In the complex, magical and sensual city of Cartagena, Colombia, a man waits over fifty years for his one true love. Florentino Ariza, a poet and telegraph clerk, discovers his life's passion when he sees Fermina Daza through the window of her father's villa. Through a series of passionate letters, Florentino gradually awakens the young beauty's heart, but her father is furious when he learns of the affair, and vows to keep them apart forever. As the years go by, Fermina marries the sophisticated aristocrat Dr. Juvenal Urbino, who has brought order and medicine to Cartageña, stemming the waves of cholera that mysteriously besiege the city. He sweeps her away to Paris for years, and when they start their lives together back in Cartageña, she has all but forgotten her first love. But Florentino has not forgotten her. Now a wealthy ship-owner, Florentino engages in a series of affairs but still yearns for Fermina. His heart is patient, and he will wait a lifetime for the chance to be with her again.