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Discovering Guatemala

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Probably one of the most underrated expatriation destinations, Guatemala is a culturally rich and stunningly beautiful country. Although the country’s image has suffered from security concerns over the past years, Guatemala all in all remains very welcoming to newcomers.

History of Guatemala

Guatemala is historically a Mayan territory. After being colonised by Spain, Guatemala gained its independence in the 19th century. The country was then plagued by decades of political turmoil, with a series of military coups facing guerrilla opposition, which escalated into civil war. Guatemala finally achieved peace and transformed into a democratic regime at the end of the 20th century, and has ever since steadily been recovering.

Since 1986, Guatemala is a constitutional sovereign democratic republic.

Geography of Guatemala

Located in Central America, Guatemala shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and is bounded by the Gulf of Honduras and the Pacific Ocean.

Although fairly small, with a surface area of 108,889km2, the country is geographically very diverse: its southern parts are home to a string of 27 volcanoes, three of them active, while the north is comprised of a dense rainforest and savanna grasslands.

The ongoing deforestation process has somewhat depleted the region’s exuberant wildlife, formed of mammals, reptiles and birds, including the gaudy quetzal, the national symbol.

Located within the tropics, Guatemala experiences constant temperatures throughout the year, ranging from about 14 °C in the highest areas to 24 °C at sea level.

As for precipitations, Guatemala has a dry season between the months of November and April but is likely to face strong, windy tropical storms causing floods in September and October.

The country’s population of roughly 15 million inhabitants lives half in rural settlements, and half in large cities like capital city Guatemala City or Quetzaltenango, heartland of the Indian community.

Economy of Guatemala

The country’s climatic variety allows a wide array of crops to thrive, and Guatemala boasts significant agricultural riches. Commodities such as coffee, sugar, and bananas are in fact pillars of Guatemala’s external trade.

After weathering severe economic and currency in the 1980s, the government has endeavoured to revive the national economy and stabilise its balance of payment by encouraging crop diversification, promoting the cultivation of flowers or snow peas for export purposes.

When it comes to industrial activities, the leading sectors include textile manufacture, food processing (and particularly sugar processing) and beverage production. Assembly plants have also been set up in a bid to leverage the country’s proximity to the US and Mexican territories.

The service sector is rapidly gaining steam and already makes the largest contribution to Guatemala’s GDP. Tourism in particular is an important driver of growth.

Culture of Guatemala

Guatemala is home to two main ethnic groups: the so-called Ladinos, of mixed Maya and Hispanic origins, and the indigenous Maya Indians.

Spanish is Guatemala’s official language, but dozens of Mayan languages are spoken and even used for administration and business purposes. While most Ladinos do not speak Mayan, many Mayas are fluent in Spanish.

Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are dominant in the country, sometimes mixed with pre-Columbian beliefs.

Guatemala is marked by sharp inequalities in about every realm. Urban, affluent households live just like one does in New York city, in stark contrast to rural indigenous people who have retained a traditional, almost pre-industrial lifestyle.

Whatever their background, Guatemalans are generally optimistic, positive and joyful people more than willing to welcome and include newcomers.

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Visit Guatemala

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