10 Interesting Facts About Colombia

by Lorena Hughes

Little-known history I learned during the process of writing The Queen of the Valley.

The Queen of the Valley follows a photographer, a young Spanish chocolatier in disguise, and a Palestinian-Colombian nun as they set out on a perilous search for the missing owner of a coveted hacienda amidst an emerging cholera epidemic.

  1. Growing up in Ecuador, I’d always known that from 1821-22 to 1830, Colombia,
    Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panamá had formed one big country called La Gran
    Colombia. But Simón Bolívar’s dream of this united land failed shortly after it started.
    What I didn’t know was that Panamá had been a part of Colombia until 1903.
  1. Although the Cali earthquake of 1925 affected the lives of many Colombians and
    brought down several buildings—including churches, a hotel, a newspaper, a clinic, a
    slaughterhouse, some private residences, and more—this is one of the lesser-known
    earthquakes in Colombia’s history and it was difficult to find a lot of information about it.
  1. The spectacular gothic cathedral of Iglesia La Ermita—one of Cali’s most distinct
    landmarks—was built between 1930 and 1948 (some sources say 1942) over the ruins
    of what had once been one of the oldest churches in Cali, La Ermita del Señor del Río
    or Ermita Vieja, for short. This humble predecessor to the mighty La Ermita completely
    collapsed during the 1925 earthquake.
  1. Transportation between major Colombian cities, including the capital, Bogotá, and
    other important towns such as Medellín and Cali, was very difficult until the mid-
    twentieth century because of the Andes mountains and the country’s complex
  1. Because of the difficult geography, scarce roads, and delays in building the railroad,
    Colombian and Ecuadorian towns—which are now modern and densely-populated—took a longer time to develop than other Latin American metropolis, such as Mexico City or Buenos Aires.
  1. In less than a hundred years, Cali transformed from a small town to a large,
    cosmopolitan city, thanks to improvements in technology, transportation, and
    commerce, in addition to the large flow of immigrants from other parts of Colombia.
  1. In an effort to write a romantic scene on the beach—like I had seen in fiction set in
    the United States or Europe—I attempted to have a family vacation on a Colombian
    beach at the beginning of the 20 th century. To my surprise, I learned that “beach culture”
    didn’t develop in most of South America until the mid-twentieth century and most people
    hadn’t been to the beach until later in life. So what did people do during those long
    summer months? Well, they may go to a ranch, if they were lucky enough to know
    someone who had one, to balnearios (thermal pools), or to day trips at rivers, waterfalls,
    or lakes.
  1. Arab immigrants in Colombia, who arrived and mostly settled in cities closer to the
    Atlantic Ocean—such as Barranquilla and Cartagena—now represent one of the largest
    foreign communities in this country.
  1. Palestinian immigrants in Latin America were wrongly called “Turcos” (Turks)
    because they were part of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, that was my dad’s nickname
    growing up in Ecuador as the son of Arab immigrants.
  1. There were three waves of Arab immigration in Colombia: the first (and largest one)
    during the late 19 th century/early 20 th century, which consisted of Christians; the second one went all the way to World War II (also Christians); and the third one, from the 80s on, consisted mostly of Muslim immigrants.

BONUS: The city of Cali is known as La sultana del valle (The Sultana of the Valley),
which in part inspired the title of my book (you’ll understand more after you read it!)

Against the backdrop of Colombia’s lush, yet wounded beauty in the wake of the 1925 Cali earthquake, this riveting novel by the award-winning Ecuadorian American author of The Spanish Daughter plunges three strangers – a photographer, a young Spanish chocolatier in disguise, and a Palestinian-Colombian nun – into a perilous search for the missing owner of a coveted hacienda amidst an emerging cholera epidemic.

“An engrossing, suspenseful family saga.” —Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of Next Year in Havana on The Spanish Daughter

“Engaging. For fans of historical fiction and works by Christina Baker Kline and Lisa Wingate.” —Booklist

Driven and recklessly daring, Martin Sabater follows his lifelong dream of owning a cacao plantation in Valle del Cauca. But on the night of a spectacular gala, he disappears—and is never seen again. Now his hacienda is a budding Catholic hospital saving lives during an emerging epidemic. And novice nun “Sor Puri” is there to uncover the truth behind Martin’s disappearance. But her real identity—and her past with the heartbreakingly charismatic Martin—will put far more than her perilous search at risk.

A professional photographer, Lucas Ferreira is Martin’s best friend since boyhood. He has his own reasons for helping the determined, alluring nun. But what this reserved man won’t reveal about his thwarted dreams and unrequited passion could prove key to the past—or a lethal trap. Martin was head nurse Sor Camila’s only love—until an unfortunate mistake changed the course of her life forever. Now, Martin’s home is an unexpected chance for her, Lucas, and Puri to set the past right. But with their secrets unearthing explosive memories and wrenching lies, can they survive the truth about Martin—and the consequences that will forever alter their destinies?