About Guatemala

Map from www.lonelyplanet.com

 Facts About Guatemala:

A land of mountains, volcanoes and lakes

43% Spanish-speaking Latinos, 2% Afro-Caribbean, 54% Amerindian (descendants of the Mayan civilization)  

There are 19 people groups of the Amerindian who speak 41 different languages

Capital – Guatemala City, population more than 4,000,000 

Economy is primarily agricultural with 2% of the population owning 80% of the land

This inequitable use of land has kept the majority in poverty and was the root cause of the guerrilla war 

Independent from Spain in 1821, but was then controlled by a few plantation owners and then a series of dictatorships and military governments

Guerrilla insurgency lasted from 1962 until 1997 and provoked a violent reaction.

In 1976, 23,000 died after a powerful earthquake. 

 There was a widespread use of death squads by the military and over 100,000 have been killed.  

The recent signing of the peace accord between the government and the guerrillas brings hope that the current peace will remain

For over 500 years the indigenous people have lived in terrible and unjust conditions. Today they lack of opportunities for education, health care, and a decent salary, the majority just survives from agriculture work

49% of the children under 5 years old suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 70% of these children are indigenous.

People who live in poverty 56.2% and in extreme poverty 15.7%.


Area: 108,890 sq. km. (42,042 sq. mi.); about the size of Tennessee.
Cities: Capital --Guatemala City (metro area pop. 2.5 million).
Other major cities --Quetzaltenango, Escuintla.
Terrain: Mountainous, with fertile coastal plain.
Climate: Temperate in highlands; tropical on coasts.

Nationality: Noun and adjective --Guatemalan(s).
Population (2006 est.): 12.3 million.
Annual population growth rate (2006 est.): 2.27%.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Spanish-Indian), indigenous.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, traditional Mayan.
Languages: Spanish, 24 indigenous languages (principally Kiche, Kaqchikel, Q'eqchi, and Mam).
Education: Years compulsory --6. Attendance --41%. Literacy--70.6%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--36.9/1,000. Life expectancy --65.19 yrs.
Work force salaried breakdown: Services --40%; industry and commerce --37%; agriculture --15%; construction, mining, utilities --4%. Fifty percent of the population engages in some form of agriculture, often at the subsistence level outside the monetized economy.  

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.


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.

Guatemala gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821; it briefly became part of the Mexican Empire, and then for a period belonged to a federation called the United Provinces of Central America. From the mid-19th century until the mid-1980s, the country passed through a series of dictatorships, insurgencies (particularly beginning in the 1960s), coups, and stretches of military rule with only occasional periods of representative government.

Missionaries with:


 "Neither a soft berth nor a hair shirt will do: God calls us to where our great joy meets the world's great need."

~Frederick Buechner~