Thousands of Guatemalans leave their country every day and cross the Mexican border to live one of the most important journeys of their lives — reaching US soil and fulfilling the American dream. They flee from gang- and drug-related violence that has crowned the country as one of the most dangerous places in the world.

But while it’s true Guatemala has some safety problems, these rarely affect visitors.

Here’s why I can’t wait to go back:

1. The people

Latin Americans have a reputation of being kind, open-hearted, generous and hospitable, and Guatemalans definitely confirm the stereotype. I’ll never forget when I got stomach sick in Antigua at the worst possible moment — it was a holiday and all the center clinics were closed. I was feeling pretty desperate and asked a passer-by if he knew where I could get a doctor. As soon as he saw my pale face he placed me on his motorbike and took me to the nearest fire station, from where I was driven to a hospital.

2. Cultural diversity

There isn’t a single corner in the country where you can’t admire the colorful textiles of the indigenous population and treat yourself to their traditional food. Although they are simply known as Maya people, there are actually more than a dozen ethnic groups that differ in language, costumes, rituals, diet,…

3. Volcanos

There are so many volcanos in the country – quite few of them still active – that you’re going to end up climbing at least one of them, whether you planned it or not. And with a bit of luck you’ll get to experience one of the most impressive natural phenomenons – volcanic eruption.

4. Tikal

When you finally get to the top of Temple IV, one of the numerous pyramids inside the most famous Guatemala’s archeological site and the tallest pre-Columbian structure in America, you feel like the world has no end and you’ve reached the sky. There’s a carpet of rainforest beneath you wherever you look.

5. Jade

There are only four countries in the world where jadeite, the rarest and the most valuable form of jade, is extracted, and Guatemala is one of them. Workshops in Antigua transform the mineral into some true masterpieces and although it’s pricier than its “cousin” nephrite, it’s definitely worth buying.

6. Rum

Once considered pirate’s cheap alcohol, rum has become a highly valued drink, produced in every Central American and Caribbean country. However, the Guatemalans managed to find a perfect blend to warm up your heart. Do take a bottle of Zacapa with you when leaving the country.

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