10 facts about Guatemala

1. The official language of Guatemala is Spanish, but 21 distinct Mayan languages as well as several non-Mayan Amerindian languages are also spoken here, particularly in the rural areas. The name Guatemala actually means ‘land of the trees’ in the Maya-Toltec language.

2. Tajamulco Volcano is the highest point in Guatemala, at 4,220m. Guatemala is home to 33 volcanoes spread throughout its highlands, of which 3 watch over the colonial town of Antigua: Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. Activities such as hiking, mountain biking and bird watching are popular activities on these volcanoes.

3. Guatemala boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the beautiful town of Antigua Guatemala, the ancient Maya archaeological site of Quirigua and Tikal National Park in northern Guatamala.

4. Agriculture contributes a quarter of Guatemala’s GDP: coffee, bananas and sugar are its main products.

5. Chocolate is said to originate in Guatemala! It was used in Mayan culture as early as the sixth century A.D. The word ‘chocolate’ comes from the Maya word ‘xocoatl’ which means bitter water, as cocoa at the time was the basis for a thick, cold, unsweetened drink. As sugar was not yet discovered, different spices were used to add flavour, including hot chilli peppers – which are used in gourmet chocolate production today.

6. Guatemala is divided into 3 main parts: the sparsely-populated northern plains, the volcanic yet largely-populated central highlands and the agricultural Pacific lowlands. It is known as ‘land of the eternal spring’ as it boasts a warm, tropical climate.

7. The Guatemalan flag features two blue vertical stripes, representing the sea on either side of the country, with a white vertical stripe in the middle bearing the country’s coat of arms. This coat of arms includes the quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird, and a scroll that gives the date of Guatemala’s independence.

8. Eating out in Guatemala is inexpensive and delicious. Guatemala’s food and drink is influenced by its Mayan and Spanish cultures, and also its climate which enables them to produce abundant tropical fruit. Breakfast in Guatemala usually consists of a mix of eggs, tortillas, beans and plantains, with fruit such as papaya, bananas, mangoes and avocado. Guatemalan coffee on the side is a must! Lunch and dinner are usually then based around corn, beans, rice, cheese and tortillas, with soups (sopas) and stews (caldos). Nachos, stuffed peppers, tamales and enchiladas are also popular in Guatemala, as they are in Mexico.

9. September 15th is Independence Day in Guatemala, a celebration of the country’s independence from Spain on September 15th 1821. It is a national holiday and the largest holiday fair takes place in Quetzaltenango.

10. Visiting Lake Atitlan is a must whilst in Guatemala. Famous for its natural beauty, Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlán) is the deepest lake in Central America, and is surrounded by three spectacular volcanoes as well as many colourful Mayan towns and villages. Maya culture is predominant in these lakeside communities and traditional dress is worn. Lake Atitlan is about 50km north-west of Antigua.

Cactus offers Spanish language courses in Antigua, Guatemala. Spanish courses for all ages and levels are also available in other locations across Latin America and Spain.

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