Guatemala is a tropical mountainous country in Central America that is frequently hit by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The country is one of the poorest developing countries in America. Even after the end of a civil war, there are strong contrasts between wealth and poverty.
In Guatemala there is a lot of evidence of the Mayan civilization. As one of the 12 countries starting with G according to COUNTRYAAH, Guatemala lies on the mainland bridge of Central America between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
On the Yucatan Peninsula, it borders Mexico to the north and west and Belize to the northeast. Southeastern neighboring countries are Honduras and El Salvator. After Nicaragua and Honduras, Guatemala is the third largest state in Central America. Its area corresponds roughly to that of all the new federal states combined. The largest north-south extension is 470 km, the largest east-west distance 400 km.
Guatemala is the most populous and with El Salvator the most densely populated country in Central America. The capital of the country is the city of the same name, Guatemala.
Guatemala is predominantly a mountainous country characterized by the Cordillera mountain ranges. The southern mountain range, the Sierra Madre, which runs parallel to the Pacific coast, consists of several mountain ranges with highlands in between.
This is also where the chain of Central American volcanoes begins, which runs along a fracture zone on the Pacific coast across the entire land bridge to Panama. In Guatemala alone there are over 30 such. Some volcanoes are still active. The highest and also the highest point in Central America is the Tajumulco volcano at 4220 m.
Guatemala is therefore frequently hit by devastating earthquakes and volcanic disasters.
The end of the first capital of the country Ciudad Vieja came in 1541 through a volcanic eruption. The second capital, Antigua, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. And the country’s new capital has been almost completely devastated three times in the last 100 years, most recently in 1976. Towards the Pacific coast, the Sierra Madre drops steeply to a coastal plain up to 50 km wide. This plain, made up primarily of volcanic weathered soils, is one of the most fertile areas in the country. In the northwest, a second, lower mountain range of the Cordilleras, the almost 3800 m high Sierra Los Cuchumatanes, seals the mountainous part of the country from lowland areas from. This is the so-called Petén, a hilly landscape with many lakes on the Yucatán peninsula, and in the east the Caribbean coastal lowlands.
Climate / vegetation
The climate of Guatemala is tropical with a rainy season from May to November, but varies greatly with the altitude. The annual temperatures in the lowlands are around 27 °C. With the altitude they decrease to 15 to 20 °C.
The amount of precipitation is determined by the northeast trade wind. Rainfall is particularly abundant on the windward sides of the mountains and in the eastern lowlands. The most extensive tropical rainforests in Central America, which are almost uninhabited, grow here. In the mountainous areas they change into mountain and cloud forests.
The drier highlands in the interior are covered by evergreen dry forests and savannas. These regions with pleasant temperatures of around 20 °C are considered to be areas of “eternal spring” in Guatemala and are the most densely populated areas.
Important data about the country
|Population density:||117 residents / km²|
|Growth of population:||2.6% / year|
(men / women):
|Form of government:||Presidential Republic|
|Population groups:||Indians (so-called indigenous) 60%, mestizos (called Ladinos in Guatemala) 30%, white and black Africans 8%|
|Languages:||Spanish as the official language, several Indian languages|
|Religions:||Catholics 75%, Protestants 25%|
|Climate:||alternately humid tropical climate with temperatures around 25 °C, in the mountains around 20 °C|
|Land use:||Forest 40%, arable land 17%, pasture land 12%|
|Main export goods:||Coffee, cotton, bananas, sugar|
|Gross domestic product:||US $ 24,730 million (2003)|
(share of GDP 2003):
|Industry 19%, agriculture 22%, services 58%|
|Gross National Product:||US $ 1,910 / residents (2003)|
Guatemala is one of the economically weakest developing countries in the region. More than 80% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line, two thirds of them in extreme poverty.
A sharp dividing line runs through society, which divides it into two classes:
The indigenous people of South America who live in extreme poverty and often have no possessions, essentially descendants of the Maya, are still excluded from any political influence, education or health care.
They live mainly in the highlands and grow food on barren mini-fields only for their own needs (subsistence farming).
On the other side of society are the Ladinos and the whites, who keep all the important economic and political positions occupied. The few whites, who almost without exception belong to the upper class, have the majority of fertile soil as large landowners. The export crops of coffee, cotton, cane sugar and bananas are mainly produced on the large plantations.
Guatemala is the most important coffee producer in Central America.
The sharp social differences between rich and poor had led to civil war in Guatemala since the 1970’s. Hundreds of Indian villages were burned down during the war. A total of 150,000 people fell victim to the death squads of right-wing governments and left-wing guerrilla groups.
Although the war ended in 1996, the country still suffers from its aftermath. The contradictions between the population groups have also hardly been resolved.
Before the discovery of this part of Central America by COLUMBUS (1502), what is now Guatemala belonged to the Maya empire. However, the Maya empire had already perished before the Spanish conquests, for reasons that were not yet sufficiently clear.
In the tropical lowlands on the Yucatan and in the inner highlands, however, many great testimonies of the high civilization of the Maya have been preserved, which emerged in their heyday up to 900 AD.
They include rectangular temples adorned with reliefs, figures and mosaics, which stand on step pyramids, but also spacious palaces and richly decorated sculptures and altars.
In addition to overwhelming structures, the Maya also created the most perfect old American pictorial writing and a number system. For example, they calculated much earlier with the “0”, which was only introduced in Europe by the Arabs around 800.
In the extreme northeast of Guatemala are the unique ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal, overgrown by impenetrable rainforest. To date, 3000 buildings have been uncovered here on 16 km², including the old town center with the almost 70 m high temple pyramid of the Great Jaguar. However, it is believed that there are over 10,000 buildings in which 60,000 people could have lived.
The complex and the surrounding Tikal National Park have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The everyday life of many indigenous people living today, as the Indians call themselves, is still strongly influenced by the traditions of their Mayan ancestors. For example, in many cases only the old dialects are spoken and the Catholic rites are mixed with traditional Mayan customs.