Guatemala has been inhabited by humans for over 14,000 years, and pre-Columbian history can be pieced together using artifacts and archaeology. The Maya civilization built large, complex monuments and structures as early as 3,000 years ago, many of which have only been recently discovered as they are buried beneath the rainforest. The Mayan civilization survived for nearly 2,000 years, before famine and drought caused them to abandon their cities. The fragmented cultures that succeeded the Maya retained many of their characteristics. In 1519, the Spanish arrived in Guatemala—carrying germs that devastated native populations. A war of conquest followed, resulting in Guatemala becoming part of New Spain, along with Mexico. In 1821, Central America declared its independence from Spain, and in 1847 Guatemala became an independent republic. A series of regimes followed, culminating in a revolution in 1944 and a civil war beginning in 1954—which saw the United States government and the United Fruit Company protecting their economic interests by supporting paramilitary organizations. Guatemala has had a complicated past.
The national flag of Guatemala was adopted in 1871. The white signifies peace and purity, while the blue stripes on either side symbolize the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The central coat of arms includes a quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird that symbolizes liberty—as well as crossed weapons and a scroll bearing the date of Central America’s independence from Spain.
Guatemala is a Central American country located on the narrow strip of land between North and South America, as well as the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Guatemala is mountainous, prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Rainforests and wetlands are wonderful examples of biodiversity—with thousands of unique species of plants and animals.
World Land Mass Ranking: 107th
Highest Mountain: Volcán Tajumulco, 4,203 m (13,789 ft)
Longest River: The Motagua, 400 km (250 mi)
Guatemala Population: 17.6 million (as of 2022)
Capital City: Guatemala City.
Capital City Population: 995,393 (as of 2018)
The climate of Guatemala varies from tropical rainforest to subtropical highlands and arid peaks. Extensive rainfall supports the crops that form the basis of Guatemala’s economy.
Guatemalan cuisine draws from pre-Columbian Maya culture, with many foods featuring key native ingredients in addition to Spanish influences. Kak’ik, a tomato and turkey-based stew, is one example of Mayan cuisine surviving to this day—and it is still a popular dish. Small tamales called chuchitos are also popular, and they are often served as street food. Guatemalans enjoy eating certain foods on certain days of the week or holidays, such as tamales on Thursdays and a salad known as fiambre on All Saints Day. Fried plantains, tostadas, and guacamole are also Guatemalan staples.
Like many other Latin American countries, Guatemala has a massive love for football. The Guatemalan national football team has won the CONCACAF Championship once in 1967, but they have struggled to qualify for the World Cup. Futsal, a variant of football which is played indoors on a hard court, is also quite popular in Guatemala. Olympic sports also receive some attention, although Guatemala has only received one olympic medal. Guatemala also has national beach volleyball and basketball teams.
Guatemalan culture draws from a rich background of both pre-Columbian and European influences. Traditional native art styles mix with Christian iconography in art, architecture, and literature. Miguel Ángel Asturias won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967 for work that examined the complex political history of Guatemala. The Maya had a rich musical culture, and Guatemalan music continues to be a major feature of day-to-day life. The marimba is the country’s national instrument, and many Guatemalan artists utilize it in their unique genre of popular music.
10 facts about Guatemala
1. Guatemala was once the center of the Maya empire.
2. Guatemala has been independent for over 200 years.
3. There are 37 volcanoes in Guatemala.
4. More than 25 languages are spoken in Guatemala.
5. Guatemala has had two Nobel prize-winning citizens.
6. The McDonald’s Happy Meal was invented in Guatemala.
7. Ancient Guatemalans were the first people to eat chocolate.
8. Coffee and bananas are Guatemala’s largest exports.
9. “Guatemala” means “place of many trees.”
10. Humans have lived in Guatemala for over 14,000 years.