7. This looks awesome – I love looking at street art & graffiti, definitely brings a different perspective to the city. I’m traveling to Colombia soon & my friend Leah referred me over here for Bogota tips! :)

    1. Phyllis, I highly recommend giving Bogota a shot. And definitely do the graffiti tour. It’s by donation only, so you can pay whatever you think the tour is worth. I for one LOVED it. The graffiti was one of the highlights of Bogota for me and the history and politics surrounding it was particularly fascinating. I’m sure you can tell from my blog posts that I loved Bogota. It was one of those cities that just clicked with me right away! If you have any Bogota questions I’d be happy to try and help!

    1. I am so jealous! I had such plans for South America and was pretty bummed when my time was cut short. However…I was able to spend two months in Colombia and absolutely fell in love with it! I highly recommend stopping off there! And Bogota is such a great city! Well, I’m now following your blog so I cannot wait to hear about your South America adventures. Happy travels Tess :)

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