What a weird title. Love generally makes us think of sweet things like puppy dogs and rainbows, right? Not bacterial infections of the small intestine that lead to watery diarrhea and death. We at Shmoop can muster up a lot of enthusiasm for puppies. For gastrointestinal disease, not so much.
Things get even weirder when you consider that, in its original Spanish form, the title has a double meaning. The Spanish word cólera can refer to both the disease cholera, and also to extreme anger or rage. (It's related to the little-used English word choleric, which means wrathful.) The mashup of "love" and "anger" is a little less off-the-wall (after all, we do get pretty angry at the ones we love sometimes), but it's still surprising.
So what's going on here? Why the juxtaposition of these two terms, "love" and "cholera"? Is García Márquez trying to tell us that love is a disease? After all, love certainly causes a great deal of suffering in this novel, sometimes with physical manifestations. Case in point: Florentino Ariza, the most lovesick character in the entire book, vomits gardenias and suffers from chronic intestinal problems.
Of course, the title also contextualizes the love story for us. The lovers love in the midst of calamity – "cholera" alludes both to the plagues that ravage the countryside as well as to the violence of civil wars and unexplained massacres of plantation workers. If, as Florentino tells his septuagenarian (fun word for someone in her 70s) sweetheart, "Love becomes greater and nobler in calamity," then loving "in the time of cholera" is an act worthy of sainthood.