This blog post is coming to you fresh off the back of my trip to Colombia with Tucan Travel, and what better way to kick it all off than with one of my favourite features of country – the graffiti.
If you’ve seen Narcos and I was to ask you what Colombia was most well-known for, what comes to your head probably won’t be the street art.
But hopefully that will change after reading this blog post.
Our Classic Colombia Tour with Tucan started out in the country's capital, Bogotá, where we had the opportunity to explore the urban streets and soak in as much culture as our jet lagged bodies could take. Bogotá has been recently named one of the Top 10 places in the world to see street art, so it's kind of hard to miss.
The Original Graffiti Tour is the only tour in Bogotá run by artists and creatives involved in the graffiti scene, so of course we went for this one. They run twice a day from 10am and 2pm, meeting in Parque de los Periodistas – look for the blue umbrellas! For about 2 and a half hours your guide will lead you through the lively streets of Bogotá, pointing out the incredible pieces of art and explaining the fascinating stories behind them.
‘Why should I go on a tour when I can just walk around and see it for myself?’, you may be asking. Well for one, it’s easy to just admire the art and take some photos for the ‘gram, but by learning the stories behind the paintings and each artist’s individual style, you receive a history lesson, a politics lesson and even an art lesson if you’re interested in the techniques used to create different effects with a spray can.
You’ll see the influence of the indigenous cultures on the art, and you’ll hear about all the incredible projects that are happening around the country to support artists and build a more positive community around this movement.
The tour was set up in 2011 in order to give artists exposure on a more international scale through the rise of tourism that Colombia was starting to experience. It relies solely on donations and is spoken in English. It’s also a really good way to explore the different parts of the city if you haven’t already.
You’re probably wondering if all this street art is legal, and the answer would be yes, to a certain extent. In Bogota it was decriminalised after the murder of a 16-year-old graffiti artist who was shot dead by police in 2011. Amongst his parents’ search for justice (as the kid, Diego Felipe Becerra, had been framed as a gangster by police who planted a gun), street art has since become a huge epidemic in Bogotá.
Though graffiti still remains a civil offence, artists are a lot more protected than they used to be in Bogotá. Nowadays, if the artist has sought permission or has been commissioned by a property owner, then the artist can paint or spray til their heart's content.
However, this still doesn’t take away from the huge controversy surrounding the graffiti scene in Bogotá and around Colombia. By attending the tour you’ll hear the most recent updates of current affairs between the government and the artists.
For example, we were told about how those in power have been ordering art to be painted over to deter artists and Tweeting photos of the freshly covered buildings – only to just having created a brand-new canvas waiting to be taken on by the next artist, and literally giving away the location. Madness!
All street art in this city (as in most places) has stemmed from political and social expressions displayed by people that previously had no voice. Originally it would be in the form of tags which have more negative connotations of vandalism, but over time it has evolved to the incredible masterpieces you see around the country.
It’s an art form that has been built around speaking up without censorship, respecting artists, and seeking justice for corruption that is still very present in Colombia today.
If you ever find yourself in Bogota, get yourself on this tour.
(You can pre-book here, or just show up!)
It’s an eye opening experience and was the perfect way to start our two week tour around Colombia with Tucan Travel.