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Guatemala Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Guatemala
Guatemalan culture is a vibrant mix of Spanish, European and Mayan customs and languages. Although most of the population is Catholic, there are still groups of indigenous people who have links to ancient Mayan rituals and practice these alongside Christian worship. Although Guatemalan culture has recently been more exposed to foreign brands, media and pop culture, indigenous customs, dress, language and cuisine still persist, especially in villages where you can commonly see people dressed in colourful native garb, celebrating a variety of traditional festivals and creating indigenous handicrafts to sell at village markets.
The Guatemalan population is one of great contrasts, with daily life varying greatly depending on social status, ethnic identity and geography. City dwellers range from well-off business owners to cultured university students and humble street cart owners. Rural life also varies - many people that live in villages rely on subsistence farming or handicraft making, and typically have less access to electricity, plumbing, health care and education. To travel in Guatemala is to be exposed to a variety of people, with each group having unique customs and ways of life.
Geography and Environment of Guatemala
Sharing borders with Belize, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala is mainly mountainous, except for pockets of land on the south coast and northern lowlands. With large tracts of rainforest, cloud forest, woodlands and mangroves, Guatemala is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, providing a habitat for a huge range of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. However, widespread logging and deforestation has dramatically reduced the forests that once occupied the area. The fertile valleys provide perfect conditions for the growth of coffee and other cash crops, but with volcanic eruptions and frequent floods and landslides, farming can be difficult. Despite this, many Guatemalans live a rural existence and visitors will be able to see many small villages and towns dotted throughout the country, as well as larger cities with more developed infrastructure.
History and Government of Guatemala
Before the Spanish arrived, the Mayan civilisation had long inhabited Guatemala and surrounding countries. Visitors will be able to see traces of this once mighty civilisation all over the country as a remarkable amount of well-preserved ruins still exist in Guatemala. It is thought that the Mayan civilisation was already in a state of decline by the time the Spanish arrived, and between 1523 and 1524 the Mayans were defeated. A Spanish colony was soon established. The first Guatemalan capital was destroyed by an earthquake and flooding in 1542, resulting in Antigua being established as the new capital. Although later earthquakes in 1773 caused widespread damage, much of the colonial-style architecture has been preserved and can be seen if visiting today.
Gaining independence in 1821, Guatemala entered into the Mexican Empire and, for a brief period of time, also belonged to the United Provinces of Central America. By the 1900s, Guatemala had been subjected to many changes in government and power, having changed hands between a variety of dictators and insurgents via coups and civil war. Between1960 and 1996, the country endured the effects of the Guatemalan Civil War, which included genocide, economic hardship, violence and displacement. A peace process was underway by the late 1980s, but it took many years to restore democratic rule and peace to the country. More recently, Guatemala’s economy has improved, mainly due to the strength of the local agriculture and tourism industries. Although there have been improvements in the economy of the country, unfortunately many Guatemalans still live in poverty.
Guatemala at a glance
- Guatemala City (population 1.15 million)
- 13.8 million
- (GMT-06:00) Central America
- Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin), Type B (American 3-pin)
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