Guatemala

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Guatemala is a country in the Central America region of North America. It has borders to Mexico in the north/northwest, to Belize in the northeast, to Honduras in the southeast, to El Salvador in the south. It has a Pacific coastline to the southwest, and a tiny piece of Caribbean coastline to the east. Guatemala is very tough land. You can experience volcanic activity, seismic activity (earthquakes, mudslides), and hurricanes.

Population: 14,373,472 people
Area: 108,889 km2
Highest point: 4,211 m
Coastline: 400 km
Life expectancy: 71.46 years
GDP per capita: $5,300
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About Guatemala

History

Pre-Columbian

The first evidence of human settlers in Guatemala goes back to at least 12,000 BC. Sites dating back to 6500 BC have been found in Quiché in the Central Highlands and Sipacate, Escuintla on the central Pacific coast. Archaeologists divide the pre-Columbian history of Mesoamerica into the Pre-Classic period (2000 BC to 250 AD). El Mirador was by far the most populated city in pre-Columbian America. Both the El Tigre and Monos pyramids encompass a volume greater than 250,000 cubic meters. Mirador was the first politically organized state in America.

The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilization corresponds to the height of the Maya civilization, and is represented by countless sites throughout Guatemala, although the largest concentration is in Petén. This period is characterized by heavy city-building, the development of independent city-states, and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures. This lasted until around 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilization collapsed. The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central lowlands or were killed off by a drought-induced famine. The Post-Classic period is represented by regional kingdoms such as the Itza' and Ko'woj in the lakes area in Petén, and the Mam, K'iche', Kaqchikel, Tz'utujil, Poqomchi', Q'eqchi' and Ch'orti' in the Highlands. These cities preserved many aspects of Mayan culture, but would never equal the size or power of the Classic cities.

Colonial era

After arriving in what was named the New World, the Spanish mounted several expeditions to Guatemala, beginning in 1519. Before long, Spanish contact resulted in an epidemic that devastated native populations. During the colonial period, Guatemala was an Audiencia and a Captaincy General of Spain, and a part of New Spain (Mexico). It extended from the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to Costa Rica. This region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru, and was therefore not considered to be as important. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue añil dye, red dye from cochineal insects, and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.

Post-independence

On September 15, 1821, the Captaincy-general of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras) officially proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire, which was dissolved two years later. The Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America. Guatemala's "Liberal Revolution" came in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernize the country, improve trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing. During this era coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain this, losing his life on the battlefield in 1885 against forces in El Salvador. From 1898 to 1920, Guatemala was ruled by the dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, whose access to the presidency was helped by the United Fruit Company.

On July 4, 1944, Dictator Jorge Ubico Castañeda was forced to resign his office in response to a wave of protests and a general strike, and from then until the end of a murderous civil war in 1996, Guatemala was subject to a series of coups with massive attendant civil rights abuses. State-sponsored murders of students, human rights activists and the ethnic Mayan peoples, gained Guatemala a terrible reputation around the world. In 1999, U.S. president Bill Clinton stated that the United States was wrong to have provided support to Guatemalan military forces that took part in the brutal civilian killings.

Since the peace accords in 1996, Guatemala has witnessed successive democratic elections, most recently in 2007 when The National Unity of Hope and its president candidate Álvaro Colom won the presidency as well as the majority of the seats in congress.

Climate

The climate of Guatemala is diverse. In most of Guatemala it is hot (low 80s-mid 90s depending on time of year and location), with post meridiem thunderstorms that generally notch down the heat a bit. In the Altos, or highland area the weather is generally a bit cooler, and ranges from the high 70s to high 80s depending on time of year.

Activities

Guatemala is rich in natural beauty and travel opportunities, it's a country that offers so much to those willing to step off the beaten track for a little while.

Antigua Guatemala is often regarded as the travellers hub, a crumbling, picture-perfect Central American town ringed by volcanoes. From here you can take a hike up Volcano Pacaya, take a bus to the bustling market of Chichicastenango, or simply sip some coffee in a street-side cafe and watch the world go by.

Lake Atitlan (or Lago de Atitlán) is another frequent stop on any visitors itinerary. A volcano-rimmed lake with plenty of backpacker hostels and Mayan villages that dot the shores.

Flores in Guatemala's wild north is a tourist friendly island in the middle of Lake Petén Itzá. From here you can take a bus ride to one of best preserved Mayan ruins in the world, Tikal. Howler monkeys and dense jungle make walking around the ruins an adventure in itself.

  • Semuc Champey, Lanquin, near Coban, Alta Verapaz. Semuc Champey is a cascade of turquoise limestone pools created by the river plunging below ground for a stretch before rushing back out through a spectacular waterfall. Definitely worth making the trip to Lanquin for as well as the beautiful lodges that have sprung up from the captivating hilly landscape.

Rio Dulce The Rio Dulce is a majestic emerald river, sandwiched between Belize & Honduras, which sweeps out to the Caribbean. The Rio Dulce area consists of two towns on either side of one of the largest bridges in Central America, Fronteras & El Relleno. Rio Dulce is a haven for Sailors and Backpackers alike, with plenty to do and to see. Finca Paraiso is a hot springs waterfall which is like having a spa day in the jungle; Castillo San Felipe de Lara is a historical fort site and an inexpensive way to spend the afternoon touring the castle and swimming in Lake Izabal. The many species of Birds & Animals (including manatees) makes Rio Dulce a great spot for birdwatchers, animal lovers & fishing fans.

Food

Typical food:

  • Kaq Ik
  • Pepián
  • Jocom
  • Quichom
  • Tortillas and tortillas de harina. Maize tortillas are served with most meals.
  • Frijoles negros - stewed black beans
  • Caldos - beef broths
  • Tamales — steam-cooked corn meal, with a variety of fillings, wrapped in banana leaves
  • Rice 'n beans (Garifunafood in Puerto Barrios)
  • Tapado, ceviche and other fishmeals
  • Churrascos

A typical breakfast is Frijoles, eggs and bread with coffee of course.

The type of food really depends on how much you want to spend and what type of place you want to spend it at. You can get almost any type of food at the main tourist locations. In the aldeas (small towns) your choices are mostly limited to those items listed above. Guatemalan food differs from Mexican food in that it is a lot less spicy, and chillies are generally served in a separate dish from the main course to be added as desired, rather than included in the food.

Drinks

Popular Guatemalan beers are Gallo (lager, by far the most popular with Guatemalans), Victoria, Brahva (a light pilsner style), Moza (dark bock), Cabro, Monte Carlo (premium), and Dorada. Don't be surprised if you get salt and lemon with your beer. It's a custom to put some salt on the toes of the bottle, and screw out the lemon in the beer. Sometimes it is mixed with V8 vegetable juice, and the concoction is called michelada.

Guatemala produces a number of rums, including the superb Ron Zacapa Centenario which is aged up to 30 years.

Tequila is a very popular drink in Guatemala.

Guatemalans usually dress down when they go out.

If you order a bottled drink, you will normally get a tissue to clean the bottle. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-type products are available, plus many from local soft drink manufacturers.

Shopping

Money

The local currency is the Quetzal which is named after the national bird, which has ancient and mythic connotations even today. One US dollar is equivalent to 7.61 Quetzales. US dollars are widely accepted and can be exchanged in most small towns. ATMs can be found in the major towns but do not expect to find them in every tourist spot. It is fairly easy to find your self in a town without an ATM or a place to change money.

Do not expect to be able to easily exchange travelers checks to Guatemala. You might find a few places willing to accept checks issued by American Express but all other types are universally turned down. Amazingly even major banks in Guatemala City do not accept VISA travelers checks.

The national currency is Quetzal(es). The rate of change is approximately 7.61 Quetzales for 1 US Dollar and 10.88 for 1 €uro (May 2011). It is common to use dollars in tourist areas. You will most likely have difficulties in changing other currencies than US Dollars, but euros are becoming increasingly common.

Shopping

It is common to bargain for most purchases in the open air market. Though you may be able to bargain in other places, be aware that chain-owned shops have fixed prices (you are no more likely to bargain in a Guatemalan Radio Shack than an American one).

These are some characteristically Guatemalan things you might consider buying here:

  • Ron Zacapa Centenario — Guatemala's prize-winning rum
  • Fabrics and traditional textiles — Traditional Mayan blouses are known as huipiles (whi-peel) and skirts as cortes. Be aware that these are almost always entirely handmade and prices for a high-end huipil may be as high as Q1000.
  • Jade — there is large jade working factory in Antigua, but it is course a very stone.
  • Coffee — touted as one of the best-tasting varieties in the world
  • Cardamom — Guatemala is the largest exporter in the world and Coban is the main centre of this trade.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Guatemala on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Guatemala

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La Antigua Guatemala was the colonial Spanish capital of Central America. It is a World Heritage site, and is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in Guatemala.

Interesting places:

  • Central Park
  • Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
  • Antigua Guatemala Colonial Art Museum
  • La Merced Church
  • Volcan de Pacaya
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Guatemala City is the capital of Guatemala, a country in Central America.

Interesting places:

  • Catedral Metropolitana
  • Constitution Square
  • National Palace (Palacio Nacional)
  • El Obelisco
  • Teatro Nacional
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Panajachel is in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Panajachel, or Pana as it is widely known is a small town on the North shore of Lake Atitlán. Pana is a small town with a booming tourist industry. With the exception of possibly Antigua, Panajachel is one of the major tourism areas in Guatemala.

Interesting places:

  • Church of Saint Francis
  • Panajachel Municipal Market
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Flores is a town in Petén, Guatemala. The town proper is an island on Lago Petén Itzá, connected to land by a causeway, on the other side of which lie the twin towns Santa Elena and San Benito. All three are often referred to as Flores, and are grouped in one article here accordingly.

Interesting places:

  • Cathedral of Flores
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There is more than one place called Santa Elena:

Interesting places:

  • Mundo Maya International Mall
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Santa Cruz la Laguna is a small town on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

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Chichicastenango is a small town in the Western Highlands of Guatemala (pop. about 23000). Located at an altitude of 2030m, it is surrounded by valleys and mountains. It is mostly renowned for its colourful markets, held on Thurdsays and Sundays, where it is said that some of the most beautiful traditional ... (read more)

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Puerto Barrios is a seaport and the capital of the department of Izabal on the Caribbean Coast of Guatemala. Its population is about 40,000 people. It is also the commercial heart of the region, because it has two ports: Puerto Barrios and Santo Tomás de Castilla. Santo Tomás is the biggest port in the ... (read more)

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Puerto San José is a city in the Pacific Highlands region of Guatemala.

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Interesting places:

  • Tikal
  • Uaxactun
  • Cerro Biotope Cahui
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There is more than one place called Livingston:

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San Juan la Laguna is a town on Lake Atitlán. It doesn't have nearly as many tourists as other towns around the lake, and so it is a much quieter, more relaxed place to stay.

panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners

Points of Interest in Guatemala

Maya ruins are the key attractions in the country and the most notable are El Mirador, perhaps the cradle of Maya civilisation, and Tikal.

Volcanoes

Guatemala has a lot of volcanoes, many of them over 3,000 metres high.

  • Volcán de Pacaya (2500m) - this is an active volcano about 30 minutes outside of Antigua. Some days it will not be accessible as the volcano may be too active to observe safely. Bring a jacket since it will be windy and cold at the top (although the ground will feel warm) and wear long pants as the volcanic rock can easily give you a nice cut. Tour guides can be organised from Antigua. Up until its most recent significant eruption in late May of 2010, you were able to walk right up to see real lava and even roast hot dogs and marshmellows over it. Although trips are still common and travel agencies still boast this possibility with pictures of tourist doing so in the past, this is no longer possible.

If you decide to travel to Pacaya alone the prices are quite reasonable. Aprox.Q25 ($3)entrance to the park itself. At the entrance to Pacaya National Park you will be required to have a local guide, licensed by the park to take you to the top of the volcano. There are two separate entrances to the park, the first locatred in the town of El Cedro and the second in the town of San Francisco. The El Cedro route is an easier climb, around 2 hours up & 1 hour down the volcano. The San Fracisco entrance is a few miles further past El Cedro. It's a bit of a steeper climb. The entire park is patrolled by local police as well as soldiers...it is quite safe. Locals also offer horses to bring you for around Q125 ($15) which if you're not into hiking is a great alternative. These are offered to you when you begin your ascent. There are restrooms & snacks/drinks available for sale at both entrances as well. Secure parking is available for those traveling without a tour group.

Central Park - Antigua Guatemala

Catedral Metropolitana - Guatemala City

Cathedral of Flores - Flores

Quetzaltenango Central Park - Quetzaltenango

Quirigua Archaeological Site - Izabal

Church of Saint Peter - San Pedro La Laguna

Church of Saint Francis - Panajachel

San Jose Beach - Puerto Quetzal

Aguateca - Las Pozas

Atitlan Volcano - Santiago Atitlan

Antigua Guatemala Cathedral - Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala Colonial Art Museum - Antigua Guatemala

La Merced Church - Antigua Guatemala

Constitution Square - Guatemala City

National Palace (Palacio Nacional) - Guatemala City

Volcan de Pacaya - Antigua Guatemala

El Obelisco - Guatemala City

Teatro Nacional - Guatemala City

La Aurora Zoo - Guatemala City

panoramio Photos are copyrighted by their owners
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