Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America with a long standing past of Mayan civilization. It shares its borders with Mexico in the north and west, the Pacific Ocean in the southwest, Belize in the northeast, the Caribbean and Honduras in the east and El Salvador in the southeast. Formerly a colony of Spain, this country is now a follower of representative democracy. The stunning natural beauty and relics of Mayan architecture invites tourists from all over the world to this country. Here are a few facts about this land of diversity-
10. The meaning of the word “Guatemala”
There is much debate about the origin of the word Guatemala. Some historians opine that Guatemala means “land of trees” in the Maya-Totec language. Some others think that the place derives its name from the Nahuatl term Quauhtitlan, which means “between the trees”. Yet others think that the name comes from the Spanish word Coactlmoctllan, which means “land of the snake-eating bird,” a phrase that refers to the country’s eagle. It is also known as “land of the eternal spring” due to its round the year tropical climate. The official name of the country is Republic of Guatemala.
09. It was a colony of Spain
Guatemala was a colony of Spain, and a part of Mexico during the 1500s. On 15 September 1821, the countries of Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras officially proclaimed their independence from Spain. These countries formed the Captaincy General which was abolished two years later. The Quetzaltenango or the Xela fair is held from 12-18th September every year to commemorate the freedom from Spanish rule. Guatemala created its own flag in 1825. The national flag of Guatemala has two blue strips for the two water bodies surrounding it and a national coat of arms in the middle.
08. The language
Like most Central American countries, Spanish is the only recognized official language. 93% of the population considers Spanish as their first or second language. However, many people also understand Basic English, German, Chinese and French.
21 varieties of Mayan languages are spoken in Guatemala by mainly the rural population. Indigenous languages of Guatemala include Xinca and Garifuna, spoken by populations restricted to the coast. It is usual for native language speakers to have knowledge of either Spanish or other national languages beside their mother tongue. Efforts to preserve ancient Mayan literature and scripts are undertaken to know more about the history of the country.
07. Jade production
Jade is produced in abundance in Guatemala. The National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala City and the Original Jade Factory and Museum in Antigua document the history of this precious element. The jade produced in Guatemala is known as Maya jade. Many tourists visiting Guatemala make it a point to collect this valuable item.
06. The country attracts a huge number of tourists
Guatemala is visited by about 2 million people every year. The tourism sector brings a significant source of economy to the country, estimated to be $1.8 billion with positive growths as seen in 2015. The popularity of Guatemala as a tourist spot can be attributed mainly to its splendid architectural heritage sites. Besides, demand for local artwork and resources like Jade are also high. Famous Mayan archaeological sites like Tikal, Iximche and Guatamela City provide a glimpse of the ethical past the country had. The old capital Antigua Guatemala has been converted to an UNESCO Cultural Heritage site. The beaches of Guatemala border both the Pacific and Atlantic and are places of tourist activity.
05. The first chocolate bar was discovered in Guatemala
The first chocolate bar was discovered during the Mayan civilization in Guatemala (Thank Mayan gods for that!). Mayans used to worship the cacao tree as they believed it to be sacred. The aphrodisiac properties of cocoa were well known and it was often consumed in the form of a drink. The Mayans used to pray to a deity called Ek Chuah, who symbolized the cacao tree. However, chocolate was usually consumed in its bitter form with the occasional use of chilli. Chocolate is widely consumed in Guatemala even today with a chocolate museum in the city of Antigua. And cocoa is still sacred in Guatemala with cocoa shops, confectioneries and breweries present in almost all the developed cities.
04. The salad with 50 ingredients
Fiambre is the traditional dish of Guatemala which requires over 50 ingredients. It is essentially a salad, eaten cold. It is prepared to celebrate the Day of the Dead and All Saints Day. The recipe contains at least 50 items with tradition requiring that each family has its own secret recipe. The custom of this dish originates from the times when families took food to their deceased members’ tombs on All Saints Day. As different families brought different food and shared them among the mourners, the food got mixed. Even today, on this particular day, Fiambre is served as the main dish.
03. Agriculture practices
The Pacific lowlands are the most agriculture friendly region of the country. The economy of the country is largely dependent on agriculture, almost making up 1/4th of the Gross Domestic Product. The export of coffee is the main business of Guatemala. Sugar, cotton, natural rubber, gold and bananas are also exported. It is estimated that 50% of the employed workforce serve in the agriculture sector.
02. It has more than 30 volcanoes
There are currently half a dozen active volcanoes in Guatemala like Pacaya, Santiaguito, Fuego, Tacaná Acatenang, Almolongao and Santa Maria. The active Fuego volcano had erupted ashes even in early 2016. The Tajumulco is the highest point in the country standing at a height of 4220m above sea level. The Pacaya volcano which last erupted in 2010 is a tourist site,with volcano parks and hiking trails leading up to it. The capital of the country had to be shifted twice due to volcanic mudflows in the past. Ciudad Vieja, the capital founded around 1527 had to be shifted in 1541 due to destruction caused by the Agua Volcano. It was then shifted to Antigua Guatemala, located in the Pacnchoy Valley. This new capital had to be deserted again in favor of a new capital in the Ermita Valley due to earthquakes during early 1970s.
01. The first mixed UNESCO Heritage Sites
Tikal National Park is located in Northern Guatemala, in the heart of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. It is the first mixed UNESCO heritage site, having both cultural and bio-geographical value. The center of the national park contains palaces and ruins of Mayan architecture, sprawling across the green forest. Tikal is among the most impressive remains of Mayan architecture. The forest surrounding these ruins is home to big cats like Jaguar. 300 species of birds,200 species of trees and indigenous species of wildlife are found in these forests. The unadulterated beauty of this site is of great attraction to scientists, archaeologists and natural biologists all over the world.
So, if you plan a list of holiday destinations with your family, make sure to include Guatemala!