Bogota’s street art is entirely original and intensely local. This Bogota graffiti tour will give you the backstory on these amazing affworks and help you figure out where to find them.
The Backstory on Graffiti in Bogota
Like so many other gritty cities featuring street art, Bogota’s movement was inspired by the New York City’s graffiti explosion in the 1980’s. By the 1990’s, Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and the long running civil war conspired to keep Bogota poor, dangerous and dysfunctional, the prime conditions for the emergence of a graffiti movement.
For most of the 2000’s, the Bogota graffiti scene was largely one of tags and throw ups by gangs, disaffected youth and soccer hooligans. Graffiti was very much illegal and the kids doing it were often arrested.
By 2011, the scene had begun to evolve from tagging into more artful graffiti and murals. The public was beginning to accept the art form, although the police were still having none of it. Things came to a head when the police shot and killed graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra.
He was simply spraying a wall, but the police overreacted. They then engaged in an elaborate cover up, accusing Becerra of attempting to rob a bus. The incident and subsequent cover-up enraged the public and there were mass demonstrations and graffiti protests.
The city responded by arresting the officers and also moving to make street art legal in Bogota. This had a profound affect on the quality and scale of Bogota street art. Many walls transitioned from quick tags thrown up in the dead of night to artful murals executed in the full light of day. Conditions were ripe for fostering a next generation of home grown street artists whose works now color the whole city.
Today, every neighborhood has a graffiti committee and there are festivals, commissions and ongoing painting happening all the time. Many building owners commission murals in an effort to discourage tagging. That said, the UNESCO-designated areas of the La Calendaria neighborhood are supposed to be a no-go for graffiti and murals. Whatever works you find there (and there are many), are probably illegal.
Finding Bogota Street Art
There are several neighborhoods where you can find clusters of street art in Bogota.
- Santa Fe behind the central cemetery.
- The Puente Aranda warehouse district.
- The downtown Centro District between Calle 16-18 and Carerra 3-5. Also at the Parque de los Periodistas.
- La Calendaria between Calle 12c-12f and Carrera 1-3. Also at the Parque la Concordia.
Santa Fe and Puente Aranda are best explored with a local who can show you the right spots and help you avoid the dangerous ones. The downtown district and La Calendaria are next to one another and fairly compact. They can easily be explored in 2-3 hours at a leisurely pace. However, be very careful in La Calendaria at night. The warnings about nighttime muggings aren’t just talk and even the locals are wary.
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Choosing a Bogota Graffiti Tour
If you want the full background on Bogota street art, you’ll need a guide. Bogota Graffiti Tour runs excellent, well informed tours. They were founded by the artist Crisp and their guides are specialists in street art, graffiti, anthropology and local history. They offer two hour tours every day at 10am and 2pm. The tours are free, but you need to tip the guides. If you have a small group and want a specialized tour, you can pay $200 mil ($62USD) for a custom tour of up to five people.
Even if you don’t take their tour, you should stop into their gallery at Casa Bogota Graffiti. They have framed prints of local artists work on display and for sale. It’s located near the Plaza Chorro de Quevedo.
There are also free (for tips) tours offered by Gran Colombia Tours. They cover similar territory but don’t have quite the street art cred as Bogota Graffiti Tour. You can also combine a light primer on street art with a bike tour of downtown and La Calendaria with Bogota Bike Tour.
What Makes Bogota Graffiti and Street Art Unique?
Unlike Bristol England, which curates large murals from a global pool of artists or Nashville, which focuses on big, pretty Instagrammable murals, Bogota’s graffiti ethic is intensely local and political.
Many of the murals and stencils tackle political corruption, influence of the drug culture and indigenous culture. There is also a growing population of female artists in Bogota, which is nice to see in such a male dominated field.
Unlike London’s Shoreditch, where murals get mashed up and covered over by new works, Bogota’s street art scene features very intentional collaborations between artists. You can see how well this works with the parrot mural above and the piece below, which features a Nazza stencil and a background by Aeon.
There is also a remarkable multi-generational collaboration in Parque La Concordia. RODE2 is the father and he is joined by his sons, Nomada and Maleoria. They have completely festooned the park with murals on the walls, graffiti on the steps and whimsical coverings on the benches. If you don’t have time for a full Bogota graffiti tour, be sure you make time to see the park, because it is a singular work of art.
The most important and strong message of all my graffiti is a clear message of independence, anonymity, freedom and illegality–Stinkfish
For some inexplicable reason, cats have grabbed a starring role in street art and Bogota is no exception. I asked Monica, our tour guide about it. She figures it’s because cats are nocturnal creatures and quite often, street artists have to slink around in the dead of night to do their art. I’d love to hear your theories on this topic, so please comment below if you have one.
Bogota’s street art culture is not willing to leave Colombia’s history in the dust. These murals and and graffiti keep its political awareness and cultural traditions up front and in your face. Because of this, it’s worth prioritizing Bogota on any Colombian itinerary.
Explore More Mind Boggling Street Art
Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne
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Read More: Explore more of Colombia with this two week itinerary, a guide to Old Town Cartagena and this guide for visiting San Andres island. Get inspired to go there with this list of books set in Colombia.
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