La Chureca: Living In Garbage

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca

Toxic Fumes at La Chureca Landfill Near Lake Managua

Managua, Nicaragua

La Chureca is the largest garbage dump in Central America. It’s located on the outskirts of Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua and covers over 4 square miles (7 sq. km). One thousand people live & work on the “City of Trash” every day.

Getting here was not easy, and traipsing through burning, rotting garbage wasn’t exactly a picnic either. But the hardest part of all was bearing witness to the way of life these people have to live.

They are called Churequeros. Their homes are made of trash. They scavenge through the garbage for food. Every day they search for scraps of plastic, cans, and glass to sell for recycling. This is how they make a living.

There is an elementary school located on the dump with 6 classrooms. But once kids have graduated, they don’t have many options. Most start working long hours in the landfill every day with the rest of the family. The people who live at La Chureca live a tough life, but still they are friendly and proud.

The following images are my attempt to share what goes on here. It’s not pretty, but it’s real.

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Workers

Men Searching for Scraps of Glass & Plastic to Sell for Recycling

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Scavengers

Vultures, Cows, and Wild Horses Pick Through Garbage with People

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Dead Animals

Dead Animals, Bio-Waste, and Rotting Food are Constant Health Hazards

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Home

Families Live on the Dump in Homes made of Trash

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Woman

Woman Sweeps Garbage from Her Dirt-Floor Home

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca School Boy

Local Boy Waits for Class to Start at School

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Dirty Water

Pond Filled with Trash & Green Sludge

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Children Workers

11 Year Old José Breathes in Toxic Fumes While Scavenging

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Burning Garbage

Garbage is Burned All Day, Dangerous Chemicals & Heavy Metals Included

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Worker

Churequero Man Starts his Long Day of Working on the Landfill

Managua Nicaragua La Chureca Kids

La Chureca Kids have a Bleak Future and a Hard Life

Did you know people live this way? Ever heard of La Chureca? Share with us in the comments below!

More Information

Location: Managua, Nicaragua [Map] Useful Tips: La Chureca can be dangerous. It’s not a place to just show up alone with a camera. While most people didn’t seem to mind, a few were clearly not happy that I was there. I was accompanied by a lawyer who knows the area. If you’re interested in visiting, I suggest reaching out to a local aid organization.

78 Comments

  1. Thank you for your photos. I had a similar experience in the Guatemala City Dump. I was not allowed to take photos (dangerous) but I managed to snap a few. Forever I carry the mental picture of a small child reaching down to a pile of garbage, picking something unrecognizable up, examining it and eating it. Matthew, regarding your statement “we all have to help ourselves.” I can’t agree. Katrina, 9/11, Wild Fires are catastrophic events and how can people help themselves? We are so lucky in the U.S. to have government disaster services such as police, fire fighters, Red Cross (OK, not government, but you get the picture) and FEMA. We also have social security, disability funds, food stamps, rent assistance and other programs which help elderly, children, hardworking people and people are who disabled through no fault of their own. There, I said it!

  2. I personally visited La Chureca on all three of my mission trips. It was a bright sunny day and as we started approaching La Chureca we started seeing small piles of burning waste and smoke. The deeper we went in we were driving on top of the waste where dump trucks drove in to dump. As soon as a truck dumps churoqueros run to the pile with big long bags to scavenge whatever they can before the pile is set on fire. Their heads and faces are covered and they carry three pronged rakes. They look scary. We bring large containers of water for which they readily line up for a drink and many ask for prayer.

    My first time there I nearly stumbled over a cardboard box underneath which hovered a women and a young boy. The boy was crying from the pain of a large nasty infected wound on his leg. He needed medical attention which we knew he wouldn’t get. I was there on a medical mission but I’m only a medical assistant and X-ray tech. Our only Dr was an eye Dr. I got my first aid kit and did my best to clean and bandage the wound as gently as possible as the child whimpered. It was heartbreaking knowing I couldn’t do more to help. The child sat with a bowl of rice and beans as flies swarmed and landed on it.
    Soon the father and an older child returned and asked us for prayer. We huddled under the cardboard with the five of us huddled together arms around each other and prayed for healing. I left a large tube of triple antibiotic ointment and all the bandaging I had. I also left aspirin to help with inflation and pain. My translator to this day have never forgotten them.

    There’s no welfare and food stamps Medicaid etc. the people that live there tap into the cities water and electricity if which the government is not able to stop them. If they could the people would not be able to live there and make a living for themselves. I came home forever changed with reverse culture shock and totally disgusted with the people if my own country. The last mission I returned home a few days before Katrina and had no compassion for the people if New Orleans demanding that their government do something for them. Excuse me? Whatever happened to Kennedys famous words “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?”

    I keep a picture on my refrigerator to remind me that in my country I’m low life loser trailer trash but in La Chureca Im seen as having the life of a queen. It’s all perspective.

    1. Witnessing this type of lifestyle definitely made me rethink what I complain about. Someone always has it worse than you do. It’s just the reality of the world we live in.

      As for Katrina, we all have to take responsibility for ourselves, and not rely on others for help. Because help might not come.

    2. Glad to read your post. I am headed for a mission trip to the area on Monday and I am a nurse. It’s not a medical mission but a christmas giving mission. We will have the chance to take ladies from the land fill shopping. I always bring a first aide kit for my fellow travelers but I will pack extras to take just in case I come across a situation similar to yours. How heartbreaking the must have been. So glad you were able to pray with them. We are so blessed in this country and it’s not so e thing to be ashamed of as long as you recognize and appreciate all the you have. I tell people who they are in the dumps about something trivial to go flip the lights on and turn the tap water on and look at the food in the fridge and realize how lucky they are. DIOS LE BENDIGA!

    3. Thank you for sharing that. I have tasted how heartless people are here as well. It terrifies me! All is not well with the human race and these times are truly desolate times. The world desperately needs more compassion and self sacrifice. No easy solution…the people are addicted to habits.

  3. Hey everyone!

    Lots of great comments here! If these pictures have movies you in some way I encourage everyone to do something about it. Some of you have already mentioned projects that help people from La Churca but if you want to do more visit this website:

    outofthedump.org

    This project has been around for about 10 years and has changed many peoples lives that have lived in the dump. Project Chacocente has moved 8 families out of the Managua City dump to an area with clean water, fresh air, and has helped them create a new way of life. You can also follow their FB page at :

    “Friends of Project Chacocente”

    You can also email the project directly at

    Projectchacocente@gmail.com

    Check them out! I know these people and this project has changed my life forever!
    Thanks!

  4. We encountered a similar dump site with many very young children outside of Pimienta, Honduras on a medical/dental mission trip. In talking with the local people, they told us that some of the children are orphans and this is their means of survival. We now try to find locations of any dump sites close to the regions where we are providing medical services, and include these “forgotten” children by using our team transport bus to bring them to our clinics for exams and treatment. If other volunteer groups would also think about doing this “piggback” method of combined health care, a lot of children could be served.

  5. Ah.. yes. Thank you for sharing this important pictures. It reminds me of all the trash that are made from us… I was almost forgetting the severeness of the modern materialized cycle.

  6. What if we were to start a fundraiser for gas masks. Giving the Churequeros gas mask is the only solution I can think of that will prevent them from breathing in the fumes.

  7. very inspiring indeed, by watching the photos makes me teary-eyed. My heart goes to the people living in La Chureca and also to other people who suffer with the same circumstances and misfortunes. Kudos to Sir Karsten for the wonderful and expressive photos. :)

  8. hi Matthew, I’m new to you blog and I loved this post. I can see your concern to other people through this post. I know you’ve been traveling and all your possessions fit in a back pack but still you paved ways just to document this situation. You chose to go there instead of somewhere else you can enjoy yourself.

    Inspiring post indeed :)

    1. Thanks Celina, that means a lot. One of the reasons I travel is to learn, and La Chureca taught me to be thankful for what I have. But it also opened my eyes to how others live. These people may not have much, but they are friendly and proud. I was inspired by them.

      1. You’re right! We’ll not know how blessed we are unless we look at ourselves through the vantage point of others :)

  9. Hey man I really love your photos, especially these ones from La Chureca. I never even heard of the place when I was in Nicaragua.

    I also love to photograph places I travel to, When I went to Central America a few years back I always brought my DSLR along but I was always ultra paranoid about busting it out.

    Do you have any advice on approaching photographic situations, especially where your taking pictures of locals such as the ones working at the garbage dump?

    Cheers

    Sean

    1. Thanks Sean, glad you like them. I always try and ask people before taking photos, and you don’t even need to know the language to do that. Hold up your camera, and gesture to it and them, asking in English if needed. Questions sound the same in most languages. They’ll get the gist.

      You’ll get a lot of no’s sometimes, but just keep asking other people. The more people you ask, the better your chances are. Often chatting about other stuff first helps too. If people are busy, or not paying attention to me, I’ll shoot without asking. If they notice and get mad, I’ll delete the photo for them. I was with 2 other people at La Chureca, both of whom are fluent in Spanish, so that helped too. I always carry a small canister of pepper spray when I go to more sketchy areas also. Have never needed to use it, but I feel a bit more confident with it.

  10. Wow… a bit disturbing but it’s the sad reality in some places. Great photos man! Your pic of the La Chureca Worker (wearing a mask) is stunning… it’s like a scary peak to our future if we don’t stop treating our planet well. Well done Matt. Looking forward to more photo essays from you :-)

    Safe Travels!

  11. Hi Matt, I was researching material for a speech on recycling and I came across your site. It’s truly heartbreaking! Your photos depict a life that we would never know exists. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Wow, these pictures are tough to see. I’m currently volunteering in Granada, Nicaragua, and my Spanish teacher gave me an article to read about La Chureca. I decided to search for some photos of it, and I ended up here. The article I read did discuss the Spanish government’s efforts to help — so hopefully that will make a difference!

  13. Thanx Matt I am from Nicaragua. I have been living in NY almost all my life. This concerns me I have traveled 2x to Nicaragua and ask to go there take fresh bread but people discourage ne on doing so. They say it’s dangerous. Patrik I will take a look at the website it’s better to work as a group then together we can maje a difference! Thank you guys.

  14. Hey,i’m Thai. I just saw the La Chuera things on tumblr and googled it and i found your blog!
    The photos are incredible. It does change the way you see life. I’ve read that the girls there are being used for prostitue for the truck drivers in order to be the first one who gets in the truck. I’m speechless, why doesn’t anybody help them? Their gonvernment? I’m afraid that my country will turn out to be like that. Anyway, your works are great! Keep them up!

    1. Hi Sydney, thanks for stopping by! Things are certainly not pretty there, but it’s gotten much better than it used to be. The Spanish government is actually helping to clean up the site. Hopefully it will continue to improve.

  15. My income is only $611.00 per month but I send $5.00 each to “feed the children” and “St Jude”
    I would like to help you but I don’t have the resourses. Love those children and let them love you.
    vic craig/Wisconsin

  16. Twelve photographs of La Chureca: Living in Garbage allows the observer to draw the conclusion that this is as bad as it gets. The people have even greater struggle undocumented by this still life pictorial. Consider the average would use drugs for possible recreation and I have head a child give an account that he as a Le Chureca huffed paint to forget the pain of hunger or that a hit and run here is when a bulldozer buries a person alive in rubbish when the driver did not see someone sorting through garbage. There are 3 generations of people that have lived at this dump since about 1972 and it is the largest dump in the country.
    Follow this link to see that there is a difference 30 million Euro being made however there are going to be those that will still have fallen through the cracks or pushed outside of program guidelines. People still need to be diligent to document the experience of the lives of La Chureca so that those that can and are willing can still help the less fortunate just like Matt has here at expertvagabond.com

  17. La Chureca is currently being modernized and transformed into a recycling centre formally employing its current residents.

    Spain’s Agency of International Development Collaborations, revealed a 30 million Euro integral development project for La Chureca in 2007. This is a three part project already in progress which includes: firstly, closing down the existing dumpster; secondly, creating a new alternative recycling industry for the waste; and thirdly, housing and social integration alternatives for those living or working in or around La Chureca.

  18. Wonderful, wonderful pictures Matt. It is incredibly sad — I’ve seen several of these type of homes amidst the dumps in India and Cambodia but we didn’t have the heart to take pictures. I am glad you did because people who haven’t traveled to those countries need to see this side of travel, too.

  19. Amazingly disturbing. Great job, Matt. Wish I had to chance to see this whilst I was in Managua. Never knew such situations were a reality until now. Must have been quite a personal experience. Do many tourists come to these areas? And how do the locals living in the dumps respond to you guys?

    1. Not that I’m aware of, I know photographers visit it sometimes.

      They responded the same way you might if someone with a big camera came into your workplace/neighborhood to take photos…

      Many were curious, most were dis-interested, and some were not happy.
      I get the same kinds of reactions shooting photos anywhere, including while working as a photographer in Miami’s nightclubs.

  20. I´ve been working at this dump with the kids for almost three months now. La Chureca is an amazing place and we’re doing the best we can to support the kids and the locals here. I´ve dedicated one year of my life to work with street kids. I´ll continue to work in La Chureca and with some criminal gangs around Managua.

    If you guys really wanna help these people you should check out http://www.eartheducationproject.org/
    Buy some of the cards, handmade by women living at the dump, say hello from Patrik (el pelon). This is their chance to get away from the big mountains of trash and get more time with their kids, whom, with a little help, might not have to be the next generation in La Chureca…

    I also wanna say that La Churca is NOT a ZOO where you should just walk in with a camera and start snappin photos. This is their home. They wouldn´t come into your house and start taking photos just like that. But yes, sign up as a volunteer or organize funding in your country etc and then come here supporting a program/project. Too many people are just coming here in big vans and buses, just like a safari trip, throwing out candy thru the windows. It´s awful!

    Nice photos man, I really think you got the picture.

  21. Well done and thanks for sharing. It is good to show what people do to survive. Hopefully it might tone down a few people that complain about their 3rd mortgage or kids that did not get the newest xbox for their b-day..

  22. How is it that the president of this country Daniel Ortega is worth 400 million dollars and children are looking for food to eat at this place? OR TO RECYLCLE aluminum cans to earn one dollar a day for food. How did this president became so rich? You tell me….. the first letter starts with a D the second letter is R the third letter is an U the fourth letter is an G so far we have DRUG TRAF……

  23. A haunting look at real life for these people. All the more fascinating without the words, I found myself looking deeper at the pictures. How did the people react to your visit?

  24. Best photos yet. Is it worse than your sissy’s room? Hard to believe. You can almost smell the stench, or was that your high school gym sneakers? You’d probably have to have a good cigar to make through the day in that mess. I wouldn’t know. I could.

  25. I saw something like this in Indonesia, but I don’t think it was this bad (or probably it was just me that didn’t know). Heart breaking photos. But in the same time your shots are brilliant. I truly hope the future will be better for them. Great idea in bringing healthy snack packages to the kids.
    Did you go there by yourself or you had somebody to show you around?

  26. Such heartwrenching photos…..Personally I have not experienced such sites and this pains my heart…..my heart goes out to these people…..thank you for sharing these pics….

    I do look forward to your posts on your adventures…

  27. Out of sight, out of mind, so bravo to you for publishing these photos and for even thinking of going to this dump – it’s not on a typical travel itinerary.

    I know people scavenge on dumps – but seeing the kid Jose with his eyes screwed up really brings home what the fumes must be doing to them.

    Matt, why were people reticent to take you there?

    1. We were told that area of the city wasn’t very safe… although everyone I met at the landfill seemed perfectly friendly. The guy that brought us was an attorney who regularly worked cases involving the people at La Chureca.

  28. In Cambodia there is a dump village in the capital as well. I went out there one day with some local ex-pats and gave food and candy away to the families living there. I never wrote about it because i couldn’t think of the words to use as to what i saw that day. Worst part for me was the actual houses made of trash, that were in mounds. The kids living in there were so dirty. Great editorial photos!

    1. I work on a dump site in Lagos Nigeria. I am just shocked that what i thought was a local problem turned out to be a global one. I have been teaching, training and interacting via my registered NGO with the children living on the dumpsite my organisation renamed DUSTBIN ESTATE for 5years now and it is sad that as against the few thousands of people in this plight is actually in millions.
      How do we make this a thing of the past is what i am after now? how do we change the future and make it brighter and more inhumane?

      1. All good questions Tolulope. Sounds like you are doing more than most though, so thanks. I don’t have the answers. I’ve heard that the situation at La Chureca has improved in recent years, so that’s a good sign. It might just take time, and more people being aware of these issues can’t hurt either.

  29. Damn, I know you talked about this the night we stayed on the volcano & I imagined it, but wow this is heart wrenching. I honestly don’t even know what to think… this kills me, just knowing that the people have no future at all & are working in horrible conditions.

    1. Just a scarf wrapped around my face, like many workers had. It’s probably safe to say the few hours I spent there reduced my lifespan by a week or so!

      Also had to remove the scarf a few times, fearing I would puke. Fragrant working conditions to say the least…

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