Many travelers are excited to see the marvelous sites of Guatemala but are hesitant because it is perceived to be a dangerous country with high levels of violence. Nearly two million people visit Guatemala each year, and the great majority does not encounter anything but a spectacular visit. When you take safety precautions, and have an understanding of where to go and where tourists should generally avoid, then you can have the trip of a lifetime. Guatemala offers a host of benefits for travelers.

Often, Guatemala is seen from the plane window as tourists head to Mexico or Belize. Here are five (of many!) reasons why you should make the stop:

  1. Mayan Ruins of Tikal. Remarkable for the sheer amount of ruins – 3000 – and for its locale – in the midst of a dense, lush jungle, Tikal is not to be missed. The beautiful contrast of soaring architecture and primal landscape is striking enough to be a highlight of the trip. But take it further and start climbing. Some of the temples extend beyond the tree line so beware!  And wear comfortable shoes. Stay for the gorgeous sunset, which lets loose the cry of the howler monkeys. You won’t forget the ruins – and you certainly won’t forget that screech!
  2. Chichicastenango. Perched in the mountains about 87 miles (140 kilometers) from Guatemala City, Chichicastenango is a world away. Not only are the views stunning, the shopping is extraordinary! Famed for its twice-weekly market, the city brings those who want to load up on pottery, jewelry, placemats, textiles, and much more at unbeatable prices. The handicrafts are all unique; no two are alike, and all make wonderful souvenirs and gifts. Remember to save room in your luggage and bring cash.
  3. Antigua. Tourist trap that it is, Antigua is still well worth a visit. The colonial architecture is interesting and charm fills the central plaza, cobblestone streets, and the beautiful Cathedral de Santiago. Its locale is perhaps most interesting: Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes!
  4. Volcanoes. Speaking of these infernos, they are a perfect reason to visit Guatemala. Volcan Pacaya will give you memories that will last a lifetime. Molten lava so close you could touch it – but don’t! If you crave a good hike (or a nasty, hard hike!) go to Volcan Santiaguito, which erupts every 45 minutes or so.
  5. The prices. The budget-conscious traveler can use every dollar – or quetzal – to its fullest advantage. Guatemala is affordable; you can treat yourself to a longer vacation or do more (and shop more) than in more expensive locales. You can climb volcanoes, visit authentic marketplaces, look into the turquoise water of Semuc Champey, and visit “pricy” Antigua without breaking the bank.

One other reason to visit Guatemala: its people. They will make the sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences of this unique country all the better and more vibrant.

If you are looking for a great vacation destination where you can relax and just leave all of your stresses behind, look no further than Bali. Also known as, “The Island of the Gods”, Bali offers divine beauty and out of this world relaxation.

This small Indonesian island is located between Java and Lombok and is home to approximately three million people. While it might be small geographically speaking, Bali is the largest tourist destination and wealthiest region in Indonesia. People come from all over the world to take in the beautiful scenery and culture. Chinese and Indian influences can be seen throughout the culture of Bali. The predominant religion is a form of Hinduism called “Agama-Hindu” and representations of it can be found in the art and music of Bali. While the most widely spoken language of Bali is Balinese, most of the people in Bali speak a few different languages.

Now that you are more familiar with the culture of Bali, it’s time to talk about some areas of interest to visit. If you are interested in the religious history of Bali, you can choose to visit one of the island’s 10,000 temples.  For those looking for a little more fun in the sun, consider visiting one of the gorgeous white sand beaches.  A few must-see beaches you will want to visit are Sanur Beach, Kuta and Nusa Dusa. A few other sites that you will want to include on your to-do list are the Bali Orchid Garden, Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary and the Museum Le Mayeur.

There really isn’t a bad choice of things to do in Bali. The real problem is when you have to return home from your trip!

Some epicurists roam the world, searching for food that will not only satisfy their palates, but satisfy their hunger for adventure and for experiencing the soul of a culture. A stop they must make on their gourmet journeys is Honduras. With its blend of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences, the cuisine of his Central American land is as diverse as Honduras itself.

The cuisine of Honduras depends heavily on ingredients such as fish, beans, seafood, corn and the ever-popular tortilla, plantains, yucca, cabbage, pineapple, plum, papaya, passion fruit, and other regional staples. Chicken, beef, and pork are very popular and are present in many of Honduras’s favorite dishes. These ingredients are seasoned with cumin, curry, coriander, oregano, and lime juice.  Did you notice an absence of “hot” spices? Usually, Honduran cuisine is quite rich – thanks to creamy coconut milk – but is not as spicy as, say, its Central American counterpart, Mexican food.

The most ubiquitous culinary item you will see in your travels is the humble tortilla. Humble, but a star in Honduran cuisine. Ground corn is mixed with water and rolled into small balls. These are flattened and cooked. From there, they grace the table of virtually any meal. They are served with the national dish, Plata Tipico, which features skewered, marinated beef, pork sausage and crackling, red kidney beans, tangy white cheese, fried plantain slices, rice, salad, cheese, and sour cream. If you arrive hungry, you won’t leave that way.

Tortillas are also a core in dishes like catrachitas (deep fried tortilla chips, refried beans, cheese, and hot sauce), enchiladas, chilaquiles (tortillas covered in egg and deep fried, served with cheese, chicken, tomato sauce, and spice arranged to make a “lasagna,” and are served with sour cream), and tortilla con quesillo (very similar to a quesadilla and served with tomato sauce).

Soup is also a hearty meal that makes frequent appearances on Honduran menus. Sopa de caracol, or conch soup, is famous and is a must for visitors. Cooked in coconut milk and conch broth, it features spices, yucca, cilantro, and green bananas. Another favorite is Sopa de Frijoles, a red bean soup that is richly seasoned and hearty. Don’t forget the sour cream and tortillas!

For dessert, try tres leches cake, a rich, milk-soaked cake, or arroz con leche, milk-soaked rice with sugar, cinnamon, and spice. With your meal, enjoy Horchata, a sweet, spicy milky rice drink and licuados, fruit drinks with milk, water, or yogurt. After, indulge in guaro, sugar cane liquor, or giffity, a liquor brewed on Honduras’s islands, if you are feeling especially adventurous!

From tamales to tortillas and melt-in-your-mouth marinated beef to fresh tropical fruit, Honduras will satisfy all of your cravings.

Colombia is a very diverse country. It has a huge variety of animal and plant live and it features terrain ranging from mild Caribbean coasts to rugged mountains. Its people are just as diverse as its natural resources. Colombia has almost 90 indigenous nations speaking 180 different languages. These different nations have a big impact on Colombia’s rich culture and history.

Before Europeans settled in Colombia, indigenous groups ruled the land. After the explorers settled, most of these groups were assimilated into a biracial mestizo culture. However, some indigenous groups chose to hold themselves apart. Today, thirty percent of Colombia’s land is home to indigenous people. It is estimated that about one million are still living in Colombia.

In 2009, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was signed. This document outlawed discrimination against indigenous tribes and also gave them protection under the law. Based on this, tribes were allowed to stay on their own lands under the protection of the state. With all of this legal protection, tribes are still facing hardships. Twenty seven of these tribes are in danger of disappearing because they live in areas prized by drug smugglers and oil prospectors. Armed conflict has forced man to flee and dramatically change their way of life.

There is still one area that travelers can visit to get a sense of how the indigenous people live. Nabusimake is a Arhuaco Indian village set in the wilderness. While there are no accommodations for tourists, it is possible to stay with a local family and experience the hospitality of a totally different culture.

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