What Is Guatemala? Is Guatemala a Country?

(Last Updated On: April 15, 2019)
What Is Guatemala? Is Guatemala a Country?

In this post, we’re setting our sights towards Guatemala as we attempt to answer the following questions: What is Guatemala in the first place? Is Guatemala a country? What is the history of Guatemala? And just where is Guatemala located on a map?

What Is Guatemala? Is Guatemala a Country?

Guatemala is the most densely populated country in Central America, with a population of 16.6 million people spread out over 42,042 square miles. That means that on average, there are about 334 people per square mile.

The capital, Guatemala City, is home to 3.3 million residents, making it the largest city in Central America and an important economic, social and political hub. The city is known for its stunning architecture and great museums.

Guatemala is officially considered a republic, and the main language spoken in Guatemala is Spanish, although the country also boasts an impressive 21 Mayan dialects. The name Guatemala comes from a Mayan word meaning “place of many trees.”

Where Is Guatemala? Finding Guatemala on a Map

Guatemala is located on the southern portion of the North American continent and is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the south, Mexico to the north and to the west, Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Honduras to the east and El Salvador to the southeast.

Known for its mountainous landscape, Guatemala is also home to small patches of deserts and dunes. The infamous Motagua Fault Line cuts right across the country’s densely populated highlands, and has been responsible for many of the earthquakes that commonly rock this region.

With a unique location between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea Guatemala is also prone to hurricanes and other types of natural disasters. Despite this, Guatemala enjoys a relatively stable climate year round due to its location in a tropical climate zone, although the average temperature varies with elevation.

There are two primary seasons in Guatemala – the rainy season from May to October, and the dry season from March to May.

Guatemala map
Guatemala on a map

The History of Guatemala

Historically, Guatemala was home to the ancient Mayan people, a diverse group of indigenous people who created one of the most advanced civilizations in the history of the Americas. They are known for developing more complex forms of communication, including some of the world’s first written languages, and inventing many successful large-scale agricultural techniques. The culture had a highly sophisticated understanding of astronomy, and were able to predict major astronomical events and even had their own calendar system, known as the Mayan calendar.

The Mayan civilization reigned in the region for about 2,000 years, establishing large cities and elaborate temples, before the Spanish arrived and began to conquer the already declining civilization in the 16th century.

The arrival of the Spanish, led by Pedro de Alvarado, would spawn a series of bloody wars. The Mayans would fight back for almost two centuries before the last independent Maya kingdom was finally defeated in 1697. Throughout this time period, many Mayans would succumb to diseases brought from Europe. It is estimated that up to 90% of the indigenous population was obliterated due to disease shortly after first contact. The remaining population was converted to Christianity by the Europeans after conquest.

Two different capital cities would eventually be established by the Spaniards, both of which were destroyed by earthquakes and natural disasters, before finally coming to settle on Guatemala City as the location for the capital.

In 1821, Guatemala gained independence from Spain and was officially declared a sovereign republic in 1847. The country has a storied history of political unrest and military coups which continues into the present day. Most recently, a brutal 36-year civil war between 1960-1996 left 200,000 people dead.

Guatemala Today

As a result of its tragic colonial history and geological propensity for natural disasters, Guatemala is one of the world’s poorest countries. That said, the country’s stunning architecture and high density of volcanoes, huge rainforests, and other natural wonders bring in about 2 million tourists a year who come to see the ancient Mayan ruins or take in the relaxed local climate and friendly, chill atmosphere.

The population is composed of over 39% different indigenous populations, most of which are descendents of the ancient Mayans.

One of the primary attractions in Guatemala is its brightly colored “Chicken Buses,” modified school buses sent over from North America that most residents use as their primary form of transportation. Locals produce traditional handicrafts and textiles, and the markets are vibrant and thriving. Guatemala is also known for its excellent coffee and authentic tortillas. Guatemala is also the birthplace of blue denim, which is popularly worn throughout the country.

Thanks to the cruise ship industry, more and more people are discovering the wonders of Guatemala, and tourism may provide a valuable source of revenue for this magical place in the future.

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