Guatemala has an area of 108,889 km², with 16,051,208 inhabitants (2014 census), and the official language of Spanish, although around half the population speaks other languages as their native language. These languages include 23 Maya languages and the Xinca and Garífuna languages.
The Maya civilization was born in the area now knows as Guatemala and expanded to nearby regions during the first millennium C.E. The country was conquered by Pedro Alvarado and his troops in 1524, becoming a Spanish colony, and later gaining its independence in 1821. During the second half of the 20th century, it suffered from an armed conflict between the government and guerrilla forces that lasted for 36 years and took a heavy toll of 250,000 dead, 42,000 disappeared, 1,500,000 displaced, 150,000 refugees, 600 massacres, and 400 villages erased from the country’s map through bombings and burnings (Beatriz Manz, 2002). After the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, Guatemala began a process of transition toward democracy, but the predominant impunity and unequal distribution of national wealth among the population have blocked Guatemala’s evolution and development, relegating it to the 117th place in the PNUD (United Nations Development Programme) Human Rights Development Index rankings: second to last in the entire American Continent.
According to some statistics (PNUD 2007), almost 70% of the Guatemalan population is indigenous, the majority of them of Maya ethnicity and a minority of Xinca (indigenous non-Maya population) and Garífuna (Afro-Caribbean-descended population that inhabits the Caribbean zone of the country). The Maya population is made up of different linguistic communities and groups; although the official language is Spanish, 23 national languages are legally recognized.
On October 25, 2015, Jimmy Morales Cabrera, from the nationalist FCN-Nación party – Frente de Convergencia Nacional -, was elected the fiftieth president of the country.
<< There are things in Guatemala that you never forget: the smell of a recently made tortilla, the rush of feelings at a typical street market, the pleasure of swimming in a waterfall after a sweaty walk through the jungle, the people that you meet on the way and who become your friends for life…
But maybe the most exciting part is experiencing the rich Maya heritage. This surprising culture has left behind some of the most impressive ruins in Latin America, many of which are still part of sacred rituals. The temples at Tikal can easily be visited from the island of Flores, while the journey through the jungles of El Petén toward remote locations such as El Mirador is as worth it as the destination itself. Less known enclaves such as Quiriguá and Takalik Abaj are easily accessible and some say the visit is more satisfying: the atmosphere seems amplified, since the traveler is probably the only visitor.
The legacy of the Maya powerfully dominates modern Guatemala, that complex panorama of urban noise and rural splendor. Underappreciated by many, its prosaic capital is the most lively Guatemala, and there you can find some of the best museums, restaurants, and cultural centers in the country. If all of that is a little overwhelming, the colonial splendor of Antigua Guatemala isn’t far via the highway, and in each of its corners there is a new postcard-worthy scene. If you are looking for something in between, head to the mountains; many visitors consider Quetzaltenango (Xela), the second-biggest city in the country, the perfect mix between an authentic adventure and all of services a traveler could want.
There is also the magnificence of the Guatemalan countryside: volcanos and lakes separated by wild forests, jungles, cornfields, and small farms, and the charm of the simple rural life. On the journey from the mountains to the coast, you will experience 32 microclimates.
To the west, a volcano dominates the horizon, almost begging to be climbed. To the north, the torrid jungles of El Petén surround ample Maya ruins, vibrant and full of exotic natural life. The center of the country is covered in exuberant hills, covered in cloudy forests where the elusive quetzal lives, and broken up by networks of caves. To the east, a combination of the waterways of the Río Dulce and Izabal Lake provide a safe refuge for yachts during hurricane season and for the fauna and flora in extensive sections of wetland.
And we can’t talk about the Guatemalan landscape without mentioning its greatest beauty, Atitlán, a lake surrounded by volcanos that has fascinated travelers for centuries.
In general, Guatemalans are a friendly and welcoming people, and visitors will not feel strange for long. Adventure awaits, and although traveling through Guatemala used to be characterized by difficulties and uncertainty, today the greatest challenge is usually finding time to see everything. >>