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Bogota's Flourishing Graffiti and Street Art Scene is Like an Open-Air Gallery

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To some people, graffiti and street art are a nuisance and an eyesore. To others, it's a way of bringing artistic expression to the public. There was a time when street art and graffiti was pretty much banned in in Bogota. But today, it's so popular -- and accepted -- that the local scene has attracted artists from around the world and inspired multiple city tours that focus solely on this very visible art form. This photo collection shows just a bit of what's happened in the years since the art form took hold, as some parts of the city have become veritable open-air modern art museums.

During my recent trip to Colombia, I spent several days in the capital city of Bogota looking for new things to cover for my Latin America travel blog, To get a ground-level view of the city's creative side, I signed up for a tour with Bogota Graffiti Tour, a company run by a group of artists and art fans. Surprisingly, the 2.5-hour tour -- which departs twice a day from Parque de los Periodistas, a downtown park -- is free, although they do request donations at the end.

The tour focuses mostly on public creativity in La Candelaria, the historic city center, where there is so much artwork that, according to our guide, Bogota has become one of the 10 best cities in the world for graffiti and street art. If you enjoy modern art and architecture, you'll likely enjoy the Bogota Graffiti Tour. And even if you don't know much about the subject, this excursion provides an excuse to see streets and sections that you won't see on most Bogota city tour. And at the end of the tour, you can follow the guide back to a small shop that serves as headquarters for the tour company, and also stocks items created by some of the city's most famous street artists.

Even if you don't take a guided tour, it's hard not to notice the street art in Bogota, since it pops up in many neighborhoods throughout the city. The work tends toward bold visuals, with strong colors and imaginative images, but political statements aren't as common, for the most part. In some cases, the artwork may be small, in other cases, it may envelop an entire building. Sometimes, the street art covers an abandoned building, bringing new life to an otherwise ugly piece of real estate. In other spots, it graces buildings that are inhabited by residents or businesses. And often -- especially in the case of larger works -- the building or business owner may even commission an artist to decorate the structure.

I've included some of my favorite works of street art and graffiti in Bogota here. One word of advice: Be sure to bring your camera when you wander the streets of Colombia's capital. You may never know when you come across a great new work of modern art.