Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The northernmost of the Central American nations, Guatemala is the size of Tennessee. Its neighbors are Mexico on the north and west, and Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador on the east. The country consists of three main regions—the cool highlands with the heaviest population, the tropical area along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and the tropical jungle in the northern lowlands (known as the Petén).

The Mayan civilization flourished throughout much of Guatemala and the surrounding region long before the Spanish arrived, but it was already in decline when the Mayans were defeated by Pedro de Alvarado in 1523-24. The first colonial capital, Ciudad Vieja, was ruined by floods and an earthquake in 1542. Survivors founded Antigua, the second capital, in 1543. Antigua was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1773. The remnants of its Spanish colonial architecture have been preserved as a national monument. The third capital, Guatemala City, was founded in 1776.

More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. Westernized Mayans and mestizos (mixed European and indigenous ancestry) are known as Ladinos. Most of Guatemala's population is rural, though urbanization is accelerating. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are practiced by an estimated 40% and 1% of the population, respectively. Though the official language is Spanish, it is not universally understood among the indigenous population. The peace accords signed in December 1996 provide for the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages.

One of the pleasures of eating in Guatemala is how fresh the food is. Unlike the fruits and vegetables many people eat in the US, much of our food in Guatemala is grown very close to where it is served— you’ll be able to tell the difference in one bite.

Industry in Guatemala, which includes food processing, publishing, mining, and the manufacture of textiles, clothing, cement, tires, and pharmaceuticals, comprises 20 percent of the GDP (US$9.6 billion) and employs about 15 percent of the total workforce (500,000 workers). After growing steadily during the 1960s and 1970s, manufacturing slowed during the debt crisis of the 1980s but picked up again during the 1990s.

Guatemalan cuisine is similar to other Latin American countries with an emphasis on rice, beans, and tortillas. Chicken and meat are common, and often served with a sauce or in a stew. The coffee, as you might expect in a coffee-growing country, is excellent. Some of the traditional dishes most often requested by Guatemalans are the Quetzaltenango tamales, kakik (spiced turkey soup), jocón (chicken in green tomato sauce), guacamole (avocado puree), subanik (beef, pork and chicken vapor-cooked in a highly spiced sauce), and traditional Antigua candy.

Guatemala's population, the largest in any Central American country, is almost evenly divided between Native Americans and ladinos, but also includes small groups descended from African and European immigrants. Within the population are widely varied ways of life, differing between ladinos and indigenous people, between urban and rural residents, between the more affluent and the very poor. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. An estimated 40% and 1% of the population practices Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions, respectively.

Languages: Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca).
Religion: Roman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous Mayan beliefs.
Currency: Quetzal
Capital: Guatemala City.
Population: 12,293,545 (July 2006 est.)
Area: 42,408 sq.mi