Guatemala Facts

Fascinating Facts about Guatemala

People taking photos at a memorial with a view over Antigua

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

From its forty-percent indigenous Mayan population to its incomparable physical beauty, Guatemala is an incredible place. Here's a selection of interesting facts about Guatemala.

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.

Obsidian projectile points are the earliest evidence of human inhabitants in Guatemala, dating as far back as 18,000 BC.

Antigua 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”.

Piero M. Bianchi / Getty Images

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

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

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.

While Guatemala is no longer at war, the country's civil war in the late 20th century lasts 36 years.

The median age in Guatemala is 20 years, which is the lowest median age in the Western Hemisphere.

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).

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.

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 national flag of Guatemala includes a coat of arms (complete with quetzal) and blue stripes on either side, representing the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

Guatemala has the second-highest concentration of ozone in the world, according to The Economist World in 2007.

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".

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.

Resplendent Quetzal (male)
mallardg500 / Getty Images

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.

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

A scene from the original Star Wars movie was filmed in Tikal National Park, representing the planet Yavin 4.

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