South America is regarded as being home to some of the best street art cities in the world. The urban street art scene in cities such as Buenos Aires, Lima and Medellin attracts local and international muralists and graffiti artists who use the cities’ buildings as blank canvases to showcase their creativity.
Street art in South America is also a magnet for travellers who want to see these outdoor galleries for themselves. This urban art form highlights topics from all genres through the creation of murals and graffiti.
Political and cultural themes are a popular way for street artists to openly share their views and their ethnicity, while fantasy characters are a popular form of escapism. Empowerment for women is also a subject that is highlighted across South America through Latin street art, as are the indigenous tribes and wildlife of the Amazon.
While street art and graffiti were once considered a form of vandalism, ideals have changed and urban art in South America is now embraced and encouraged as a form of expression and hope. Works of urban art are also painted as commissions by celebrated Latin American muralists, such as Eduardo Kobra, to bring colour to neighbourhoods and unity to the local people.
Rio de Janeiro is an example of this and is home to the largest street art mural in the world. Mural Das Etnias shows five different people dressed in ethnic costumes, from five of the world’s continents. It was commissioned for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 and remains a focal point in the city.
With contributions from fellow travellers, I have compiled this post to highlight the best destinations for street art in South America
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Contributed by Claudia from My Adventures Across the World
Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is home to an incredible range of attractions. One of the best things to do in Buenos Aires is to explore the street art in Palermo, a large and mostly residential area divided into several sub-districts, including Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood.
Scattered around Palermo, you will find many beautiful murals that will provide an insightful overview of Argentine history, culture and society. Several artists have contributed to the decoration of the walls of Palermo, but try to look out for art pieces such as the Girls Hugging by Juli Casas and Mar Bou; Chispart’s Astronaut on a Bicycle; the Thinking Person by Triangulo Dorado.
One of the best urban art pieces is at La Chopperia, a bar between Gurruchaga and El Salvador in Colegiales, whose facade is decorated with Tano Verón murals.
To make the most of the street art in Palermo, you should take a guided tour. There are many offered that can be booked online, but if you want an authentic local experience, check out Graffitimundo, a local non-profit organization where the actual artists that painted the walls of Palermo will take you around!
Book a Palermo Graffiti and Street Art Guided Walking Tour to see the urban art scene in Buenos Aires.
Rio De Janeiro
Contributed by Stephanie from The Unknown Enthusiast
Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, has some of the best street art in South America, with some of its best urban art in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood and along the Olympic Boulevard.
Santa Teresa is a quiet bohemian area that extends up one of Rio’s hills. It has colourful buildings and murals everywhere; even the telephone poles are decorated with unique designs and scenes! An impressive mural here is of the Santa Teresa tram – it’s pretty big and showcases the tram riding through the neighbourhood (and a great Rio travel tip is to ride that tram to the top of the hill!).
I liked the street art in Santa Teresa, as it blended well with the bohemian vibe and colourful buildings of the neighbourhood.
Found on the Boulevard Olimpico, the Mural Das Etnias is a new mural completed by Eduardo Kobra in 2016, just ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio. Located in the Centro neighbourhood, it has the honour of being the largest mural in the world! This street art showcases five different people dressed in ethnic attire, with each of them hailing from native tribes from each of the five largest continents. I loved the message of unity and togetherness that this mural represents.
Book a Street Art Walking Tour to see the highlights of Rio De Janeiro’s urban art scene.
Contributed by Shobna from Just Go Places
Sao Paulo is a well-known city to see street art in Latin America. You can find street art in Sao Paulo all over the city, from the upscale neighbourhoods to the up-and-coming areas. In a city where traffic can often be in a state of gridlock, and the rich prefer to helicopter around, street art on the streets and highways can brighten up an otherwise tedious drive.
Many international street artists come to Sao Paulo to show off their work. In turn, the well-known artist Eduardo Kobra is a home-grown Sao Paulo talent with thousands of works of art shown on five continents. Other renowned Sao Paulo street artists are Os Gemeos, identical twins who have works shown worldwide. They have made the leap into fine art and even collaborated with Louis Vuitton.
One sizeable local street art collection is in the hip neighbourhood of Vila Madelena. Known as Batman Alley, this winding street is covered in street art. It is a popular spot for locals to have photoshoots with up and coming talent. The name Batman Alley comes from an early piece of street art which has long since gone. The murals are ever-changing here as new pieces of artwork are painted over existing murals.
The works of urban art are brash, bold and colourful. Often, they make a political or social statement about the world. As the financial capital of Brazil, Sao Paulo can seem very commercial. Street art is a dynamic way of adding colour and commentary to the city where the gaps in wealth are visibly apparent. Sao Paulo street art is there for everyone to see and think about, whether or not they choose to take heed of the message.
Book an Off The Beaten Path Street Art Walking Tour to see the highlights of the urban art scene in Sao Paulo.
Find out about the Best Cities To See Street Art in Asia
Contributed by Alya from Stingy Nomads
The bright and colourful city of Valparaiso is considered the art capital of Chile and showcases some of the best street art in South America. It is also one of my favourite South American cities. The city’s hilly landscape, its narrow streets, endless staircases, and vibrant architecture create a unique, recognizable image of Valparaiso. Street art is a big part of the city’s art scene, with famous murals (murallas) attracting both local and foreign tourists to Valparaiso.
Cerro Bellavista, Cerro Concepcion, and Cerro Alegre are the main areas to see street art in Valparaiso, and a visit to the Museo al Cielo Abierto (an open-air museum) in Cerro Bellavista is one of the not-to-miss things to do in Valparaiso. The open-air museum is a collection of murals painted by local artists. Amateur painters and renowned Chilean artists created 20 impressive murals.
Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre are my favourite neighbourhoods in Valparaiso. Exploring their narrow streets, you can discover some truly impressive works of street art; staircases painted like a rainbow or piano keys, mosaics, and murals with the scenes of daily life in Valparaiso. My favourite murals are the bright walls with fantasy characters in Cerro Alegre.
Book a 4 Hour Tour of Valparaiso to discover the highlights of the city.
Contributed by Bailey from Destinationless Travel
Bogota is the country’s capital and one of Colombia’s best places to visit. It is a city famous for its urban art and is considered to be one of the top destinations in the world to see street art. With professional street art on almost every corner in the downtown core and area called La Candelaria, people come from all over the world to wander the streets and enjoy this unique form of art.
What sets Bogota’s street art apart from many other places, which I loved the most, is that almost all street art is political. Many pieces represent opinions contrary to the actions of the government, and some of my very favourite urban art pieces tell stories. Lots of the street art in Bogota is about historical events – many that are a part of Colombia’s dark past. Many street artists believe that by remembering these events through art, they are less likely to be repeated in the future.
The street art scene in Bogota is a must-see experience and one of the most popular things to do in Bogota is to go on a guided street art tour. While you can wander around the city on your own, I highly recommend going on a guided tour. This way, your guide can explain the significance of some of the best murals around the city. You can choose between paid tours that guarantee a smaller group, or if you’re on a budget, consider the free street art walking tour instead. Regardless of what you choose, you’re sure to be impressed.
Book a Bogota Street Art Tour to see the highlights of the capital city’s urban art scene.
Contributed by Daniel from Layer Culture
In Colombia’s Valle del Cauca, Cali is the country’s third-largest city and is known by many as the salsa capital of the world. Since urban culture in all its form is on the rise here, walking through the city’s streets will reveal a host of colourful street art murals.
One popular area to find street art is in the San Antonio neighbourhood, which you’ll find on any list of things to do in Cali because of its historic appeal as well as being home to a host of artisans, traders and independent shops.
You’ll see entire walls, buildings, and public spaces covered in the most intricate murals. While in Cali, lookout for work by the internationally acclaimed female artist: Gleo, whose amazing work often symbolizes Latin American mythologies and can be found in and around the city.
The street art in Cali has attracted not only an influx of tourists over the years but also other young international artists who have helped pave the way to Cali being a popular street art city.
Contributed by Sarah from A Social Nomad
Getsemani is one of the barrio neighbourhoods of Cartagena de Indias, becoming a little gentrified these days but still chock full of colourful buildings and some incredible street art. It’s the primary hangout of backpackers and those looking for cheaper accommodation and fabulous nightlife. Getsemani is the primary area of Cartagena for those looking for street art – so much so that there are several guided interpretive street art tours that you can take.
Calle Sierpe was the first place street art appeared here in Getsemani, and it’s grown since then, with this area of the city now being home to artwork from both local and international artists. A group of more than 20 local Cartagena artists formed the CapTagEna collective and worked with the locals to improve the area. The area now even hosts an annual Aerosol Festival, which brings in a lot more tourists to the area.
You can see a lot of street art in Getsemani in Callejon Angosta, but my favourite is Plaza Trinidad. Many visitors might have concerns about visiting some of the street art areas of South America, but here in Getsemani, it feels very, very safe, and the art here is not just confined to the paint on the walls. You’ll see everyday objects included in the artwork, giving visitors and locals a joyous and uplifting experience.
Book an Urban Scene Bike Tour of Cartegena and see the highlights of Getsemani and its surrounding areas.
Contributed by Pubali and Indranil from Paradise Catchers
One of the best places to see street art in South America is in Medellin, Colombia. The most notable street art is found in Comuna 13. Once upon a time, it used to be the city’s infamous neighbourhood known for high crime rates. But as the city of Medellin came a long way down the course of history, so did this neighbourhood.
From an ignored barrio on one end of the city, Comuna 13 has now transformed into one of Medellin’s top tourist attractions. The main reason travellers flock to Comuna 13 is to see the display of amazing street art all over the neighbourhood, started by its young residents.
I love abstract art because the scope of art is not just limited to the artist’s original interpretation, but the canvas can also be a thought-provoking sight for the viewers. In the case of Comuna 13 street art, I found myself admiring the pieces of wall graffiti even more because they encapsulated a small piece of Colombian history and hope for a better future.
The graffiti and murals are a mix of abstract concepts, animal portraits and human portraits, but with a binding theme of capturing the essence of the transformation of Comuna 13 and its values.
Book a Communa 13 Street Art Tour with a Local and discover the urban scene in Medellin.
Contributed by Michelle from Intentional Travelers
In Cuenca, Ecuador, colourful colonial architecture is complemented by an abundance of modern street art with murals found throughout the city.
The highest concentration of street art is along the stairways between the Tomebamba River and the UNESCO World Heritage Centro Historico.
Some of these have been coordinated by local non-profit, IdiomART, bringing in artists from around the region, with many wall paintings in Cuenca featuring indigenous themes. It’s a pleasure to discover these pieces on random corners, outside the markets, behind museums, etc.
Unfortunately, Cuenca also has quite a lot of graffiti and tagging, and there is some controversy among residents over what is legitimate art and what is simply defacing property. That said, Cuenca’s beauty and creativity continue to shine through.
Contributed by Carley from Home to Havana
The Unesco World Heritage site of Quito in Ecuador is home to countless street artists and impressive works of art that decorate streets across the city. You can find a few pieces of high-quality street art in Old Town Quito, such as the multi-story mural of two men chatting, located in the Plaza de las Conceptas and painted by Luigi Stornaiolo a famous Ecuadorian painter. However, you’ll find even more street art in more modern neighbourhoods like La Mariscal, where there are fewer regulations about street art.
While you’ll find themes of all types, Quito has an abundance of street art with social and political themes, including the rights of Ecuador’s indigenous population and the tumultuous politics of Ecuador and its neighbouring countries.
A mural of Hugo Chavez is featured prominently near Quito’s Congress building, and a beautiful but haunting portrait of an indigenous woman peaks out near the Museo de la Ciudad. As a traveller, I found these works particularly fascinating for their ability to communicate so much with a single yet complex work of art!
Book a Quito Urban Bike Tour to discover the city’s street art scene.
Contributed by Vicki from Vicki Viaja
One of the most underrated places in Peru is Lima. Often the Peruvian capital is overlooked to make space on the Peru itinerary for other famous places like Cusco and Machu Picchu. However, it is worth a visit not only for the beautiful old town but also to see some of South America’s most spectacular street art.
You can find particularly unusual artwork in the Barranco district, considered Lima’s hipster neighbourhood. Ironically, the street art pieces and graffiti were unwanted by the city’s government for a long time. Today, the artwork is considered one of the best things to see in Lima and adds to the charm of Barranco.
The most famous of Barranco’s street art artworks is the mural by Jade Rivera, located at Puente de los Suspiros, at the neighbourhood entrance. This work is considered one of Barranco’s most photographed sites. However, you can find even more of his art pieces throughout the district.
Lima is one of the best walking cities in South America, and as you make your way through the city, you can discover spectacular street art and graffiti on many corners. Therefore, it’s particularly worth exploring the side streets as well, as you can find a lot of terrific pieces outside of the typical tourist streets.
Book a Barranco Art and Culture Tour to see the highlights of Lima’s urban art scene.
Contributed by Anthony from Green Mochila
Tarapoto is a gateway to the Peruvian Amazon jungle and surprised us in more than one respect. We probably wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for a three-week volunteering experience, but we don’t regret a single day! Although it lives in the shade of the ‘neighbouring’ Iquitos, or maybe thanks to that, the town has a cosy local vibe that we enjoyed.
Surrounded by pristine rainforest and breath-taking waterfalls, occasionally visited by a confused python and a few exhilarated gringos, Tarapoto is also home to an impressive amount of South American street art. The art pieces are scattered all around Tarapoto, but it’s easy to discover them on foot since the town is small. Alternatively, moto-taxis are a good and cheap way to explore.
We like that many pieces are very colourful and include a social message. Our featured image is a good example; a woman hushes the passers-by and says, “No son piropos”, meaning “Those aren’t compliments”. This mural is a nod to the women in Peru who are tired of receiving unsolicited attention on the street.
Coincidentally, the girl who ran our hostel was part of the artistic crew behind most of the Tarapoto street art. She gave us the background for her favourite pieces, e.g. the many jaguars, which represent one of the three realms in the Andean belief system.
If you are interested in Street Art you may want to add this to your reading list: