Guatemala is one of the most interesting countries we have traveled to. With a rich history and culture, there are plenty of fun facts about Guatemala to learn.
Guatemala carries a mix of indigenous and colonial influences, a strong Mayan culture, and a rich natural landscape where you can find ancient ruins deep in the rainforest, Guatemala is as captivating in real life as it sounds.
Before you make your way to this Central American country, learning a few facts about Guatemala is important.
Interesting Facts About Guatemala
1. A Unique World Heritage Site
Did you know that Guatemala is home to the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site that combines both natural and cultural wonders?
That site is Tikal National Park and in this park you’ll find pristine jungle terrain and fascinating Mayan ruins. Imagine these ancient ruins set against the lush jungle canopy and you’ll understand why they call this site “mixed” and why it’s one of the most visited places in the country.
2. The Meaning Behind The Country’s Name
Before people started calling it Guatemala around 1524, the name of the land was Quauhtemallan which, according to many historians, loosely translates into English as Land of Many Trees. The name fits well because Guatemala has plenty of trees in its vast wilderness areas and even in its sprawling cities.
3. A Sacred National Symbol
It was sacred to the ancient Mayan and Aztec people and that is one of the reasons why the colorful Quetzal was chosen as the country’s national bird.
4. The Country Has Had Two Nobel Prize Winners
To date, two people from Guatemala have won the Nobel Prize. The first person was writer and journalist Miguel Asturias in 1967. The second person was Rigoberta Menchú Tum in 1992 for her work in feminism and human rights.
5. Guatemala Has A Long Human History
Before the Spanish people arrived in Central America, Guatemala was inhabited by indigenous Mayan peoples. Archeological finds suggest that the region was inhabited by humans as far back as 20,000 years ago.
6. The Beautiful Lake Atitlan
It has been said by many people that Lake Atitlan is the most beautiful lake in the world. Whether it is or not, one thing is for certain and that’s that the lake is the deepest in Central America.
Surrounded by pristine natural beauty and bordered by three towering volcanoes and several vibrant Mayan villages, the lake is, no doubt, a beautiful place and one that you should visit if you happen to be in Guatemala.
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7. Old Buses Get A Second Chance In Guatemala
The big, yellow buses that are used in the United States to shuttle kids back and forth to school have a lifespan of ten years or 150,000 miles. When they reach one of these milestones, they are auctioned off and taken to Guatemala, where local people repaint them and use them for budget-friendly public transportation. These are called Chicken Buses and you’ll see them all over Guatemala.
8. A Country With Many Tongues
While Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, there are 24 other languages spoken in the country including 22 Mayan languages. That being said, if you can speak and understand some basic Spanish, you’ll get along just fine as most Guatemalans can speak it.
9. A FamousMacDonald’s Happy Meal
This is one of the most interesting Guatemala facts to learn. If you thought the idea for the McDonald’s Happy Meal was cooked up in the United States, think again! A Guatemalan woman proposed a meal option with smaller portions for children in the 1970s.
She called it something else but when the idea crossed the desk of a McDonald’s executive in the United States, he liked the idea and added it to the menu after changing the name to the one we know today, the Happy Meal.
10. A Sweet Guatemala Invention
The cacao tree is highly revered by the Maya people and in Mayan culture and chocolate is known as “the food of the gods.” As a chocolate lover, I can’t say I disagree! Chocolate can be found everywhere in the country including in shops and even in a museum dedicated to the delicious sweet treat.
It is believed that Guatemala invented the first chocolate bar and it’s one of its biggest exports so we can thank the country for getting it out to the rest of us.
11. Bustling Guatemala City
Guatemala is a fairly small country but Guatemala City boasts the largest population in Central America, with around three million people.
12. A World of Flavors
Guatemalan cuisine is a delicious blend of many cultures including Mayan and Spanish. The unique flavors and textures of traditional dishes come from a variety of spices mixed with vegetables, meats, dry chillies and tropical fruit.
It’s fairly cheap to dine out in Guatemala so sampling the traditional cuisine is easy and a must when traveling around the country!
13. A Flag With Lots Of Meaning
The Guatemalan flag is more than a white center bordered by two blue vertical stripes and with the national emblem in the middle. The white is the country itself while the blue strips are the two oceans that border it.
The emblem is the country’s Coat of Arms which features crossed rifles and swords, a laurel wreath, a quetzal and the date that Central America became independent from Spain. Victory, freedom, honor and bravery are what this flag represents.
14. Guatemala Might Have The Best Coffee In The World
Coffee from Guatemala is said to be the best in the world and if you’ve ever tried it, you’ve likely tasted the difference because it stands out from any other coffee from anywhere else in the world. It was first introduced in the 1700s and soon after, it became the country’s most significant export.
The exquisite taste and quality of Guatemalan coffee can be attributed to the region’s microclimates, unique cultivation methods and altitude among other factors. There are eight coffee regions in the country and the coffee grown in each one is unique from all the others.
15. Guatemala Is Home to Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The picturesque town of Antigua, the ancient Maya city of Quirigua and Tikal National Park all have something very important in common; they are the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites that can be found in Guatemala.
16. Celebrate Guatemalan Independence Day
Guatemala gained independence from Spain on September 15th, 1821 and that important event is celebrated every year on that date with the largest celebrations taking place in the vibrant city of Quetzaltenango.
17. Descendants Of The Maya
We often hear about the ancient Mayans and their achievements and downfall but did you know that about half of Guatemala’s population is indigenous and descended from the Maya people?
18. Guatemala Is A Leader In Textiles
One of the most colorful facts about Guatemala! Guatemalans, in particular Mayan women, are skilled textile producers. One of the top textiles produced in the country is blue denim.
19. Guatemala’s Varying Weather Conditions
If you’ve ever heard the saying, “if you don’t like the weather, go to the back yard”, you can apply it to the varying weather conditions of Guatemala! Cool mountainous areas, damp jungles and sweltering coastal regions are just some of the conditions you’ll find around the country. Dressing in layers is a must here!
20. A Leading Exporter Of Rare Jade
Jade is rare, but Guatemala happens to have more of these precious stones than most other places, making it a leading exporter of the pretty, greenish stones that are made into ornamental gems that are used in jewelry around the world. In Guatemala, the gems are also used for ritualistic purposes.
21. Turtle Conservation Is A Big Deal In Guatemala
In Guatemala, turtle conservation is taken seriously and visitors to the country have the chance to help release sea turtles into the ocean at Tortugario Monterrico. Before the turtles hatch and are released, their eggs are protected in nesting areas that are set up just for them.
22. A Land Of Volcanoes
Guatemala is situated on the Ring of Fire, so it’s known for its seismic activity which includes active volcanoes. Fortunately for visitors and locals alike, only three of the country’s 37 volcanoes are active so it’s safe to think that you will visit most of them without the worry of an eruption happening while you’re there.
The tallest volcano in Central America, which also happens to be inactive and one of the top places to visit in the country, is Tajumulco in San Marcos.
23. Flying High In Honor Of The Dearly Departed
There are many different ways to celebrate deceased loved ones and in Guatemala, one popular way to do just that is by flying a kite. There is even an entire festival dedicated to flying kites specifically to honor the dead.
All Saints Day Kite Festival, which takes place every November 1st, is a popular event in the country and kite-flying in honor of the dead has been part of local culture for over 3,000 years.
24. Nature Lovers Rejoice!
This is one of my favorite interesting facts about Guatemala! Guatemala has been designated a megadiverse country out of only 17 countries that’ve received this honor. If you’re a wildlife and nature lover, you’ll love exploring Guatemala’s green spaces.
The country features over 10,000 plants and over 3,000 wildlife species. The land is diverse too with mountains, sandy beaches, lush rainforests and dense jungles.
25. A Lengthy Civil War
No amount of war is ideal but the fact that the civil war that once raged in Guatemala was the longest ever in Latin America, lasting 36 years, is a hard one to grasp. During that period between 1960 and 1996, over 200,000 people were killed, and over 600 massacre sites were uncovered.
26. Claiming Independence From Spain
On September 15th, 1821, Guatemala became independent of the Spanish empire. Since that day, the country has weathered two revolutions, a handful of dictatorships, an intervention backed by the United States, a civil war and several military coups. Now, that’s a lot to handle in such a short time but I dare say, the country has weathered the bad quite well!
27. Refreshing Golden Gallo
Guatemala’s national beer is called Gallo and although some people love it, others aren’t so fond of it. I guess it’s an acquired taste or perhaps some people just don’t know good beer. Either way, I always like to try local dishes and beverages when I travel so if you’re ever in Guatemala, try Gallo for yourself and form your own opinion!
28. Guatemala Is Home To The Indigenous Mayan People
The Mayan civilization was one of the most progressive civilizations in the pre-Columbian age and they built a huge part of their empire in what is now present-day Guatemala. Incredible temples, an intricate writing system, a sophisticated calendar and many achievements in math, science and astronomy are just some of the things the Maya are known for.
Tikal and El Mirador are the most important sites of this highly advanced society. But remnants of other ancient sites have been unearthed and can be found all over the country.
29. A Country With Many Borders
Guatemala is not only bordered by the four countries of Mexico, El Salvador, Belize and Honduras; it’s also bordered by two of the world’s largest oceans, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. If you guessed that the country is home to many fabulous beaches on both coasts, you’d be right!
30. Don’t Drink The Tap Water!
As is the case in many regions of Central and South America, the tap water is not safe to drink. Fortunately, bottled water is available everywhere and most hotels offer filtered water at no extra cost.
There are measures you can practice to avoid getting sick such as avoiding drinks with ice cubes and not eating fruit and vegetables that are washed in tap water. It’s even advised that tourists use bottled water when brushing their teeth.
31. Agriculture is Huge in Guatemala
Agriculture is a huge part of life in Guatemala with many people making a living off the land. Coffee is the most-known export but bananas and sugar are also considered main products that are used both locally and exported to other countries.
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