Beautiful, Embattled Lake Tota – Sogamoso, Colombia

The city of Sogamoso is certainly not going to win any beauty contests. It does, however, make a great base for travelers who want to visit one of the few wineries in Colombia, check out a museum devoted to the country’s Muisca culture, tour Andean villages and admire Lake Tota (Laguna de la Tota in Spanish). The highest and largest lake in Colombia is a stunner despite the environmental battle that’s raging around it.

Lake Tota Colombua Laguna de Tota

Lake Tota is the highest and largest lake in Colombia. It’s also facing serious environmental challenges.

Beautiful, embattled Lake Tota

We don’t know about you but we’d never seen a mountain lake with a white sand beach before we arrived on the shores of Lake Tota in the Andes above Sogamoso. At 9,891 feet (3,015 meters) and covering 21 square miles (55 square km), it’s the highest and largest natural lake in Colombia and the second highest navigable lake in South America (after Lake Titicaca in Perú & Bolivia). It’s also very, very beautiful and that’s part of the problem.

Playa Blanca Lake Tota Colombia

This sandy white beach surrounds part of Lake Tota in Colombia.

The deep lake doesn’t look polluted. The water is clear, green reeds flourish around the edges and provide haven for birds. The beach-like sandy shore is so white it’s called Playa Blanca (White Beach). Locals brave the cold, high altitude temperatures to take a dip and the lake supplies water for thousands of area residents.

That water, it turns out, might not be safe to drink. Local conservationist Felipe Velasco says he wouldn’t touch the stuff. He’s been borderline obsessed with the water quality and general environmental well-being of the lake since 2009 when he unwittingly rented a plot of land he owns on the lake shore to a trout farmer. At that time he says he was unaware of the polluting effects of trout farming and when he became aware of the environmental impact of fish farming he tried to get out of the lease. Years late he was still trying to end the lease.

Lake Tota Colombia

Despite its beauty, Lake Tota is under serious environmental pressure.

The champion of Lake Tota

Since entering into the trout farm lease, Felipe has learned about other environmental threats to the lake and, in 2010, he formed Fundacion Montecito, a non-profit org focused on protecting Lake Tota and the area around it.

Felipe Velasco Fundacion Montecito Lake Tota

Felipe Velasco is fighting to stop pollution in Lake Tota and the surrounding areas.

One of the main polluting elements in the lake is trout farming. When we spoke to Felipe he said there were eight caged trout farms in Lake Tota producing millions of trout a year and resulting in concentrated organic pollution and pollution from fish food in the lake. In 2013 one million trout died from oxygen deprivation in Lake Tota, according to Felipe.

Felipe believes local onion farmers are an even bigger threat than the trout farms. Farmers have been growing onions on the shores of the lake and nearby hillsides for decades. The majority of onions consumed in Colombia come from farms around the lake. There are so many onion farms that the place smelled like onions when we were there.

Lake Tota Onions

Farms around Lake Tota produce most of the onions consumed in Colombia. It’s big business and an important part of life in the local communities as this onion statue in the main plaza in Aquitania, the principal town on the lake, attests. However, pesticides and fertilizer used on the fields are polluting the lake.

When we spoke to Felipe he said that chemicals from pesticides and fertilizer used in the onion fields inevitably find their way into the lake, polluting the water even more . “I see the lake as a living body that can’t talk for itself,” Felipe told us.

Over the years, Felipe and others have managed some environmental victories for Lake Tota, including international recognition and some protections and the implementation of environmental education in local schools, but commercial scale fish farming and onion farming continue.

Muisca Temple of the Sun Sogamosa

A recreation of the Temple of the sun at the Archeological Museum Elicer Silva Celis Suamox museum (often just referred to as the Temple of the Sun) in Sogamoso.

Other things to do around Sogamoso

The Archeological Museum Elicer Silva Celis Suamox (better known simply as the Temple of the Sun), on the outskirts of Sogamoso (6,000 COP/about US$2 per person, exhibits all in Spanish), is one of the few (some say the only) museums focused on the Muisca people. There are various rooms with displays of baskets, pottery and other relics but the highlight, for us, was the chance to check out recreations of the culture’s elaborate round buildings including the Sun Temple which the Muisca used for religious ceremonies before it was destroyed by Spanish conquistadors in 1537.

Temple of the Sun Museum Sogamosa

The Archeological Museum Elicer Silva Celis Suamox (aka the Temple of the Sun) in Sogamoso.

Further outside of town you will find one of the few wineries in Colombia. The Marquesa de Puntalarga winery manages to grow grapes and make a wide variety or wines at 8,400 feet (2,560 meters). We found most of the wines produced here to be too sweet for our taste, but we had to admire owner Marco Quijano’s success with grapes at this altitude.

Marquesa de Puntalarga winery Sogamosa Colombia

Grapes growing at 8,400 feet at the Marquesa de Puntalarga winery near Sogamoso.

We heard persistent rumors (and even saw a flyer) about a brewery called 1516 in Sogamoso. However, the website doesn’t open and multiple emails to the owner went unanswered. If you find and visit 1516 brewery, please tell us all about it in the comments, below.

Sogamoso also makes a good base for visiting Andean villages including Mongui which is part of Colombia’s exclusive group of Pueblos Patrimonios. We toured many of the towns during Christmas when each village creates a nativity scene in the main plaza. Check out our Christmas in the Andes post to see more.

Plaza in Sogamosa Colombia

Sogamoso is not a beautiful city, but the main plaza and cathedral aren’t bad.

Where to sleep in Sogamoso

It’s no contest: Finca San Pedro is the best place to stay in Sogamoso. Located a short distance out of the city itself, this economical and homey place is set in a large and tranquil garden. There are private rooms and a dorm and a shared kitchen. Yoga retreats are also offered.

This is also a great place to learn more about Lake Tota. Felipe’s brother Juan runs Finca San Pedro and is very knowledgeable about the area and the issues affecting Lake Tota.

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Photo Essay: Carrera 13 Graffiti Street in Bogotá, Colombia

This post is part 4 of 5 in the series Street Art in the Americas

When shop owners in the Chapinero neighborhood of Bogotá, Colombia got sick and tired of cleaning tags and graffiti off their businesses, they mobilized. Instead of trying to ban street art (street art in Bogotá is legal within reasonable bounds), the shop keepers on Carrera 13 and the local mayor decided to run a contest to find talented street artists who would agree to create work on the closed shutters of the businesses, replacing the ugly defacement with art. The project began in 2014 and has turned Carrera 13 into an art gallery instead of an eyesore.

Carrera 13 street art in Bogotá, Colombia

Nearly 200 street artists entered the contest and 55 were ultimately chosen and given the go-ahead to work on the shutters, ultimately covering many, many blocks of Carrera 13. Here are some of our favorite pieces of street art on Carrera 13.

Toxicomano Gabriel Garcia Marquez Bogota Street Art

Artist: Toxicomano

Ciudad Alegre calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist: Ledania

Crisp Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist: Crisp

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist: Surbeat

calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

Carsal Corrosivo Bogota Street Art

Artist: Carsal Corrosivo (just the bear)

Atomiko Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist (left): Atomico

ARK Animal Pura Calle Bogota Street Art

Artist: ARK

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artists unknown to us

Fonso/Mal Bogota Street Art

Artists: Fonso/MAL crew

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artist unknown to us

Calle 13 Bogota Street Art

Artists unknown to us

Bogotá street art travel tip

Because this street art is only visible when the businesses are closed, the best time to wander down Carrera 13 is early on a Sunday morning.

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3D Street Art Installations – Bogotá, Colombia

This post is part 4 of 5 in the series Street Art in the Americas

In addition to tags, murals, stencils, stickers, posters and wheatpaste street art in Bogotá (which we’ve already covered) you will find an array of 3D street art installations and sculptures. Here are some of our favorite examples of unconventional street art in Bogotá.

Street art sculptures Candalaria Bogota Colombia

Look up. There are a number of sculptures perched above the streets of Candelaria. We particularly like the banana fisherman (artist unknown to us).

Street art sculptures Candalaria Bogota Colombia

These distinctive ceramic masks are installed by Crisp.

MRtoll street art Bogota

Brooklyn-based painter and street artist MRtoll has been placing his clay sculptures of tropical birds around the city.

City ofRonzo street art Bogota Colombia

Ronzo is a German who lives in London and is known for his gap-toothed monsters. This “City of Ronzo” crest, located in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá, can also be found in a few other cities including London.

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The Political Power of Street Art – Bogotá, Colombia

This post is part 3 of 5 in the series Street Art in the Americas

Street art is often a form of protest and social commentary. Bogotá, Colombia–where  the political power of street art plays out around recurring themes of social injustice, anti-capitalism and war and peace–is no exception.

Crisp Paz Bogota street art

Peace is a recurring theme in the politically charged street art in Bogotá. This piece, called Paz (Peace) is by Crisp.

War, peace and the “disappeared” in Bogotá street art

Colombia is (slowly) emerging from more than 50 years of ongoing violence, armed conflict and civil war, but the damage has been done. According to the New York Times more than 220,000 people have been killed and more than 40,000 have simply disappeared. The country is ranked #1 in the world in terms of  “internally displaced persons” because it’s estimated that nearly six million Colombian citizens have fled their homes and moved to other areas of the country to escape violence. According to the UNHCR, Sudan has half that many internally displaced persons.

It should surprise no one that street artists often articulate a rage about the high cost of war and the slow search for peace (the Colombian government and FARC rebels have been in peace talks for nearly four years) that is shared by many.

Memoria street art Bogota

Memoria (Memory), a massive multi-wall work created primarily by ARK, Chirrete Golden, is a seething ode to those killed, disappeared and displaced by a half century of conflict in Colombia.

The Memoria work, above, is even more poignant because it’s located across the street from the Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliation. Opened in 2012, the Center of Memory, Peace and Reconciliation was designed to create a space where the violence and loss of the past could be recognized and honored in a way that allowed everyone to move forward to peace without forgetting the human cost of war. Thousands of test tubes of earth from massacre sites around Colombia were installed in an abandoned section of a cemetery which itself is a charged site to begin with because it’s where victims of the revolt of June 9, 1948, regarded as the beginning of decades of violence in Colombia, were taken.

Toxicomano desplazamento Bogota street art

This piece by Toxicomano is called Desplazamento (Displacement) and is a reminder of the millions of Colombian citizens who have left their homes and migrated elsewhere in the country in order to escape violence. No other country has more “internally displaced” people than Colombia.

EZLN guerillas victims of war Bogota street art

Even if the years-long peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels results in a lasting peace deal there will still be EZLN guerillas in Colombia, as depicted here (artists unknown to us).

Guache ppeace is ours Bogota street art

This massive piece by Guache sums it up as an indigenous Colombian woman holds doves under the slogan La Paz is Nuestra (Peace is Ours).

Greed and inequality in Bogotá street art

Social injustice and the divide between “haves” and “have nots” is profound in Colombia and that’s rich fodder for Bogotá’s politically minded street artists.

Lesivo Bogota Street art

War, greed and capitalism are common stomping grounds for Lesivo as in this piece which includes a tip of the hat to the US backed Plan Colombia anti-war and anti-drug initiative that has led to the murder and disappearance of many Colombians.

Saga & Crudo Bogota street art

The duo Saga & Crudo decry capitalism by showing the Monopoly Man being held up by their own creations. Don’t miss the pooch getting screwed on the right.

Peace & Inequality Bogota Street art

Peace and inequality depicted in street art in Bogotá (artists unknown to us).

DjLu El Calidoso Bogota street art

DJ Lu often includes “El Calidoso” (on the right), a homeless man who was burned alive in Colombia, in his work.

Assange Crisp Bogota street art

Global politics are often tackled as well, as in this piece by Crisp which depicts Julian Assange. It reads “Where is freedom of expression?”

Environmental street art in Bogotá

Mining and oil extraction form a large part of Colombia’s GDP and there’s growing discontent about environmental threats and policies in the country. Many of those complaints and fears play out on the streets.

Top Toxicomano - Mining and the environment Middle DjLu - Fossil Fuel. DjLu details - oil is death & warbugs

Top: Toxicomano makes a case against mining in Colombia. Middle: DJ Lu on fossil fuel. Bottom: DJ Lu again on oil, death (note the man hanging from an oil well) and war bugs.

bullfighting Bogota street art

The previous mayor wanted to outlaw bullfighting and this piece, artist unknown to us, takes up the animal rights position by marrying the bull fighter and the bull.

Lesivo Bogota street art

This piece by Lesivo gets at the importance of a clean environment and healthy food.

Speaking of street art and politics…

Street art, within certain bounds, is legal in Bogotá, but not everyone is on board. The city’s newly elected mayor is making rumblings about a street art crackdown that have street artists clenching their butt cheeks and reaching for their spray paint. Stay tuned.

If you want to learn more about the artists, check our post about the overall street art scene in Bogotá.

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Bogotá Street Art 101 – Bogotá, Colombia

This post is part 2 of 5 in the series Street Art in the Americas

Most major cities around the world have some sort of a street art scene – not just random graffiti tags, but crafted pieces of art that happen to exist outdoors in public spaces. In Bogotá, the street art scene is on fire. Colombian artists have been invited to create street art around the world and participate in major gallery exhibitions and the vibrant art on display around the country’s capital (one estimate puts the total number of major works of street art in the city at more than 5,000) runs the gamut from playful to political to the sort of public art that defies pigeonholing. We really got into the street art in Bogotá as you can see in the 49 images in this post (the most we’ve ever included in a single post). We think our Bogotá Street Art 101 primer will get you hooked too.

rana frog Bogota street art

This friendly frog, artist unknown, welcomes you to the world of street art in Bogotá!

Bogotá street art, from maligned to mainstream

Street art wasn’t always a legit part of the city’s landscape. Despite the fact that major Colombian companies like Bogtoa Beer Company were commissioning street artists to create original artwork and logos for them (like the image below), the public and the police were not quite as enthusiastic about the emerging subculture.

BBC Bogota Beer Company uses street artists design truck

This logo, created by street artists, was commissioned by Bogotá Beer Company.

In 2011, young graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra was shot in the back by police while painting. Police then tried to say the artist was shot in self-defense while he was trying to rob a bus. Tensions rose (even the United Nations condemned the farce) and a forum was created to bring street artists and law enforcement officials together to figure out a way to coexist. Today, street art is legal in Bogotá where city officials and artists don’t just co-exist, they collaborate.

Bogota Street artist Zokos wins competition to paint this wall

In 2014, artist Ricardo Zokos won the annual street art competition put on by the city of Bogotá and he was given this wall and the materials needed to create this massive work of art.

Every year the city of Bogotá holds a street art competition and the winner is granted a massive space and the materials needed to turn it into a canvas for his or her vision. The winner in 2014 was an artists named Ricardo Zokos who used a cherry picker and gallons and gallons of paint to create the work above. It’s 75 feet (22 meters) high by 130 feet (40 meters) wide.

W hotel Bogota lounge designed by street artists

The street artists that work as Vertigo Graffiti were hired to create this wall in the bar of the W Hotel in Bogotá.

When the W Hotel opened in Bogotá 2015,  they got on the street art bandwagon too, commissioning  the artists at Vertigo Graffiti to paint an entire wall in the hotel bar. Over the course of two full nights of work, Vertigo artists Zas, Ospen, Cazdos, Ecksuno, DexS and Fish created the mural, above, for the hotel.

Bogota street art incorporated into apartment building

Normal, every day buildings like apartments and hostels in Bogotá routinely incorporate the work of street artists.

How to see the street art: graffiti tours in Bogotá

Love it or hate it, these days the street art scene in Bogotá is an integral part of the city. As the usual “but is it art?” debate rages, more and more guided tours of the city’s street art are being offered. After a visit to the city’s excellent Gold Museum, taking a graffiti tour is probably the second most popular activity in the capital. We took two different Bogotá street art tours.

Crisp Bogota Street Art

An Australian street artist known as Crisp lives in Bogotá, creates this art and stared the city’s very first guided graffiti tour.

The Bogotá Graffiti Tour was the first street art tour offered in the city. It was created by Australian artist Christian Peterson, who now lives in Bogota where he signs his street art as Crisp. His company still takes people on 2. 5 hour guided walking tours past fantastic examples of the city’s street art (free, but donations are aggressively encouraged). Tours are lead by English speaking guides who are graffiti artists themselves, including Crisp. It provides a good overview of the main players and main motivators behind street art found in the La Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá, which is the area where the city was originally founded and is now hipster central.

Bogota street artist Koch1no

Veteran Bogotá street artist David Niño (aka Koch1no) guided us around some of the city’s best works. Here he’s standing in front of one of his own pieces. He calls the little character in the lower right hand corner of the work a “space bunny” and it appears in all of his pieces.

We also took a tour organized by tour company called 5 Bogotá. The tour was lead by Colombian artist Koch1no  (aka David Niño) and we departed from a shop called Visaje Graffiti Colombia which was opened to showcase and sell items designed by city artists. For a few hours Koch1no, who’s been doing street art for more than a decade, lead us through various areas of the city expertly and enthusiastically explaining the work we were walking past including who made the art, what it was meant to represent, what the inspiration was and more. It was a fun and informative tour and we were sorry to see it end.

The tour company no longer offers that exact tour but they’re about to launch a brand new graffiti experience. For US$35 per person, guests will be taken to the A Tres Manos studio where artists will help them create their own piece of art (all materials provided). That tour will be available to book through 5 Bogotá starting on April 1, 2016.

Bogotá street art: DJ Lu

This Colombian artist, who is also a trained architect and a professor, has been decorating the city since 2004. You can’t swing a cat in the capital without hitting one of his pieces which is often signed as Juegasiempre. He often uses stencils made from photographs of homeless people, including Marco Tulio Sevillano, a homeless man who was burned to death. Keep a keen eye out for other DJ Lu iconography including pineapples as hand grenades, dollar signs incorporating guns, and insects as weapons.

DjLu + Pez (Barcelona) Bogota Street Art

A classic piece from DJ Lu.


A classic piece from DJ Lu.

DjLu + Toxicomano Bogota Street Art

This piece is a collaboration between DJ Lu and the Toxicomano collective which contributed the woman with camera imagery on the left.

DjLu + Pez (Barcelona) Bogota Street Art

This piece is a collaboration between DJ Lu ad Pez, a Spanish artist now living in Bogotá, who contributed the funky flyers.

Bogotá street art: Bastardilla

Bastardilla is one of the most prominent female street artists in Bogotá, but there’s still not a lot of information out there about the secretive painter. What is clear is her focus on women’s rights, the struggle to end violence against women and the need for increased respect for the crucial role women and women’s work play in the future of Latin America. She reportedly sometimes sends her work with friends when they travel abroad and asks them to paste her art up in cities around the world.  Plus, she’s got one of the coolest names out there.

Bastardia + Gris One Bogota street art

Bastardilla did this work with Gris One. The bird in the middle is hers.

Bastardilla female graffiti artist Bogota street art

This is a piece done by Bastardilla.

BastardillAa Bogota street art

Another piece by Bastardilla.

Bogotá street art: Toxicomano

Work signed by Toxicomano is produced by a prolific collection of artists. The most distinctive style of their work is done in stencil and involves a lot of black and white and often features a mohawk-sporting character named Eddie, though other styles emerge like the blue pig decorated with a map of the world, below. The work of this collective is extremely popular and more and more businesses are commissioning Toxicomano to decorate their shops.

Toxicomano Callerjo Bogota street art lost boy Eddie

Classic work from a collection of artists known as Toxicomano involves a graphic, stenciled, largely black and white look and the face of Eddie.

Toxicomano Callerjo Bogota street

The Toxicomano collective of artists is often commissioned to decorate businesses in Bogotá, like this tattoo shop.

Toxicomano Callejero Bogota street art pig map

We love this Toxicomano pig decorated with a map of the world.

Bogotá street art: Lesivo

Lesivo, aka Diego Chavez, also frequently works on large murals with DJ Lu and Toxicomano. His work is marked by a startled, skull-like quality to faces and heads that smacks of suddenly shattered innocence.

Lesivo Bogota street art

Street art by Lesivo in Bogotá, Colombia.

Lesivo Bogota street art

Street art by Lesivo in Bogotá, Colombia.

Bogotá street art: Ledania

Ledania is based in Bogotá where she creates distinctive work with bold colors and complex graphics around themes that have been called mythological.

Ledania Bogota Street art

Colombian street artist Ledania transformed this wall with her fantastical style.

Lediana Bogota Street art

This is a good example of the bold colors and graphics that form part of Ledania’s style.

Bogotá street art: Guache

This Colombian artist, who has exhibited his work across Europe, returns to homegrown imagery of the plants, animals and indigenous cultures of Colombia. No color is too bright and Guache’s work is a technicolor celebration of Colombia’s heart and soul and a wake up call about the threats they face.

Guache Bogota Street art

The doves in this work by Guache are holding banners that read Social Justice and Freedom and Peace.

Guache Bogota Street art

Another mesmerizing piece by Guache.

Bogotá street art: Stinkfish

Stinkfish is possibly the most internationally well-known Colombian street artist at the moment with canvases selling in galleries around the world for thousands of dollars. His art is marked by stencils he makes of faces from photographs he finds or takes himself. He then elaborates on the images with graphics and intense colors. In addition to his solo work, Stinkfish has an art crew called APC (Animal Poder Cultura/Animal Power Culture).

Stinkfish Bogota street art

You really can’t miss a Stinkfish face.

Stinkfish + APC Bogota street art

Here’s a work by Stinkfish working with his APC crew.

Bogotá street art: Lik Mi

In addition to creating a body-centric street art style, the artist known as Lik Mi is also a jewelry designer. She’s said her fully nude paste ups are meant to counter the objectification of women and confront taboos about nudity.

Lik Mi Bogota street art

These three pieces by Lik Mi give you a good sense of her focus on confronting taboos about nudity and making a point about the objectification of women.

Bogotá street art: Saga

Saga‘s solo work is marked by joyfully absurd oversize women and an olde timey dude who’s seriously creepy. Sometimes the artist works with another artist known as Crudo who adds distinctive lettering, giving the collaborative work a vaudeville poster look and feel.

Saga Uno Bogota street art

The joyful absurdity of work by Saga.

Saga Uno Bogota street art

This creepy but compelling character is courtesy of Saga.

Saga & Crudo Bogota street art

Artists Saga and Crudo often team up in Bogotá.

Bogotá street art: Rodez

Rodez is a book publisher and street artist in his 50s and his work has a polished, gallery-ready look and feel. He is quite literally a father to street art. His sons, Nomada and Malegria, have followed him into the biz and they sometimes collaborate.

Rodez Street art Bogota

A whimsical, sophisticated piece by Rodez.

Bogotá street art: beyond the big names

Not everyone in the Bogotá street art scene is a star. Yet. Here are some pieces we liked by artists we know little or nothing about (if you know who did the pieces we can’t id, let us know in the comments section at the end of this post).

el beso de los invisibles The kiss MDC crew Yurika Jade

Based on a photo of a homeless couple kissing, this 115 high piece, called “El Beso de los Invisibles” (The Kiss of the Invisibles) was created by a co-ed team including Vertigo, Jade, Zas and MDC.

Katze + Carsal Corrosivo Bogota Sterrt Art

This work was created by Katze and Carsal Corrosivo.

MAL crew Bogota street art

MAL Crew did this work.

Carlos Trilleras Bogota street art

This wonderful portrait of a Kuna woman was done by Carlos Trilleras.

Bogota street art

Artist unknown.

Praxis Bogota street art

An Argentinean artist known as Praxis did this.

Entes y Pesimo Bogota street art

Peruvian artists Entes y Pesimo work together. This wall was done by Entes alongside the image below which was painted by Pesimo.

Entes y Pesimo Bogota street art

Peruvian artists Entes y Pesimo work together. This wall was done by Pesimo alongside the wall above which was painted by Entes.

Monstrucation Bogota street art

This piece is called Monstrucation but we don’t know who created it.

BLN bike Perversa Bogota street art

The bike image on the left was done by an artist from Ecuador known as BLN Bike and the googly-eyed purple blob was done by an artist known as Perversa.

Bogota street art

Artist unknown.

Bogota street art

Artist unknown.

indiginous Bogota street art

Artist unknown.

The ever-changing nature of Bogotá street art

One of the things that makes street art interesting is the ever-changing nature of the installations. The composite image, below, shows a wall outside the Visaje Graffiti Colombia store in Bogotá which we photographed on August 30, 2014 (top) and again on September 1, 2015 (bottom). What a difference a year (and some talent and some paint) makes.

Visaje gallery Bogota street art

Never enough street art

For more about street art, check out the Google Culture Institute Street Art Project and watch the trailer for a graffiti documentary called Este Territorio es Nuestro (This Territory is Ours).


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Go Now! A New Dam Threatens the Biggest Waterfall in Ecuador – Cascada San Rafael, Ecuador

Cascada San Rafael (San Rafael Waterfall) is the tallest waterfall in Ecuador at 430 feet (131 meters). It’s also the biggest waterfall by volume in the country and 24th biggest by volume in the world with an estimated water flow of 14,125 cubic feet (400 cubic meters) per second according to this site for waterfall geeks. But that’s about to change. Environmentalists fear that a new dam will affect the flow of this monster falls. We’ve visited the biggest waterfall in Ecuador three times, most recently just a few days ago, to see what’s going on. There will be drone footage…

Cascada San Rafael Ecuador pre Coca Coda Sinclair Hydro Project

Cascada San Rafael is the biggest waterfall in Ecuador. For now.

A new dam threatens the biggest waterfall in Ecuador

Though Ecuador is a major oil producer, the country, like many of its Latin neighbors, is eager to begin harnessing its rivers to produce hydroelectric power. That sounds great, but there’s a twist.

In recent years China has established an enormous trade presence in Latin America where Chinese companies are buying up natural resources. In some major Latin markets China is now a bigger trading partner than the US or Europe. In Ecuador, China has signed contracts to buy much of the country’s crude oil which comes from controversial drilling operations in the Amazon–in part as payment for public works projects that China is completing inside Ecuador, including a collection of dams to produce hydro power.

The Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project on the Coca River is being built by a Chinese company called Sinohydro. So many workers were brought in from China to work on the  massive project that entire towns in the region have become sinofied. Road signs and safety signs now appear in Spanish and Chinese.

Sinohydro Coco Coda Sinclair signs Spanish and Chinese

An influx of Chinese workers building dams across Ecuador have turned this town bilingual.

Part of the project, which includes multiple dams, can be seen from the road and it’s this installation, about 11 miles (19 km) from the San Rafael Waterfall that may impact the flow. Some environmental groups, like International Rivers, fear San Rafael could be nearly dried up by the hydro project and point to Ecuador’s second highest falls, Agoyan Waterfall, which has already been severely reduced by a different hydro project.

Sinohydro Coco Coda Sinclair dam capatacion

Environmentalists fear that this portion of the massive Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project dam and hydro project in Ecuador could mean the end of the biggest waterfall in the country.

Changes are already visible

The first time we visited San Rafael Waterfall in February 2014 the trail was closed because of a recent landslide. The second time we visited the falls, in late December 2014, it looked like the image below left.

Comparison of Cascada San Rafeal Falls before after landslide and Coca Coda Sinclair Hydro project

A view of San Rafael Waterfall in February 2014 is on the left and a view of the same waterfall from September 2015 is on the right.

The third time we visited the waterfall, in late September 2015 (above right), landslides around the falls had changed the flow and there seemed to be less water in general coming over he edge. The top of the falls is clearly a few feet higher on the left. This could be seasonal or from the dam, who knows.

San Rafael Falls, largest waterfall in Ecuador Ecuador

San Rafael Waterfall in September 2015. A new dam and hydro project, expected to be completed and online in 2016, could alter things dramatically.

During our most recent visit we were able to put our DJI Phantom 3 Professional quadcopter up in the air to get some aerial drone footage of San Rafael Waterfall. Check it out below.

The Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project is expected to be completed in 2016 and when it’s in full operation it will undoubtedly alter the flow that feeds the San Rafael Waterfall. The question is: how much?

Go Now! Visiting San Rafael Waterfall

The San Rafael Waterfall is within the massive Cayambe-Coca National Park and the trail head is just off the highway that runs between Quito and Tena, Coca or Lago Agrio (which are all jumping off points for Amazon and Cuyabeno trips). Like all national parks and reserves in Ecuador (except Galapagos Islands National Park), entry is free. There are clean bathrooms and an enormous stuffed fake Andean Bear (aka, spectacled bear) at the small ranger station. You’ll need to present your passport and get checked in.

There’s a well-made, mostly shaded trail (more like a small dirt road) that travels down to an elevated platform with excellent views of the entire waterfall. Allow about 30 minutes each way at a reasonable pace.

Check out the Hosteria El Reventador as a place to spend the night. It’s just a stone’s throw from the trail head.

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