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Guatemala in A Few Words

By: Carla Molina
For: Ecotourism & Adventure Specialists

Guatemala is the northernmost country in Central America . Its boundaries are North and North West with Mexico , East and South East with Honduras and EI Salvador, North East with Belize and due South with the Pacific Ocean . Its Atlantic Coast is a narrow corridor to the Caribbean Sea .

There are almost 12 million Guatemalans, its ethnic composition is predominantly 60% indigenous Maya who speak 21 different derivations of Maya. There are 2 other ethnic groups represented in the country: whites and ladinos who have a Western culture or a mixture of Maya and Western ways, and the Garifuna people, who live on the Caribbean coast, and are descendants of Arawak Indians from South America and Black slaves brought from Africa before the 1800's. There is a small Xinca minority group, who live in the department of Santa Rosa , whose ethnic origin and language remain a mystery to this date.

National Holidays
Independence Day, on September 15 th . All Saints' Day, on November 1 st . Hispanic Day *or Dia de la Raza*, on October 12 th . Labor Day, on May 1 st . Revolution of 1944, on October 20 th . Christmas, on December 25 th . New Year's Eve, on December 31 st . Holy week falls on a different date every year (2003- April 14 th to 19 th .)

Interesting note: Guatemalans love to celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve with loud fire-crackers and explosive fire-works.

Main Exports
Gourmet and Organic Coffee, Bananas, Sugar, Cardamom, Meat, Oil, non-traditional export products such as manufactures and handicrafts, Clothes and Apparels.

Main Economic Activities
Tourism, Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism, Agriculture, Forestry, Small Scale Commerce, Large Scale Commerce in Urban Centers, Manufacturing Industry, Clothes and Apparels, Transport.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP): US$ 20 billion

Exchange to Dollar:
US$ 1 .00 = Q 7.80 (may fluctuate slightly)

10% to 15%

The principle of reciprocity is applied; entry requirements vary according to country. Guatemalan Consulates around the world will provide you with further information. Citizens of these countries do not require entry visas: United States of America , European Union , United Kingdom , Switzerland , Mexico , Canada , Australia , New Zealand , Central and South American countries. Citizens of the ex-Soviet block and Arabic countries and kingdoms do require entry visas. (Please check whether you require a visa with the Guatemalan consulate nearest to you.)


108,000 square kilometers or 42,000 square miles of high mountains, jungle plains and tropical forests comprising 14 different ecosystems (or life zones) according to Leslie Holdridge's classification.

Natural and cultural diversity
Guatemala is one of the most diverse countries in terms of biodiversity. There are 1,500 recorded species of vertebrates, and over 11,000 plant species! Because of our unique location on the land bridge between North and South America, many species have evolved locally and become endemic (unique to our location): 14.6% of our plants and 4% of the vertebrate life are endemic (the highest rating of endemism in the Central American isthmus for plants and the second highest for animals).

Guatemala has a rich ethnic and cultural diversity as well. Besides the official language which is Spanish, 23 other languages are spoken locally, 21 of those being of Maya origin. It is the only country in Central America where the majority of the country's population is indigenous Maya (and not ladino).

Guatemala has over 110 declared protected areas, covering more than 25% of the country. The largest areas are the two Biosphere Reserves: the Maya Biosphere Reserve (3.3 million acres, which include nuclei zones or core protected areas, known as National Parks or Biotopes, such as Tikal , Mirador, Rio Azul, EI Zots, Laguna del Tigre, Cerro Cahui, etc.) and the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve. Most protected areas are managed by the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP). Others are managed by the San Carlos University 's Center for Conservation Studies (CECON), including the Chocon Machacas Biotope Reserve for the protection of mangroves and manatees. The Mario Dary Rivera Biotope, in Alta Verapaz, protects the habitat of the National Bird, the Quetzal. The Monterrico Nature Reserve protects several endangered species of Pacific Tortoises (mostly leatherbacks, loggerheads and Pacific green sea turtles), green iguanas and crocodiles. Finally, a few areas are managed by NGOs or by private land owners who have declared their land as protected areas to insure the native biodiversity's conservation.

Active volcanoes: Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito (next to Santa Maria )
Extinct volcanoes: Agua, Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro
Highest volcano:
12,000 ft. above sea level (Tajumulco in San Marcos )

Average annual temperature
High Plateau: 75 degrees Fahrenheit (20 ° Celsius) Coastal Plains: 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37° Celsius)
Rain: May to October (Clear skies before and after showers)

In the highlands, most lakes are of volcanic origin: Atitlan (in Solola) and Ayarza (in Santa Rosa ). In the northern part of the country, they are mainly on karstic soils: Peten-Itza (in EI Peten), Lachua (in Alta Verapaz). Lake Izabal , the largest body of inland water in Guatemala , is located along the Polochic Fault, in a sedimentary area.

Cahabon, for river-rafting. Motagua, part of an ancient Maya trade-route of Jade. La Pasion and Usumacinta , commercial routes of the Maya. Sarstun, for tropical adventures, it is the natural Belizean southern border with Guatemala .

The first inhabitants arrived, according to the most wide-spread theory, after having crossed the Behring Strait , after the 4 th Ice Age 60,000 years ago. The first waves of nomadic hunters arrived from the North as early as 25,000 B.C., during the Paleo-Indian Period.

First signs of organized cultures appear with the Clovis point, around 10,000 years B.C.. By 8,000 B.C. inhabitants had turned to intensive plant-use and early agriculture for their survival, during the whole Archaic Period, which lasted until 2000 B.C. The Proto-Mayan Language appears between 7,500 and 2000 B.C.

The Formative or Preclassic Maya Period starts at 2000 B.C.. Beans, corn, squash and peppers are domesticated. Early Maya villages of Nakbe, and Mirador are inhabited. Settlers live in small groups gathering 3 to 20 family huts, built atop small platforms. Small temples are built for ceremonial purposes as the population increases, and religion and language evolve, becoming more sophisticated. Food surplus and the building of City-States stimulating social cohesion raised the Maya to a highly stratified society, which yielded scientific discoveries in astronomy and mathematics, as well as refined polychrome painting on ceramics, throughout its Classic Period (300-950 A.D.)

The Post-Classic Period (950-1500 A.D.) is characterized by the collapse of the Classic Maya Civilization and migration to the Yucatan peninsula of the lowland Maya from El Peten and the appearance of smaller empires in the High-plateau of Guatemalan.

The arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors marks the beginning of the Colonial Period. The Conquest started in the early 16 th Century and ended by late 17 th Century. The country came under Spanish domination until its Independence was declared on September 15 th , 1821 . Guatemala was annexed to Mexico in 1822, then was separated to become a part of the Central American Federation, whose objectives failed on July 1 st , 1847 , when Guatemala was officially established as a Republic.

The Republic of Guatemala is an independent democracy, with three branches of Government. The Executive, led by the President of The Republic, is elected every 4 years through the power exercised by citizens through their vote. The Legislative Branch is represented by Congress, and the Judicial Branch, supreme organism for the application and formulation of Law in the country.

There is a 12% added value tax on all goods and services sold in Guatemala . Market goods, bought directly from producers, are tax-exempt. There is a 10% Tourism Tax added to Hotel rooms and international flights as well. At all international airports, there is an exit tax, usually of US$ 30.

Maps and Information
Book-stores and the local tourism information centers should carry maps and have them for sale. The Tourism Commission -Inguat- located on 7 th avenue 1-17 zone 4 in Guatemala City is a reliable source.


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Ecotourism & Adventure Specialists is the leading cultural & natural tourism outfitter in the Maya World region operating tours in all of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize & Honduras since 1995 with the back up and experience only 30 years as professionals in the tourism industry can guarantee. Ecotourism & Adventure has begun its operations in South America as more and more of our travelers demand the same quality services they are used to for unique itineraries in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador.