Guatemala is the soul of Central America, realm of Maya kings and seat of colonial power. Forgotten cities rise from lowland jungle, echoing with the calls of howler monkeys and toucans. Highland market towns bustle energetically, as ancient prayers rise in the smoke of copal incense. Guatemala borders the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico, and the Gulf of Honduras (Caribbean Sea) between Honduras and Belize. It is home to volcanoes, rainforests and ancient Mayan sites.
Trips to Guatemala:
The dominance of an Indian culture within its interior uplands distinguishes Guatemala from its Central American neighbors. The origin of the name Guatemala is Indian, but its derivation and meaning are undetermined. Some hold that the original form was Quauhtemallan (indicating an Aztec rather than a Mayan origin), meaning “land of trees,” and others hold that it is derived from Guhatezmalha, meaning “mountain of vomiting water”— referring no doubt to the volcanic eruptions that are common in the country.
After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Guatemala had a long history of government by authoritarian rule and military regimes until it came under democratic rule in 1985. Starting in 1954, Guatemala’s governments faced formidable guerrilla opposition that sparked civil war that lasted for 36 years until peace accords were signed in 1996. The struggles of Guatemala’s Indians during the war years were illuminated when Rigoberta Menchú, a Quiché Maya and an advocate for indigenous people throughout Latin America, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
The surface of Guatemala is characterized by four major topographical features. Southern Guatemala is dominated by a string of 27 volcanoes extending for about 180 miles (300 km) between Mexico and El Salvador. Between the volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean lies a fertile plain ranging 25–30 miles (40–50 km) in width. The Petén region, a large, low-lying, rectangular area, juts northward to occupy a portion of the Yucatán Peninsula, a limestone platform shared with Mexico and Belize. Sandwiched between the volcanic landscape and the Petén are the high mountain ranges and valleys.
Guatemala has three continuously active volcanoes: the growing summit of Santiaguito, Fuego and Pacaya.