Estelí in northern Nicaragua is a great place to wander around if you are interested in murals and street art. Although I’d done a fair bit of wandering by myself, I decided to do the mural tour offered by Treehuggers on my last morning in the town. Juan (from the cigar tour) was my guide once again as we headed out into the streets.
Many of the murals are located near the centre of Estelí and can be easily seen if you walk the 3 main North-South roads in the town (the Avenida Central plus the 2 Avenidas to the west). I had already spotted quite a few of them in my wanderings, but the tour offered up a lot more information about what I was actually seeing. For example, this is the shaman or witch of Estelí, which is derived from a petroglyph located just outside of town. The city has adopted it as its emblem and it can be found in several murals around town. Have a look at this diagram for a full description of the significance of each of the different parts of the symbol.
There are 3 “official” street art groups. The Casa de Cultura group focuses on murals that highlight the rights of the people, social justice and equality.
Several of their murals portray an ideal and alternate reality. The ideal reality is what will happen if we respect each other and the planet, and focus on education and other social improvements. Then, right next to it, is depicted the alternate reality if we don’t do this.
They have also created several murals that illustrate key points in Nicaragua’s history, like this mural that is painted on the side of the actual Casa de Cultura depicting one of Nicaragua’s many struggles for freedom and independence. It is one of the oldest murals in Estelí but and been touched up several times since it was originally done almost 30 years ago.
The Funarte group creates really elaborate and beautiful paintings that focus primarily on the environment, but my favourite was this one that illustrates the importance of corn to the Nicaraguans throughout their history.
The third group is called Sonati, and rather than paint, they use recycled materials to create their murals. Depending on the colour they need, it could be caps from softdrink bottles, broken glass bottles, broken tiles, old bits of rubber from the soles of discarded shoes, whatever. Not surprisingly, all of their scenes are about looking after the environment.
In addition to these official groups, which regularly have exchanges with groups in other countries, there are the non-official street artists. There is some amazing work done by these guys as well and, of course, it could be about anything at all!
And finally, one of the biggest murals in Estelí is actually out on the Panamericana Highway between the bus terminals – Coltran Norte and Coltran Sur. Absolutely impossible to capture (it is enormously long and decorates the front wall of a military compound) but to give you an idea in two parts which still don’t capture the whole thing:
An interesting thing I noticed was that there was very little graffiti on the works that the official groups had done and only marginally more on the works of the street artists. Wonderful to see!
Time required: 1.5-2 hours for the tour.
Cost: US$10 per person. If there are more than 5 people on the tour, there is a discount.