Guatemala shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. The country is heavily forested and predominantly mountainous with a beautiful string of volcanoes lining the Pacific coast, three of which are still active.
Guatemala’s climate varies according to altitude. The coastal regions and the northeast are hot all year round with an average temperature of 20°C (68°F), though sometimes as high as 37°C (99°F). Typically, nights are clear throughout the year. At higher altitudes, in the centre of the country, the rainy season (May to September) is characterised by heavy rain during the afternoons and evenings, followed by clear night skies. Nights are typically cold.
Facts and Figures
108,889 sq km (42,042 sq miles).
13,276,517 (2009 estimate)
Guatemala City- population 1,104,890 (2010)
The official language is Spanish. English is widely spoken in tourist areas and major hotels and restaurants. 23 indigenous languages are also spoken.
The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, but Catholicism is the most widespread religion with a 10 per cent Protestant minority. Some indigenous communities hold services combining Catholicism with pre-Columbian rites.
GMT – 6
Guatemala’s most interesting old colonial town and the cultural capital is Antigua. Indeed until 1773, when a massive earthquake destroyed the city, Antigua used to be the capital of Central America. Several monuments have survived, namely; the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, church ofSan Francisco and University of San Carlos. The surrounding volcanoes of Volcan de Agua, Volcan de Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego all offer superb views of the city and surrounding countryside.
San Jose is a large fishing port with swimming and fishing facilities; the old Spanish port of Iztapa (now a beach resort) is accessible through the Chiquimulacanal by launch. Momostenango is the country’s blanket weaving capital. Tikal is one of the world’s most spectacular archaeological sites, magnificently located in the heart of Northern Guatemala’s Peten rainforest. Sayaxche is good area for wildlife and/or Mayan ruins – the best being Seibal, Itzan, Dos Pilas, Uaxactun and Yaxha. Go fishing or windsurfing on Lago del Izapal,El Peten or the Rio Dulce. Visit Lake Amatitlan, one of the worlds oldest lakes, surrounded by archaeological ruins over 2000 years old. Chichicastenango is located in stunning surroundings and houses arguably the largest and most exciting Indian Market in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. On the Caribbean coast lies Livingston, a small town of brightly painted wooden houses, accessible only by boat. The Highlands offer the visitor a chance to experience stunning countryside and the many indigenous villages each with their unique, embroidered clothes and weekly markets. For such a tiny country the variety is outstanding.
Of the Central American countries, Guatemala offers visitors an unparalleled wealth of culture and interest. Colourful Indian settlements, old colonial towns, lush jungles and fascinating Mayan ruins all combine to make this country a fascinating travel destination.
Volcanic activity has created to rugged peaks, alien-looking sulphurous lakes and relaxing hotsprings. Immerse yourself in the ever-present indigenous culture, and it wont be long before you envy the exquisite craftsmanship and rich history of the Mayan people. Exotic flowers, birds and mammals explode from the subtropical forests, and there are spectacular opportunities for wildlife viewing and sporting activities.
Records of human habitation in the area go back to the Mayan civilisation in 2000 BC. By the year 400 AD the temple of Tikal (along with Palenque (Mexico) and Copan (Belize)), had been built marking one of the world’s more civilised areas. By the end of the 1st century the Toltec Empire had established itself; thus changing the religious practises – involving human sacrifice -and constructions of the Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum and Kabah cities as the population moved away from the highlands and down to the flatter lowlands.
Post-independence Guatemala experienced relative calm amid turbulent Central American politics, though it eventually slid into an exceptionally savage civil war between right-wing military governments and leftist guerrilla movements.
The Guatemalan Civil War ended in 1996 with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government, negotiated by the United Nations and heavy diplomatic intervention from nations such as Norway and Spain. Both sides conceded much. The guerrilla fighters disarmed and were given land to work. The UN-sponsored truth commission found that government forces and state-sponsored paramilitaries were responsible for the vast majority of human rights violations during the war. Since the end of the war, Guatemala has consistently held democratic elections.
Today Guatemala still experiences difficulties arising from the existing mixture of cultures, low life expectancy and high levels of violence, especially in the capital, Guatemala City. However, as a visitor the rich culture, beautiful scenery and warmth of the people, rather than the country’s difficulties, will be at the forefront of your mind.
Interested in Guatemala? Call +44 (0)20 7604 4408 for expert holiday advice