(Note: Re-posting after some technical issues yesterday. Sorry, everyone!)

News junkies that we are, we subscribe to several online publications and scan the internet every day for the latest global events. It’s always exciting and a little surprising to come across stories about our adopted country that aren’t all about drugs or that notorious deceased criminal whose initials are PE. Colombia is becoming known for much more than that sad and sordid period of narcoterrorism and civil war, finally beginning to recede into the collective memory. The shift is reflected in Colombia news stories, which in recent times have become much more varied and upbeat.

Here are some Colombia news stories that have caught our eye recently.
Colombia’s hippo problem

Well, this story actually has a side connection to that notorious criminal, who left a terrible legacy that Colombia is still trying to overcome. An interesting part of that legacy that’s now coming to the forefront: Hippos.  It seems the criminal was obsessed with exotic wild animals and imported many species to roam his estate in Antioquia, including four of these rotund beasts. Today, the hippo herd numbers over 100, and no one quite knows what to do with them.

Photo from the Washington Post article showing hippos on the roam in Colombia.
Good Colombia news for Venezuelan refugees

Sometimes, governments get things right when it comes to immigration problems. In recent years, Colombia has opened its doors to almost 2 million Venezuelan refugees who have fled the repressive regime and terrible economic conditions of their home country. And, as outlined in this United Nations story, just this month President Duque announced that Colombia is granting “temporary protection status” to all of them for 10 years. It’s a move that’s being praised by human rights advocates all over the world, including Pope Francis.

Photo from the UN article “UN chief welcomes Colombia’s ‘act of solidarity’ with 1.7 million Venezuelans”
Don’t mess with Colombian panela

Panela is to Colombians as maple syrup is to Canadians, or brown sugar to U.S. folks. Actually, it’s more important than that – it’s a big source of nutrition for a lot of people. Visit any supermarket and you’ll see at least one aisle filled with bricks of the stuff, molded into a wide variety of shapes. Patenting panela is no crazier than patenting wheat flour or regular, processed sugar. In other words, it’s pretty crazy, as described in this New York Times article.

Photo from the New York Times article “Colombians Ask: Who Would Dare Patent Panela?”
The “Sistine Chapel of the Ancients”

We love this story. It just goes to show how much of Colombia is yet to be explored and discovered. The upshot is that archaeologists have discovered an astounding collection of rock art that spans up to 8 miles (!) of cliff faces in the remote Colombian jungle. Based on depictions of mastodons and other prehistoric creatures, scientists estimate the paintings to be at least 12,000 years old. Astounding!

Photo from the Guardian article “‘Sistine Chapel of the ancients’ rock art discovered in remote Amazon forest”

And for the U.K. peeps and others who have access to Channel 4 programming, there’s now a TV documentary about this amazing find. Check it out here.

Colombia is on its way to becoming an exporting giant. And it’s not just flowers and coffee.
Photo from the NPR article “There’s a good chance your Valentine’s flowers come from Colombia”

Did you know that the most of the flowers exported to the U.S. for Valentine’s Day come from Colombia? Flowers are a huge industry right here in our home department of Antioquia (here’s a post we did about a visit to a local flower farm).

Coffee, Colombia’s largest export
From the Euronews article “Quality and Sustainability: Why Colombia could become the next exporting giant”

And on a broader level, here’s a story about Colombia’s growing role as one of the world’s major food exporters.



The latest from the Colombian COVID-19 front

Like most of the rest of the world, Colombia has seen a huge and hopeful downturn in COVID-19 cases recently. And vaccination is FINALLY underway here after a slow start. Here’s a story in today’s El Tiempo about the global drop and how it compares to what’s going on here. It’s in Spanish but easy to translate with Google.

So far, Colombia has received doses of the Pfizer and Sinovac vaccines and is well on its way towards vaccinating all healthcare workers and people over 80. We are in the second group, people over 60, who are supposed to start getting vaccinating in March. If I’m being perfectly honest, I hope we get the Pfizer jab and not Sinovac, the Chinese vaccine, which apparently is less effective. By the time our turn comes, there might be doses of the Johnson & Johnson, Astra Zeneca, and Moderna vaccines in country. We’ll take whatever we’re given, and we’ll be glad of it!

Things are going in the right direction. Let’s hope it lasts.
And finally, a book recommendation.

Magdalena: River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia by [Wade Davis]“Magdalena: River of Dreams” is a must read for anyone interested in Colombia and Colombians. Its author, Wade Davis, spent the better part of five years exploring the upper, middle, and lower reaches of the Magdalena River, which runs a thousand miles down the middle of the country. The Magdalena is the Mississippi of Colombia, and, as Davis states, “is the reason Colombia exists as a nation.”

This book is a love letter to Colombia, from an author who has formed that bond over many decades.  Here’s a great excerpt from the preface:

Colombia is most assuredly not a place of violence and drugs; it is a land of colores y cariño, where the people have endured and overcome years of conflict precisely because of their character, which is itself informed by an enduring spirit of place, a deep love of a land that is perhaps the most bountiful on earth, home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet. It speaks volumes of the strength and resilience of the Colombian people that through all these difficult and impossible years, the nation has maintained its civil society and democracy, grown its economy, greened its cities, created millions of acres of national parks, and sought meaningful restitution with scores of indigenous cultures, a progressive record unmatched by any other nation-state. Colombians today long for peace.

That passage perfectly summarizes everything we love about Colombia and why we feel so fortunate to be able to live in this exceptional country.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Colombia news bulletin, and that the news in your world is good as we head into a shiny new month!


  1. Lovely post… a version of Panela is produced here from sugar cane but to me, sugar is sugar however it is marketed or made although I use the cane sugar it’s still sugar…love the artwork on the chapel it is beautiful. I am pleased to hear you are getting the vaccines rolled out as are we and my thoughts are like yours we would prefer not to have the Sinovac….Have a great weekend 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Colombians do love their sugar! That’s what panela is such a big deal here – kind of like tortillas in Mexico 🙂 Thanks for reading.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are welcome – glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. This is such an informational view of that beautiful country and the spirit of the wonderful people who are working daily to make their world better! I loved and admired everyone I met there!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We are so glad you got to experience our Colombia, Mimi! And we can’t wait until your next visit 🙂

    • Yes, it is refreshing to read so many interesting articles about Colombia in the international press these days. PE is long gone and the beautiful country of Colombia and its people have so much potential.

      • John and Susan Pazera Reply

        So true, Henry! Colombia will miss you.

  3. Great list of good reads! Happy to hear Covid cases are declining, and wonderful that Venezuela’s refugees are being welcomed in Colombia and protected for TEN years. So inspiring when a country acts on what can be gained from a decision like this instead of exerting effort to keep people out. Happy weekend!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Kelly! Who knew Colombia would become known for its human rights record? It makes us proud. Hope you’re having a nice week!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Pam! Hope you can make it to Colombia someday. It’s a spectacular country!

  4. I read MAGDALENA when it first came out and was one of the first to review it! Superb… but may I recommend that his classic on chasing hallucinogens and rubber trees in the Colombian Amazon, in fact all over Colombia, and peyote in Kansas and all sorts of stuff, “ONE RIVER” may make a super prequel. SUSAN… if you see MAGDALENA in SPANISH let me know. My first copy of ONE RIVER was sent to me in English after my Ecologist Professor brother-in-law read it in Spanish. I want to return the favor. The lengthy chapter in “Magdalena” on Medellin is a paean to the country and to this Miracle City… esp the lunch Davis had with the fomenters of the miracle, Gaviria and Echeverri at IN SITU in the Jardin Botanico. . Davis can be seen all over TED TALKS and recently made news with his article in Vanity Fair about the demise of the United States… he weeps for us. NB… He is EXPLORER IN RESIDENCE at Nat Geo, and an honorary Colombian citizen!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      El Rio is on our list, especially after reading Davis’ preface about it. He mentions that the person who did the Spanish translation “translated the text in a manner so elegant as to transform the language into something altogether new.” My Spanish reading ability is pretty poor but improving – maybe I’ll give it a shot.

      Books by celebrated authors who love Colombia as much as we do are a real treat! And yes, let’s plan a meetup at In Situ – that’s one of our favorite restaurants. We don’t get into the city much these days, but we’ll make an exception for In Situ (and to finally meet you!) 🙂

  5. Never heard of panela but it sounds pretty important to the locals. Like the story of the hippo herd too. Really strange. Glad to hear that the vaccine rollout is starting to gain pace.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Jonno. Likewise, we’re glad to hear the vaccination process is going so well in the U.K. Let’s hope we can somehow get out ahead of COVID soon and try to get back to some sense of normal!

  6. This was a great read! Hippopotami! Who knew? (Apparently Don had heard of it, but not I). What a great story about the Venezuelan immigrants. Now that I did know about. What exactly is panela? Is it made from brown sugar? Is someone trying to patent it? (I can’t read the NYT). Good to hear Colombia’s doing well on the Covid front. May we all be vaccinated soon!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Alison! Panela is basically the same thing as brown sugar – they boil down raw sugar cane and then harden the juice into bricks. The gist of the story is that a big sugar company here got awarded a U.S. patent for making an unrefined sugar product that uses essentially the same process as panela.

      I debated about whether to put up links to sources that have paywalls, like NYT and WaPo. I know a lot of our readers are subscribers, but I thought those that aren’t might have access to a few free stories a month (I guess that’s not the case with NYT).

      Hope you and Don are hanging in there! Vaccinated yet?

      • Hanging in just fine. Wishing for spring. Not vaccinated, and probably not for a few months. I think Canada’s having trouble getting vaccines. I should check NYT and WaPo – I do get at least one free per month I think.

  7. It is lovely to hear so much positive press about Colombia…rather than about the depressing violent past. Thank you for the book recommendation 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Gilda! Hope you two are hanging in there. Vaccinated yet?

  8. Great post! I’d seen that story about the hippos – it’s crazy how one person’s decision to introduce a non-native species into the country can mess everything up! In Hong Kong, we have both the Pfizer and the Sinovac too but there are a lot of suspicions around the Sinovac. Here we get to choose which one we get, though interestingly, there’s been a bit of reluctance in the community to get vaccinated at all. I know I’m getting mine as soon as I’m eligible! Hope you both can get the Pfizer one!

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