Today is a big day!

Screen-Shot-2020-08-31-at-9.17.00-AM New Month, New Horizons! Colombia The Expat Life
Encouraging. Less than a quarter of all reported cases are still active. Of course, the big caveat is “reported” cases. (Colombian Health Ministry)

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.
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Spotted on Facebook – so true!
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.

fullsizeoutput_2107-1024x954 New Month, New Horizons! Colombia The Expat Life
Parque Principal in Jardín, from our visit two years ago. It is an enchanting place.
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Barichara, another Pueblo Patrimonio that we’re really looking forward to visiting. (Photo credit: Lonely Planet)
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Crab Cay off Isla Providencia. San Andres and Providencia are two Colombian Caribbean islands off the northern coast. In 2004, we stopped over at Providencia on our sailboat as we headed north to Mexico (but that’s another story!). (Photo credit Marc Robinson)
IMG_3010-1024x680 New Month, New Horizons! Colombia The Expat Life
High on our Colombia list: Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales (photo credit: Medellin Guru)
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The Valle de Cocora, Quindío (photo credit: Colombia Hermosa)
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Cañon del Juanambú, Nariño. This reminds me so much of the Andes views we saw in Peru. (Photo credit: Colombia Hermosa)

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.

Is your country beginning to reopen after an extra-long quarantine? Tell us your story!

36 Comments

  1. Thanks, you two…I think. These posts always make me miss Colombia. What a beautiful part of the world. Here’s hoping the new protocols do the job, and things return to (somewhat) normal soon. Let us know when you’re heading to San Andres/Providencia, we might have some tips for you. Take care, we miss you.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome, amigo. As I said before, I don’t think you two have Colombia out of your systems yet. Let’s HOPE things keep improving here – it feels a bit precarious, but we’ll see. We miss you too!

  2. I hope you get to these soon. We love Colombia, but I wish I saw a picture of Cañon del Juanambú, Nariño before we visited. It looks incredible.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Always next time 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  3. Hi, John and Susan – Thank you again for sharing all of this, and the video (which was very interesting). I’m happy to hear that restrictions are now opening up for you and you will be able to regain some freedoms and do some travel once again. I greatly look forward to following your upcoming series on this topic.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Donna. It’s such a precarious situation. Let’s hope people really do take that “personal responsibility” thing seriously and the numbers keep going down here (but I have my doubts). All we can do is be hopeful. Hope you’re well!

  4. So encouraging to read this and know that you and others are beginning to cautiously get out of the house and travel again. We all know what needs to be done, we can do it, and we can avoid places where it’s not happening. Great choice to begin with these villages right in Colombia. The sanctuary looks incredible! Can’t wait to read and learn more. Thanks for sharing and love the photo of the aircraft stairs, LOL!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks Kelly! What you said is a perfect summary of what the Colombian government is calling “individual responsibility.” Let’s hope things continue to improve here and in your part of the universe!

  5. Congratulations! That is so exciting. No talk of our borders opening anytime soon and they are limiting how many people can fly into Australia to miniscule numbers. Fingers crossed we have some more travel flexibility soon, but if nothing else it is making me explore my own backyard more. And that is a good (and safe) thing. Happy planning! Mel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Mel! We hope you get more travel flexibility soon – but Australia is such a big backyard to explore! We’re impressed with how Australia and NZ both have responded to COVID. They’re examples to the rest of the world. Enjoy your exploring!

  6. What a tough six months. Based on other countries in the world opening up – as in restaurants, etc. – Colombia sure is at the tail end. Luckily, it’s a relatively big and exciting country and now, with domestic travel possible, an entire “new world” opens up for you two. 🙂

    We hope to hit the road next month as well and – like you, but in a different way – we will have been stuck for six months. Happy travels!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Liesbet – hope you get to hit the road soon. We look forward to seeing where your new travels take you!

  7. It must feel so good to be able to get out and about again! I look forward to your reports of the Pueblos Patrimonio – they are exactly the kinds of places I would explore if I was there.
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Alison! We’re looking forward to getting out, safely, of course. Let’s hope Colombia keeps on the path of recovery. Everything is completely up in the air with this virus, as you know. Hope you’re having a great week!

  8. Indonesia has started allowing domestic flights again, but passengers must take swab test or PCR test beforehand. Technically many restrictions are still in place, but from what I see the governments (both central and local) are more relaxed in enforcing them now. But at the same time, we’re seeing record number of cases every now and then. I hope you’ll get to visit the remaining pueblo patromonios — these are among the places I want to see in Latin America. Stay healthy and safe!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Bama – same to you, and I hope things continue to improve there in Indonesia. I think countries everywhere have a long road ahead of them, controlling outbreaks until there’s a safe and effective vaccine available.

  9. I’ve seen so many pictures of the Sanctuary and I’ve always thought it would be wonderful to see it in person.

    The only thing I can suggest is that you don’t get your hopes up for Austin in November. As you well know the virus is running rampant here in the US – and I’ll leave at that as you know my opinions on the current state of affairs. As states open up more and more the numbers are soaring and with no federal level guidelines, each state is on it’s own. It’s a big fat mess. Would Columbia let you enter again after having traveled in the US?

    It must feel good to go to the shops and be out and about. We haven’t stepped foot in a grocery store for 6 months

    Take care,

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Patti – you know we’re of the same mind on the situation in the U.S. 🙂 We’re fully aware the trip in Nov might not happen, nor the trip to Spain next year for that matter. Right now, Colombia is not letting anyone in from anywhere, and there’s a good chance the U.S. will stay on the forbidden list even after they re-start international flights. And of course, there’s a GOOD chance things could go sideways here and Colombia will lock down again. Like so much else with this virus, it’s a bundle of uncertainties. We’re just taking things one day at a time and hoping a safe and effective vaccine will be available soon (and people will be smart enough to take it). In the meantime, we can dream . . .

      I don’t blame you for avoiding grocery stores. My mom in Austin mostly orders her groceries for delivery and makes the trip to the store very occasionally, going early in the morning during the senior hours. It’s crazy (borderline criminal) how inconsistent US states and cities are when it comes to biosecurity measures. Although we can shop anytime we want now, the stores here are still keeping to very strict measures, taking temperatures, requiring masks and hand sanitizer at the door, and only allowing in a certain number of people at a time. It’s not just good sense, it’s the LAW here.

      Be safe, and keep the faith that the US will have a leadership change in November and things will start to turn around (although we all know the damage done can’t be repaired overnight).
      – Susan

  10. That’s good news, guys. Let’s hope that people do indeed behave responsibly.

    You must be itching to get out and explore again so enjoy those heritage towns! And when in Barichara make sure you book in at Casa Mahanaim.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Oh, we are going to be picking your brains a lot when we start this adventure! You visited so many of the places we’re looking forward to seeing. We’ll put Casa Mahanaim on the list for Barichara. Gracias, amigo!

  11. It is sad to hear of the impact on the economy, so many people losing their jobs and businesses closing down. The UK has also been badly hit on that front with a record number of unemployed. But on a positive note I am glad to hear of your travel plans and will look forward to following along. Brian and I have just left the UK and we crossed into France. We are again travelling by motorhome and so far all is well 😄

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We are so excited for you and look forward to following along on your motor home adventure! That is one of our bucket list goals to do someday. We did some RV-ing in the U.S. a while back, but doing it in Europe would be ideal. And it’s a great way to socially distance when you need to. Best wishes!

  12. I’m glad to hear that things are opening up and hope that all will go as smoothly as possible. It was interesting to read about the designated shopping days based on ID card numbers. I know you will enjoy the freedom of shopping when you want to but I think that’s a really good idea. I guess it would have minimized the long line ups that we often get here. Your plans for Columbia travel sound awesome. Enjoy and stay safe!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Caroline! Yes, that was the intent of “pico y cedula” – to limit the numbers of people out and about and entering stores. It’s interesting, but since it was eliminated, we’ve encountered shorter lines and fewer people, so who knows whether it was all that effective or not. Hope you are well there in beautiful BC!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! We hope the same for you and yours 🙂

  13. So much of 2020 has been cancelled plans (finally meeting you IRL, trips to Croatia, Egypt, visitors from the US, etc.) and living in limbo. I continue to feel so fortunate that I’m in good health and that my friends and loved ones have managed to make it through this time unscathed. Nov. 3rd can’t come soon enough, right? I’m hoping for some international travels in 2021 but like you, am making some firm plans to explore my adopted country more. There’s so much of Portugal I have yet to see. I’ll look forward to armchair traveling through Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonio with you. Keep well, have fun and drop a line if Spain looks like a possibility!! Anita

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Boy, Anita, you said it. 2020 has been all about living in the moment and making the best of what we have now, right? So glad you’re in a great place there in Portugal and continue to stay safe and healthy. We do have a trip planned to Spain (tickets bought – though refundable) at the end of Jan/early Feb. So fingers crossed that we will finally meet IRL! I don’t think Portugal will be in the cards for this trip, but who knows. We’ll keep you posted!

  14. John and Susan, I’m so happy for you that Colombia is taking the next step in opening back up. How exciting to make plans to visit the Pueblos Patrimonio. Can’t wait to hear more about that. Here in the States there seems to be a constant ebb and flow of hotspots. It’s hard to know what to expect for the future, but I’ve decided to be hopeful and optimistic. I hope it goes well for you in Colombia, too. 🙂 Terri

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hopeful and optimistic sounds like a great approach! We’ll join you. Here’s hoping there’s a safe and effective vaccine soon – that’s going to make a huge difference for everyone. Be safe 🙂

  15. Canada has not opened up to the U.S. yet and will keep our southern border closed for another month because of the terrible situation there with the pandemic, then we’ll see. My kids are in the US, so we can’t see each other and that’s a real bummer. I wish you well wherever you go. Enjoy.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Oh my goodness, you must miss your kids something fierce! We’ve been separated from my mom, who’s in Texas, since early this year. It’s been hard on everyone. Really hoping we can make that trip in November, but we’ll see. I hope you get to see your family soon. Take care, Muriel!

  16. So excited to hear you guys will be able to get out and about and see more of beautiful Colombia! I can’t wait to hear about more of your explorations there. We have some of the same concerns about travel back to the USA. Our flight will touch down there on Oct. 30. We haven’t seen our eldest daughter in a year and I’m really looking forward to that. We have to leave Croatia for three months anyway because of visa restrictions. But boy, am I nervous! Fortunately, Croatia has not closed its borders to the USA, so as long as we get a Covid-19 test, we should be able to return here in the spring. Have you considered travel here? I’ll be back in my very “red” home state for the election and am not looking to that, but I wanted to be there with my daughters in case things go south afterwards.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Good luck with all that, Cindy. I know you’ll be so glad to see your daughter! But I get how nerve-wracking the prospect of any kind of international travel is at the moment. So much is up in the air. And it’s wise to be there for the election – we wish we could be, just so we could vote in person. We wish you the best.

      And yes, we absolutely can’t wait to see Croatia! Our longer-term plan is to locate ourselves in Spain so we can really travel Europe in depth. But something tells me we’ll get to Croatia sooner than that 🙂

  17. Apologies as I was certain I had commented on your article. At any rate I am happy to hear that things a re loosening up. Hopefully you will be able to get our and explore more. Here as fall sets in and school is back in person, our numbers are seeing an uptick.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Oh, thanks, Sue – no apology necessary! I’m sorry to see numbers going up there, but it seems inevitable. There’s really no way for anyone to expect “life as normal” until there’s a vaccine. It’s the same here – numbers are still down but we’ll soon have international flights resuming and in-person school and I’m sure we’ll see a surge. Hard to watch the situation in Europe right now. Anyway, we hope you have a great day!

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