Updated August 10th, 2019.
Street art is something I absolutely adore and I will actively seek it out during my travels. The colours, the topics and the locations always amaze me but I will confess I do spend a lot of my time wondering about the origins behind a piece and then never remembering to find out what they are.
When I read that the city of Cochabamba has a guided bike tour which takes you around the city’s street art, I couldn’t wait to check it out. Not only is bicycle a quick and easy way to see a city but I would also be able to find out the stories behind the paintings.
Thinking about backpacking around Bolivia? Read more in our comprehensive travel guide!
Avoiding the Rush!
Although I am not the most confident cyclist in the world, I read that the Bike Art Tour is deliberately scheduled for 3 pm as this is the time when the roads are quietest in Cochabamba. Bolivian roads can be very hectic so it was a relief to see that the tour had been designed with this in mind!
Feeling excited, Tim and I made our way to the meeting place at the mARTadero Cultural Centre where we would begin the tour. It was here where we met Bike Art Tour founder and guide Cecilia. She greeted us warmly and then explained that before cycling off into the sunset, we would first be exploring the mARTadero Cultural Centre.
The mARTadero Cultural Centre
This Cultural Centre was formerly an abattoir which eventually closed down, leaving the building abandoned. Some years later, the site was reopened as an art school which is its primary purpose today. It supports local projects in the creative arts including breakdancing, music and sculpting to name a few.
This centre was an attraction in its own right and we were impressed to see the opportunities that it was giving to young people. It is here where Cecilia stores the bikes, so after meeting the other cyclists, we headed over to the storeroom to get sized up.
Before we cycled off into the city streets of Cochabamba, Cecilia first went over a few things. She demonstrated hand gestures that she would use during the tour and also told us that we would go at a leisurely pace. Although she would be leading the tour, she also had one of her friends head up the back of the group so that everyone stayed safe.
After a short explanation, we all biked out of the Cultural Centre and followed Cecilia to our first stop. Some of the other people in our group were Spanish speakers, so bilingual guide Cecilia switched between languages to make sure everyone understood.
Creativity Meets Culture
We explored not only the centre of the city but also the less visited back roads. During the two hours that we spent cycling around the city of Cochabamba, we saw a whole range of artwork, all differing in messages.
Many of the pieces were designed to challenge authority and had political undertones. As Cecilia explained to us the history and intention behind these pieces, we learnt a lot, not just about the artwork but also the political climate in Bolivia today.
I loved the emphasis on feminism that was in many of the murals. A highlight of the tour for me was journeying down one street that paid homage to inspirational creative women who have influenced Latin America. Their portraits were displayed in mosaic form and lined the streets. Notable figures such as Frida Kahlo and Ana Mendieta were featured.
During the tour, Cecilia also took us to the women’s prison just outside of the centre of Cochabamba. The mural says, ‘Work is our freedom’. You can see from the photo that there three distinct styles feature in this collaborative piece, all created by different artists.
Many of the women inside the prison, weave artisanal goods in order to sell in a small shop that is nearby. In Bolivian prisons, you live a bleak existence without money. For example, unlike in Europe, you will not even be supplied with a bed or food without paying for it out of your own pocket. Therefore, these handicrafts are a really important lifeline to the women.
This shocked and saddened me but only reiterated how important tours like this are. Whilst I could’ve easily have seen the mural without embarking on the tour, I would never have known the deeper meaning behind the painting.
Although we saw enough to easily fill two hours, these are just a couple of examples of stories behind the artwork. I don’t want to spoiler you all! You’ll have to book a trip with Bike Art Tour Cocha if you want to know more!
The Circle of Life
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Cecilia’s tour is the way in which it supports the artist’s which make it possible. Every year, new art is showcased within the city in collaboration with the mARTadero Cultural Centre. These artists are invited in from all over the world. Notable former artists include Puriskiri, Samir and Steep.
20% of the tour profits go directly to supporting future collaborations with artists and keeping current murals maintained. Therefore, the tourists support the art and the art supports the tour. It’s a win-win!
A Colourful Afternoon
I can honestly say that the Bike Art Tour was the best thing I did during my week-long stay in Cochabamba. It was surprisingly relaxing despite being on Bolivia’s roads and it gave me a huge insight into both gendered, political and cultural issues affecting the country at the present time.
Cecilia is also hugely likeable and passionate about bringing creative projects to the mainstream. Currently, there are plans to expand the Bike Art Tour by hiring other guides and purchasing more bicycles to cope with the demand.
Cecilia has created something truly unique and educational with her Bike Art Tour. This one of a kind experience lets visitors experience the city in a new way whilst appreciating the global talent of those who colour Cochabamba. Long may it continue.
What you should bring for your trip with Bike Art Tour
- Suncream: Cochabamba benefits from a warm climate so it is very easy to get sunburnt.
- Water: Cycling is thirsty work!
- Camera: You’ll want to share some of this artwork with Instagram!
- Small daypack: To hold all of the above whilst cycling.