Guatemala Country Information
The Republic of Guatemala is bordered by Mexico to the North, the Pacific Ocean to the Southwest, Belize and the Caribbean to the Northeast and Honduras and El Salvador to the Southeast.
Known as a biodiverse hotspot, Guatemala has the largest population of Central America with an abundance of significant ecosystems. With human settlers generally dating back to 10,000 B.C., there is some evidence there was civilization dating back as far as 18,000 B.C.
Spanish settlers brought with them the usual epidemics including Small Pox that devastated the native populations and eventually the Spanish conquered the entire region in the name of Spain, enslaving the Mayans in the process.
Gaining their independence in 1821, Guatemala joined the Mexican Empire. This lasted approximately 50 years until Guatemala’s “Liberal Revolution” in 1871 when Justo Rufino Barrios became leader and began a series of reforms that improved trade and manufacturing. Coffee became an important export during this time and Barrios died in 1885 trying to conquer or unite all of Central America. After his death, Guatemala had their first free election which was won by Juan Jose Arevalo Bermejo who was the first elected leader of Guatemala that completed his term.
Mountainous except for the Southern area and the Northern lowlands, there are 2 mountain chains that divide the country into 3 distinct regions; the highlands, the Pacific Coast to the South and the Peten Region which lies to the North. Most of the population along with the major cities are located in the mountains or highlands and the Pacific coastal regions. These 3 regions that make up Guatemala have varying climates and elevations which provide dramatic differences in the landscape which range from the hot and humid lowlands, to the cooler and drier mountains. “Vulcan Tajumulco” is the highest point in Central America at 4,220 meters.
Despite its past history of political instability, travelers are making their way back to Guatemala because of the many diverse eco regions one can visit in such a short time. Guatemala has the most active Volcanoes in Central America along with many fine Mayan ruins to enjoy.
Guatemala is home to the remaining Mayan culture in Central America. With the ancient ruins of Tikal, rituals of Chichicastenango and spectacular colors dress, visitors can immerse themselves in the indigenous Mayan culture which is alive and well throughout the whole country.
Natural disasters include significant flooding along the lowlands caused by hurricanes due to Guatemala’s location on the Caribbean Sea along with frequent earthquake and volcanic activity. Guatemala has 37 Volcano’s, 4 of which are active and the last major and devastating earthquake that took many lives occurred on February 4th 1976.
With 14 diverse regions, Guatemala has the largest protected area throughout Central America which makes up almost 30% of its National territory while giving home to just under 9,000 species of vascular plants, of which almost 14% are endemic.
The majority of Guatemalans are “Ladino” which is made up from indigenous and Spanish heritage.
Guatemala is a developing country that faces many social issues with an unemployment level that hovers around 3.2% with 56% of the population living below poverty level.
In recent years, Guatemala has gained financial and political stability due to its abundance of natural resources with main exports including fruit, vegetables, flowers, textiles, and handicrafts. After finally ending their long Civil War, the 1996 peace accords have brought significant foreign investment into the country along with an increase in tourism. Guatemala’s trading partners through a series of free trade agreements include the United States, Taiwan, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic among other Central American Countries.
Guatemala City, known as the cultural center is rich in Mayan archeology and is where many of the country’s national museums and library’s are located.
Even though the government runs a series of public elementary and secondary level schools, Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate in Central America with only 69% of the population over the age of 15 being literate.
Guatemala is a major transit country for heroin and cocaine and due to its proximity to Mexico and is also a staging area for illicit drugs with money laundering and corruption being a major concern.