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Guatemala - Country Profile

Guatemala City is the capital of Guatemala, and at 3.7 million people in the metro area, the largest city in all of Central America. The earliest archeological evidence of human inhabitants in Guatemala date as far back as 18,000 BC.


The name "Guatemala" means "land of trees" in the Mayan-Toltec language. 

The national flag of Guatemala includes a coat of arms and blue stripes on either side, representing the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. 


flag-guatemalaThe Mayan civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821. During the second half of the 20th century, it experienced a variety of military and civilian governments, as well as a 36-year guerrilla war. In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict, which had left more than 100,000 people dead and had created, by some estimates, some 1 million refugees. In January 2012, Guatemala assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2012-13 term.


Guatemala City is the capital of Guatemala, and at 3.7 million people in the metro area, the largest city in all of Central America. The earliest archeological evidence of human inhabitants in Guatemala date as far back as 18,000 BC. 

More than half of Guatemala's citizens are under the country's poverty line. Fourteen percent live on under $1.25 US per day. 

Approximately 59 percent of Guatemala's population is Mestizo or Ladino: mixed Amerindian and European (usually Spanish). Forty percent of the country is indigenous, including K'iche', Kaqchikel, Mam, Q'eqchi and "other Mayan". G2

Twenty-one Mayan languages are spoken by the indigenous people of Guatemala, as well as two dialects: Xinca and Garifuna (spoken on the Caribbean coast). 

Around 60 percent of Guatemala's population is Catholic. 

Mayans in Guatemala were some of the very first to enjoy one of today's favorite treats: chocolate! Chocolate residue was found in a vessel at the Mayan site of Rio Azul, dating back to 460 to 480 AD. However, Mayan chocolate was a bitter, frothy drink, nothing like the sweet, creamy variety of modern times. 


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Total Area: 108,889 sq km

Climate: tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands 

Terrain: mostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau 

Natural Resources: petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower

Natural Hazards:

numerous volcanoes in mountains, with occasional violent earthquakes; Caribbean coast extremely susceptible to hurricanes and other tropical storms 

volcanism: Guatemala experiences significant volcanic activity in the Sierra Madre range; Santa Maria (elev. 3,772 m) has been deemed a "Decade Volcano" by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior, worthy of study due to its explosive history and close proximity to human populations; Pacaya (elev. 2,552 m), which erupted in May 2010 causing an ashfall on Guatemala City and prompting evacuations, is one of the country's most active volcanoes; the volcano has frequently been in eruption since 1965; other historically active volcanoes include Acatenango, Almolonga, Atitlan, Fuego, and Tacana 

Environment - current issues:

deforestation in the Peten rainforest; soil erosion; water pollution 

Land use (as of 2005):

arable land: 13.22% 

permanent crops: 5.6% 

other: 81.18% 

Ethinic Groups (2001 Census):  

1. Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish – in local Spanish called Ladino) 

European – 59.4%

2. K’iche – 9.1%

3. Kaqchikel – 8.4%

4. Mam – 7.9%

5. Q’eqchi – 6.3%

6. Other Mayan – 8.6%

7. Indigenous Non-Mayan – 0.2%

8. Other – 0.1%

Population: 14,377, 032; ranked 66 in the world (2012 est)

Population Growth rate: 1.984%; ranked 57 in the world (2012 est)

Age Structure:

1. 0-14 years – 38.1%

2. 15-64 years – 58%

3. 65 years and over – 3.9%

Median Age:  20 years

Languages: Spanish (official) – 60%  Amerindian languages – 40%

Note:  There are 23 officially recognized Amerindian languages


Religions:  Roman Catholic, Protestant, Indigenous Mayan beliefs

Guatemala boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Antigua Guatemala, the Mayan ruins of Tikal, and the ruins of Quiriguá. 

G3Antigua Guatemala, one of Guatemala's greatest tourist attractions, was founded by the Spanish conquistadors in 1543 as Guatemala's third capital city. Back then, it was called La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala”, or “The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Knights of Guatemala”. 

Antigua Guatemala is famed for its elaborate Semana Santa celebrations during Easter's Holy Week. Most notable are the week's costumed religious processions to commemorate the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The processions march along brilliantly colored sawdust carpets, called "alfombras", that decorate Antigua's streets. 

At 13,845 feet (4,220 meters) the Guatemala volcano Tajumulco is the highest mountain not only in Guatemala, but also in all of Central America. Hikers can climb to the summit on a two-day trek, typically leaving from Quetzaltenango (Xela). 

Guatemala and Belize never formally agreed upon the border between the two countries; in fact, Guatemala still (passively) claims part of Belize as its own, though the rest of the world recognizes the established Belize-Guatemala border. Negotiations are still underway via the Organization of American States and the Commonwealth of Nations. 


The Resplendent Quetzal – a brilliantly green and red bird with a long tail – is the national bird of Guatemala and one of the country's most celebrated inhabitants, so much that Guatemala's currency is named after the quetzal. Quetzals are hard to spot in the wild, but it's possible in certain locations with good guides. For a long time it was said the quetzal couldn't live or breed in captivity; it often killed itself soon after being captured. According to a Mayan legend, the quetzal used to sing beautifully before the Spaniards conquered Guatemala, and it will only sing again when the country is entirely free.




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