THE SPANISH LANGUAGE
is the second most spoken language in the world due to the number of speakers who claim it as their native tongue (after Mandarin Chinese). It is spoken as a first and second language amongst 450 and 500 million people. It is the third most spoken language as a first or second language after Mandarin Chinese and English combined, and is the mother tongue to 400 million people worldwide... Read more
GUATEMALA Country Profile
The República de Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the northwest, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast.
A representative democracy. Its capital is Guatemala City. The nation has been relatively stable since 1996 and has been in a continuous development and an economic growth. Guatemala's abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contribute to Mesoamerica's designation as a biodiversity hotspot
.: Total 108,890 km² (106th) 42,042 sq mi
.: Water (%): 0.4
.: from Spain Date 15 September 1821
.: July 2009 estimate 13,000,000 (70th)
.: July 2007 census 192,728,111
.: Density 134.6/km² (85th)
Guatemala is a compact country in Central America. Located to the south of Mexico, the big neighbour in the north, you find Belize in the east and in the south Honduras and El Salvador. Despite the turmoil that Guatemala has experienced over recent years, travellers flock to this Central American country. This is largely because of its magnificent landscape and its intense history. Guatemala boasts some of the highest and most active volcanoes in Central America as well as some of the most impressive Mayan ruins.
Guatemala has approximately 10 million inhabitants. A large percent belong to 21 ethnolinguistic Mayan groups who have retained the cultural traditions they have inherited from their ancestors. A lot of very interesting sights can still be seen, most of them in the northern department called "Peten". There are also mestizo, and the Carribean coast population, which has retained its afrocarribean roots.
To this rich array of contrasts, one must add a major contributing factor to Guatemala's unique brand of beauty: its wealth of traditions, and the striking colors and patterns of the weavings of the Mayans. A visit to Guatemala is a must!
PEOPLE AND CULTURE GUATEMALA
Guatemala’s culture is a unique product of Native American ways and a strong Spanish colonial heritage. About half of Guatemala’s population is mestizo (known in Guatemala as ladino), people of mixed European and indigenous ancestry. Ladino culture is dominant in urban areas, and is heavily influenced by European and North American trends. But unlike many Latin American countries, Guatemala still has a large indigenous population, the Maya who have retained a distinct identity. Deeply rooted in the rural highlands of Guatemala, many indigenous people speak a Mayan language, follow traditional religious and village customs, and continue a rich tradition in textiles and other crafts. The two cultures have made Guatemala a complex society that is deeply divided between rich and poor. And it can be said that this division has produced much of the tension and violence that have marked Guatemala’s history.
The difference between Ladinos and indigenous people is much more a matter of culture than of biological bloodlines. Native people who adopt Spanish as their primary language and exchange traditional clothing and lifestyles for European customs come to be regarded as ladino, regardless of their biological background. Ladinos include a wide range of people, from the country’s elite and middle classes to very poor urban and rural residents. However, the elite group tends to be more ethnically European than the majority of Ladinos, with more ties to original Spanish colonists and later European immigrants.
The indigenous people of Guatemala have maintained a distinct identity, centered on lands and villages in the western highlands. Many speak a Mayan language rather than Spanish and follow spiritual practices from before the Spanish conquest, sometimes blended with Roman Catholic beliefs. Although most are poor by material standards, their lifestyle is ecologically and spiritually satisfying to them, and they have largely chosen to remain isolated from national life. The Guatemalan government has at times has tried to suppress indigenous culture, make Spanish the universal language, and promote European ways. During the civil war, indigenous people were often caught in the crossfire between guerrillas and the government, or targeted by the military for repression and even massacres to discourage them from aiding the guerrillas. Peace agreements signed in 1996 to end the war pledged to respect and promote indigenous culture.
The literacy rate for Guatemalans over the age of 15 stood at 56 percent of the population in 1995 (49 percent of females and 62 of males could read), among the lowest rates in Central America. Elementary education is free and compulsory, and 84 percent of school-age children, or 1.5 million pupils, attended primary school in 1995. The enrollment ratio dropped to 25 percent for secondary schools, which had an enrollment of 372,000 students. Enrollment figures are lower in rural areas than in urban areas. Many rural schools only go to third grade, and much of the nation’s education budget is spent in Guatemala City. In addition to public schools, there are also private and church schools, both Catholic and Protestant, among the nation’s 11,495 primary schools.
There is great variety in Guatemalan lifestyles, marked by differences between Ladino and Maya ways and between urban and rural areas. In the capital, European culture and fashions have long been dominant. More recently North American styles—in cinema, music, politics, business, even fast-food franchises—have become a powerful influence that has diminished traditional Spanish customs. In urban areas, the ladino culture is a mixture of indigenous and Spanish traditions. Ladinos often blend the clothing and musical styles of the two cultures, and eat dishes from both groups: wheat bread and processed foods on one hand, traditional corn tortillas and rice and beans on the other.
Outside the capital, especially in rural areas, more traditional ways persist. In indigenous communities, most of the women and many men still wear brightly colored native dress. The typical rural family is industrious; men usually work the fields, while women care for the children and weave beautiful textiles with motifs that are unique to each community. A diet of corn, beans, and a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is standard. Chicken and rice dishes are also common. Beef or pork are less common among the poorer classes, but popular among middle and upper sectors in both town and country. Among a variety of native dishes, on festive occasions Guatemalans of all classes serve a tamale made from cornmeal with a variety of vegetable and meat fillings wrapped in a banana leaf.
The problems of the middle and poorer classes have been major issues in ongoing political struggles throughout the 20th century. The widespread abuse of human rights has also become a domestic and international issue, after years in which the military-dominated governments repressed any opposition and massacred entire villages to discourage support for guerrillas. Rigoberta Menchú Túm, a Quiché activist for indigenous rights, did much to publicize the problem and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work. Recent governments have finally begun to curb human rights abuses, and 1996 peace agreements signed by the government and guerrillas promise protection for human rights, respect for indigenous cultures, and many social programs. In recent years, street crime has also become an important problem, with violent crime rising as poverty increases.
The contrast between the modern ways of Guatemala City, the center of Guatemalan cultural activity, and the traditional customs and crafts of the Maya peoples gives Guatemala a colorful and dynamic culture. Spanish colonists gave Guatemala its official language and many architectural and art treasures. Magnificent buildings of the colonial period remain at Antigua Guatemala, the colonial capital, located about 40 km (about 25 mi) from Guatemala City. Contemporary crafts such as weaving, jewelry making, and ceramics combine indigenous design and color patterns with Spanish technical skills. Throughout Guatemala, the marimba remains the typical Guatemalan musical medium, although it is often challenged now by Mexican ranchera music and North American rock.
Guatemala’s literary heritage includes the 16th-century Popol Vuh, a Maya account of the creation and history of the world. Among 20th-century Guatemalan artists of international repute are the writers Enrique Gómez Carrillo, Rafael Arévalo Martínez, Mario Monteforte Toledo, and Miguel Ángel Asturias, winner of the 1967 Nobel Prize in literature. The 20th-century painters Carlos Mérida, Alfredo Gálvez Suárez, and Valentín Abascal, among many others, have been inspired by the indigenous heritage of their nation, while a whole community of primitive painters at Comalapa has achieved international recognition. A number of Guatemalan social scientists have been recognized for their work in exile during times of conflict and repression in their own country. These include sociologist Edelberto Torres Rivas, historian Julio Castellano Cambranes, and author Victor Perera. A notable Guatemalan composer is José Castañeda, while Dieter Lehnhoff has done much to preserve the musical heritage of colonial and modern Guatemala.
GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENT GUATEMALA
Guatemala is the most western of the Central American states, bounded on the west and north by Mexico, on the east by Belize and the Gulf of Honduras, on the southeast by Honduras and El Salvador, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. Its total area of 108,889 sq km (42,042 (1998) sq mi) makes it the third largest nation in the region, after Nicaragua and Honduras. At its widest points, the republic stretches about 430 km (270 mi) east to west and 450 km (280 mi) north to south.
Guatemala’s geography has frequently influenced its history. About two-thirds of the country’s total land area is mountainous. The rugged terrain provided refuge that allowed the indigenous peoples to survive the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, while the fertile valleys eventually produced fine coffees and other crops that dominated the nation’s economy. Frequent volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and torrential rains have often brought disaster to the country and made building and maintaining roads and railways very difficult.
Two mountain chains traverse Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the western highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the Petén region, north of the mountains. These areas vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between dense tropical lowlands and highland peaks and valleys.
The southern edge of the western highlands is marked by the Sierra Madre range, which stretches from the Mexican border south and east, almost to Guatemala City. It then continues at lower elevations toward El Salvador, in an area known as the Oriente. The chain is punctuated by steep volcanic cones, including Tajumulco Volcano (4220 m/13,845 ft), the highest point in the country. Most of Guatemala’s 19 active volcanoes are in this chain, and earthquakes occur frequently in the highland region. The northern chain of mountains begins near the Mexican border with the Cuchumatanes range, then stretches east through the Chuacús and Chamá mountains and slopes down to the Santa Cruz and Minas mountains near the Caribbean Sea. The northern and southern mountains are separated by a deep rift, where the Motagua River and its tributaries flow from the highlands into the Caribbean.
To the north of the western highlands is the sparsely populated Petén, which includes about a third of the nation’s territory. This lowland region is composed of rolling limestone plateaus covered with dense tropical rain forest, swamps, and grasslands, dotted with ruins of ancient Maya cities and temples.
A narrow, fertile plain of volcanic soil stretches along the Pacific coast. Once covered with tropical vegetation and grasslands, this area is now developed into plantations where sugar, rubber trees, and cattle are raised.
Guatemala has 400 km (250 mi) of coastline, but lacks a natural deepwater port on the Pacific. Guatemala claims territorial waters extending out 12 nautical miles (22 km/14 mi), plus an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km/230 mi) offshore. Hurricanes and tropical storms sometimes batter the coastal regions.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE GUATEMALA
The diversity of the geographical terrain in Guatemala allows for a variety of weather conditions throughout the country. A very wet and cloudy summer runs from May to October, followed by a drier and sunnier winter season from December to March.
The mountains are high enough to escape the tropical heat and humidity and summer temperatures here are comfortable. Winters are cool and it can be cold at night.
In the northern half of Guatemala, vast lowland plains support huge expanses of largely inaccessible, undulating hardwood forest, dotted with the occasional banana plantation. Hot and wet summers are often accompanied by high humidity, while winters are warm with a brief dry season lasting from February to April.
The coastal plain along the Pacific coast is intensely cultivated, sustaining plantations of coffee, sugarcane, and bananas, alongside cotton fields. The crops benefit from the high rainfall, which is confined to the summer months. Summers are also very hot and humid, while winters are warm, dry and a lot sunnier.
The currency in Guatemala is the Quetzal. The US$ became legal tender in May 2001 and is by far the most widely accepted foreign currency.
The exchange rate is relatively stable although fluctuations do occur. Currently roughly US$1 = 8 quetzales; UK£1 = under 14 quetzales.
Credit cards are always useful for withdrawing money. Visa and Mastercard are accepted in upmarket shops, restaurants and hotels. All large towns have ATM facilities.