For the last decade, an increasing number of annual visitors have flocked to a lesser-known paradise beneath the tourist mecca that is Mexico: Guatemala.
Approximately the same size as Tennessee, it’s only in the recent past that this relatively small country has caught the attention of travelers, adventure-seekers, and nature-lovers. The sheer beauty of the country is sure to earn it a place among the world’s top must-see destinations but, until then, would-be travelers to Guatemala are often at a loss for information.
With a history dating back at least 12,000 years, the list of Guatemala facts is endless. To get you started on your journey, we’ve narrowed it down to five facts that will be most helpful for the curious traveler.
Read on to learn more about the geography, culture, seasons, of this beautiful country, and more.
Having been a Spanish colony and part of the viceroyalty of New Spain from the 16th century, Guatemala gained independence as part of the Federal Republic of Central America in 1821. Dissolving shortly thereafter, Guatemala became an independent republic in 1838, with the borders we know today.
Todays’ Guatemala is over 41,865 square miles of land, 178 square miles of water, and 249 miles of coastline on the northernmost point of Central America. Its northern and western neighbor is Mexico, and other Guatemala neighboring countries include Belize to the northeast, El Salvador to the southeast, and Honduras to the east. The country has access to the Pacific Ocean on its western coast and the Caribbean along the eastern shorelines.
The topography of Guatemala influences everything from its flora and fauna to its climate. The country has beaches on two coasts, mountain ranges, volcanoes, rainforests, and stunning colonial cityscapes.
Guatemala houses a large portion of the highest mountain chain in Central America. With its origins in Mexico, the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes extends into the northwest of Guatemala. Combined with the Sierra de Las Minas, a mountain chain that enters Guatemala from the east, these ranges create one of the country’s three major regions: the highlands.
South of the highlands, the Pacific coast forms the second region and, to the north, the limestone plateau of Peten makes up the third distinct geographical region. Between mountains, plateau, and coastline, the center of the country contains a string of volcanoes, many of which are still active and even more that can be climbed on a day trek.
With a tropical climate and rich, fertile land, rainforests are also found here. Including protected areas such as the 5.2-million acre Maya Biosphere Reserve, these ecological hotbeds extend from Peten into the central highlands.
The official Guatemala population is close to 18 million people, making it the most populous country in Central America. Among those millions, there are two main ethnic groups: Ladinos and Maya.
Although the great Maya civilizations abandoned most of their cities by the end of the 9th century, the people remained. They make up the majority of the indigenous Guatemala population, capturing 39% of the Amerindian demographic.
Ladinos are Guatemalans with mixed European and indigenous ancestry. Also known as Mestizos, they make up 41% of Guatemala’s population.
While the Maya have at least 20 different languages between them, Ladinos speak Spanish exclusively. Having Spanish roots that tie into the colonial past of the country, they also tend to be the most economically and politically influential ethnic group in the country.
On the Caribbean coast of the country, the Garifuna people are a significant portion of the population. With many of their communities in Livingston and Puerto Barrios, this ethnic group are mixed African and Caribbean descent. They’re settled along the coasts of Honduras and Belize as well as Guatemala and their distinct culture is evident in everything from food and drink to music and dress.
Although Guatemala is located within the tropics, its topography has a significant impact on its seasons and climate. That is, the altitudes of Guatemala range from sea level to over 13,000 feet – and that range brings with it a wide range of potential weather outcomes.
Generally speaking, average monthly temperatures in areas below 3,000 feet sit between 70 and 80°F. Between 3,000 and 5,000 feet, those temperatures decline to 60 and 70°F, and from 6,000 to 9,000 feet, temperatures dip to 50°F and only go as high as 60°F. As a general rule of thumb, the higher you go, the colder the temperatures.
But there’s more to consider than just the altitude when it comes to understanding the seasons and Guatemala weather. There are also the dry and rainy seasons to think about.
With the exception of canícula, a break from the rain that usually occurs in July or August, May to September is the rainy season. Contrary to what it sounds like, this season brings light afternoon showers with sunny, clear mornings. In some parts of the country, such as the western highlands and the Caribbean, the rain tends to be heavier – with double the amount of rainfall falling on the Caribbean coastline.
Whether travelling alone or with family, the question of safety is top priority for many travelers. Located in a region of the world with a reputation for crime, “is Guatemala safe?” is an important and valid question to ask. And the short answer is yes, Guatemala is safe.
After the decades-long civil war that ended in 1996 but stained the country with a reputation for violence, Guatemala has had a slow political and economic recovery. Throughout the 21st century, it’s grown as a tourist destination, and Guatemalans often extend warm and friendly welcomes to visitors.
The biggest threat to tourists here are pickpockets and petty theft. Secure your valuables in lockers and safes where they’re available and keep your personal items close and within eyesight when you’re touring cities, towns, and markets.
With diverse landscapes, ancient cultures, and a plethora of activities for the adventurist and naturist alike, Guatemala is becoming a must-see destination in Central America. But with only a few years’ worth of a booming tourist industry, the pool of Guatemala facts to draw inspiration from is shallow.
Now armed with knowledge regarding everything from its climate to safety, you’re ready to start looking into what this country has to offer. Click here to start planning customizing your custom trip to Guatemala.