Today is a big day!
Colombia travel (or any travel, for that matter) hasn’t been on our radar for many months now. But after almost half a year of quarantine (one of the longest-running in the world), the country is opening back up. President Duque has announced a new phase in management of the pandemic, moving away from confining large groups of people and emphasizing “individual responsibility” (yikes). Cities with stable or declining numbers, including Medellín, can start relaxing restrictions and giving citizens more freedom of movement.
Colombia isn’t out of the COVID woods yet, but . . .
Sadly, more than 19,000 Colombians have died from this terrible disease and we have just passed Mexico for total number of cases. But things would have been much worse if the government had not acted fast and early to keep a lid on the pandemic. Very large parts of the economy have been shut for many months. This includes any types of venues that attract large crowds – bars, restaurants, churches, museums, schools and universities, theaters of all kinds, fairs and festivals, and sport arenas.
Back in June, health officials predicted that the virus would hit its peak in August, which has more or less happened. Unless things change drastically for the worse, it looks like Colombia will get through this crisis without any collapse of health facilities – which has always been the goal of spreading out the curve. Let’s hope people take that “individual responsibility” thing seriously.
On the ground in Medellín
With such a long and slow cycle, the government has finally decided people have had enough. Unemployment is at a record high, and It’s heartbreaking to see how many small “mom and pop” businesses and restaurants have closed their doors. Hunger has been a major problem here, with so many people unable to earn a living and put food on the table. People are restless and tired of being cooped up (present company included).
Here’s a great video from Rob LaFond that really shows what life has been like here in our neighborhood, Laureles, during the pandemic. (Cafe Cliché is one of our faves!)
Last week, the mayor of Medellín announced a “total reopening of economic activities” over the next four months. Here’s how it will play out:
- As of yesterday, there’s no more “Pico y Cedula,” the program that restricted people from shopping only once or twice a week based on the last number of their national ID cards (cedulas). For the first time since March, we can shop together on any day we choose. Freedom!
- Restaurants can now reopen, subject to lots of biosafety protocols. And without alcohol service. (Adult beverages are supposedly making a comeback in October.)
- Land transport including bus service has reopened to 11 communities in Antioquia. In part, this is to enable workers to get to the coffee plantations for the upcoming harvest.
- Later this month, gyms, churches, hotels, sports venues, public parks, and theaters will be able to reopen, again subject to strict biosafety rules.
- In October and November, large entertainment venues like the futbol stadium and also nightclubs will be allowed to reopen.
Now that we have more freedom of movement, we’re itching to travel. So here’s our plan.
Although domestic flights to many parts of Colombia are starting up again (San Andres or Providencia in the Caribbean might be calling our name very soon!), it’s anyone’s guess when international flights will resume, both incoming and outgoing. The official line is September, but the government isn’t expected to allow international flights until at least October. We think that’s optimistic.
We do have trips planned to Austin, Texas in November and Spain for early next year (fingers crossed). But in the meantime, we’re looking forward to exploring more of our beautiful home country.
John the travel planner is working on a strategy for us to visit all 17 of Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonio. These are historical colonial towns that have been designated by the government as the best examples of Colombia’s cultural heritage. Two years ago we made a road trip to Jardín, the only Pueblo Patrimonio we’ve visited so far. One down, 16 to go! Here’s an article that describes these cities in more detail.
These photos barely scratch the surface! We can’t wait to visit the hidden corners of Colombia and report back, so expect a new blog series soon.