64 Interesting Facts About Guatemala

Last updated on March 19th, 2020

Facts about the culture of Guatemala

On a trip to the country, a traveler learns about the strong cultural heritage of Guatemalans which blends indigenous European, Mayan and Caribbean influences.

Additionally, the contrast between the poor Mayan villagers living in the rural highlands and the modern and wealthy mestizos population (known as ladinos in Guatemala) living in surrounding agricultural plains and cities is what defines the culture of Guatemala.

35. Language: the official language of Guatemala is Spanish. Additionally, while twenty- one Mayan languages are widely spoken throughout the highlands, Xinca, Arawakan and two non-Mayan Amerindian languages are spoken on the Caribbean coast.

36. Religion: Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Guatemala followed by nearly 50% of the country’s population. However, Evangelical Protestantism and later Orthodoxy have become popular in the recent decade. The Oriental Orthodoxy and the Eastern Orthodox Church claim rapid growth, especially in the native Maya people.

A set of roasted corns, one of the typical street foods in Guatemala, eaten with salt and lemon.
A set of roasted corns, one of the typical street foods in Guatemala, eaten with salt and lemon.

37. Cuisine: Guatemala cuisine is primarily based on Mayan and Spanish cuisine and prominently includes beans, corn, and chilies as key ingredients in their food recipes. Pachas (a kind of tamale made from potatoes) is a common dish in Guatemala eaten usually on Thursdays.

38. Beverages: locals in Guatemala prefer to drink coffee weak and sweet with little milk. Apart from drinking fruit juices, Guatemalans also love drinking fruit shakes, commonly referred as “licuados”. The national beer of Guatemala is Gallo.

39. Clothes: the Mayan people are known to wear bright colored shirts, blouses, dresses, and capes. Each village has its own individualist pattern, making it easy to identify the village of the person by the design of his or her clothes. While traditional clothing is worn often by the poorer Guatemalans, Ladinos prefer wearing western- style outfits.

40. Family life: families in Guatemala share a close bond with each other and remain that way their entire lives. The typical rural family of Guatemala is hard – working. While men work in the fields, women raise their children and weave beautiful textiles with motifs that are unique to each community.

41. Music: the music of Guatemala is diverse and includes several styles and expressions. While the Garifuna people of the Afro-Caribbean descent have their own varieties of folk music, lower classes enjoy the Cumbia, a dance oriented music genre. Marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala.

Latin children playing soccer football in streets in Guatemalan village.
Children playing soccer football in streets in Guatemalan village. Photo: Kyle M Price / Shutterstock.com

42. Sports: one of the most popular sports in Guatemala is football (soccer). In addition, Guatemalans also enjoy an activity known as Spelunking where they go and explore the caves. Outdoor sports such as rafting, white- water rafting; kayaking and volcano climbing are also preferred.

43. Traditional Dance: Guatemala is famous for its traditional dances. Performed at fiestas in honor of the local saint, these dances are musical dramas which recall historical events through the use of masks and costumes. While the dance of conquest evokes the victory of Spanish over the Amerindians, the deer dance represents the struggle between humans and animals.

44. Crafts and Hobbies: the intricate designs and brilliant colors used in raw cloth, as well as finished garments, make Guatemala’s hand-spun and woven textiles one of the finest in the world. Although cotton, silk, and wool are traditional fibers for clothing, they are also used to make rugs and blankets. Mats, baskets, hats, and baskets are also made by Highland Amerindians using different types of cane and fibers from maguey cactus.

45. Communication: while the Maya adults greet each other verbally, asking about one’s health and family, Latino adults greeting and farewells call for embraces, handshakes, arm or shoulder patting and even cheek kissing almost from the first acquaintance.

46. Taboos: if you put your thumb in between your index and middle finger while making a fist, it is considered an obscene gesture. Similarly, speaking loudly in public is looked down upon.

47. Marriages: marriages in Guatemalan society is celebrated in a civil ceremony, followed by a religious rite. Among the poor classes of both the Ladino and Mayan, unions are free and ties are brittle. As a result, many children are unaware nor are recognized by their father. Although Monogamy is a rule, many men have a wife as well as a mistress.

48. Welcoming a new born: as soon as a baby is born, hot tortilla drink is given to the mother. It is believed that drinking hot tortilla helps provide abundant, good and rich breast milk. A red bracelet is put on the baby’s right hand to protect her from bad spirited people.

49. Giving gifts: gifts can be given in a business setting, but are not usually entertained in the first meeting. If invited to a household in Guatemala, it is appropriate to bring chocolates, wine or flowers (avoid taking white flowers as they are generally brought to funerals). Avoid giving easily breakable gifts.

50. Events: events such as the ‘Semana Santa’ Easter celebrations, All – Saints – Day, the election of Maya princess ‘Rabin Ajau’ in Copán and the ‘Palo Volador’ are some of the events that represent Guatemala culture. In addition, every village celebrates the day of their Patron Saint, where cultural activities such as a presentation of crafts, processions and folkloric dances take place.

51. Dining Etiquettes: when invited to a Guatemala household for dinner, carry a small gift item (avoid food items) for the family. Before starting a meal, it is a custom in Guatemala to say to everyone “Buen provecho” (enjoy your meal). Similarly, before getting from the table after having the meal, you must say “Con permiso, ya vengo”(with your permission, I’ll be right back).

52. Funeral Traditions: when a person passes away in Guatemala, they are buried in a wooden coffin hours after their death. To prevent the soul of the dead from returning to haunt the village, Guatemalans place the treasured items of the deceased along with them.

53. It is a Guatemalan tradition to fire guns into the sky during the Christmas celebration. Sadly, every year between five and ten people die from falling bullets after the act. Seriously, this tradition is taking a toll.

54. Some famous people who were born in Guatemala include – Oscar Isaac (movie actor), Ricardo Arjona (World music singer), Marco Pappa (Soccer player), Rigoberta Menchu (Novelist), Soluna Somay (Rock singer), Cash Luna (Religious leader) and Hector-Neri Castaneda (Philosopher).

55. Guatemalans celebrate “Dia de los Muertos,” or the Day of the Dead, every November 1st. On this day, Guatemalans visit the local cemetery and fly kites in memory of their loved ones. People also paint the gravestones of their relatives with bright colors.

Some amazing facts about Guatemala

56. On May 30, 2010, an enormous hole, 60 feet wide and 30 stories deep, opened up in the middle of Guatemala City, swallowing a three-story building and a home. It also caused the death of a man. The reason for the formation of the sinkhole is thought to be the weak material the city is built on – volcano pumice.

60 feet wide and 30 stories deep sinkhole in Guatemala.
60 feet wide and 30 stories deep sinkhole in Guatemala. Image credit – Infrastructurist.com

57. There are two baths that are built directly over a volcanic vent. You could have a totally natural bath from the rising steam from the bowels of the earth. Are you ready? Note the location – they are in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

58. Maximón, a folk saint venerated in various forms by Maya people of several towns in the highlands of Western Guatemala, is worshiped with careful attention by the locals.

A statue of Maxim.
Interesting facts about Guatemala: A statue of Maximón. Image credit – John

Legend has it that when men left the village to work in the field, Maximón crept into town and slept with their wives.

Guatemalan food facts

59. Food in the region is a result of the Mayan and Spanish influence on the people.

60. Guatemalans consume a lot of corn, beans, and rice, which are served alongside meat and fish.

61. For breakfast, Guatemalans use eggs, spicy salsas and warm tortillas that are usually served with local cheeses.

62. Fruits also form a significant portion of the diets of Guatemalans. They eat fruits like papayas, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, and carambola.

Fried chicken in a guatemalan restaurant.
Fried chicken in a Guatemalan restaurant.

63. Guatemalans eat a meat-heavy diet. Pork and beef is very popular. In some rural regions, chicken is served with the feet still attached.

64. Guatemalans are fond of a spicy stew called ‘topado,’ which is made by combining fish, coconut, banana, and cilantro.

Guatemala – country at a glance

Independence15 September 1821 (from Spain)
Capital CityGuatemala City
(14°38′N 90°30′W)
Largest CityGuatemala City
(14°38′N 90°30′W)
Areatotal: 108,889 sq km

land: 107,159 sq km

water: 1,730 sq km
Population17,422,821 (July 2021 est.)
Population growth rate1.68% (2020 est.)
Government typepresidential republic
PresidentAlejandro Giammattei
Vice PresidentGuillermo Castillo
Chapín (informal)
Literacy rate80.8% (2018)
Mean elevation759 m
Highest pointTajumulco Volcano, 4203 m
Lowest pointSea level
Suffrage18 years of age; universal; note - active duty members of the armed forces and police by law cannot vote and are restricted to their barracks on election day
National anthem"Himno Nacional de Guatemala" (National Anthem of Guatemala)
note: adopted 1897, modified lyrics adopted 1934; Cuban poet Jose Joaquin PALMA anonymously submitted lyrics to a public contest calling for a national anthem; his authorship was not discovered until 1911
National symbolquetzal (bird)
National colorsblue, white
Official LanguageSpanish
BordersBelize, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico
CurrencyQuetzal (GTQ)
Life expectancy72.63 years (2021)
Life expectancy at birth indicates the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life.
Climatetropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands
Terrainmostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau
Mean elevation759 m
Lowest point Pacific Ocean 0 m
Highest pointVolcan Tajumulco (highest point in Central America) 4,220 m
Natural resourcespetroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower
Agricultural land41.2%
Birth rate22.79 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)
Death rate4.94 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)
Sex ratio0.99 male(s)/female (2020 est.)
Industriessugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism
Exports$13.12 billion
note: data are in current year dollars (2020 est.)
sugar, coffee, petroleum, apparel, bananas, fruits and vegetables, cardamom, manufacturing products, precious stones and metals, electricity
Imports$19.3 billion
note: data are in current year dollars (2020 est.)
fuels, machinery and transport equipment, construction materials, grain, fertilizers, electricity, mineral products, chemical products, plastic materials and products
GDP - per capita (PPP)$8,400
note: data are in 2017 dollars (2020 est.)
Time ZoneCST (UTC−6)
Internet country code.gt
Calling Code+502
Drives on theRight
Table last updatedNovember 22, 2021