Guatemala Flag

20 Fascinating Facts About Guatemala

20 Fascinating Facts About Guatemala


1. Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America – 68th overall.

2. The ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal in Guatemala is one of the major sites of Mayan civilization and was inhabited for 16 centuries from the 6th century BC to the 10th century AD.

Tikal Guatemala

3. Guatemala is probably an indigenous name originating either from the words Quauhtemallan meaning ‘land of trees’ or Guhatezmalha meaning ‘mountain of vomiting water, referring to its volcanic eruptions.

4. Between 1523 and 1524, Spanish explorer Pedro de Alvarado defeated the indigenous Maya and turned Guatemala into a Spanish colony.

5. The Spanish, who ruled over Guatemala until 1821, essentially enslaved the indigenous people of the area and forced them to work on their own land for the benefit of the colonialists.

6. Guatemala was initially absorbed into the Mexican empire following independence from Spain. Then in 1823, Guatemala joined the United Provinces of Central America, which also included Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.

7. The Guatemalan flag takes inspiration from the flag used by the United Provinces of Central America which consisted of blue-white-blue stripes and a coat of arms in the center. The countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica all use permutations of the design in their flags.

8. Guatemala’s national bird is the quetzal. The long-tailed bird lives largely in the cloud forests. However, the quetzal and its habitat are under threat.

Guatemala’s  quetzal

. The Guatemala coat of arms features the national bird, a scroll containing the date of Central American independence, a wreath, and crossed rifles and sabers.

10. The quetzal is also the name of Guatemala’s currency.

11. Guatemalan Indian-rights activist, Rigoberta Menchú, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1992.

12. Guatemala is thought to be one of the first places to invent chocolate. Considered the ‘food of the gods by the Mayans, the chocolate-making tradition originated in the Maya world, which encompassed modern-day Guatemala.

13. Even though Spanish is the official language, there are 23 officially recognized indigenous languages in Guatemala. These include 21 Maya languages.

14. Guatemala has unique geology resulting from its location on the confluence of three tectonic plates. As such the country suffered from major earthquakes in 1917, 1918, and 1976.

15. Guatemala has at least 30 volcanoes, of which four are currently active: Pacaya, Fuego, Santiaguito, and Tacaná. 

pacaya guatemala

16. 2018 saw multiple eruptions of Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire). Hundreds of people died and over 4,000 were displaced when the volcano erupted twice within six months.

17. With an elevation of 4,220m (13,845ft), Tajumulco Volcano in Guatemala is the highest peak in Central America.

18. From 1960 to 1996 Guatemala suffered from a 36-year civil war between the US-backed government and leftist rebels supported mainly by indigenous people.

19. The conflict saw an estimated 200,000 people killed with many of the casualties a result of human rights atrocities committed by the government. The Guatemalan security forces that murdered thousands of civilians were trained and equipped by the USA.

20. Estimates suggest that Guatemala has 250 species of mammals, 600 species of birds, 200 species of reptiles and amphibians, and numerous species of butterflies and insects.

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