Guatemala is the northernmost of the Central American nations. It touches Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, and it is about the size of the U.S. state Tennessee. There are three main regions in Guatemala, which include a cooler highland area where most of the people in the country live, a tropical jungle, and a tropical area on the coast.
Although Guatemala is not as developed as Panama or Costa Rica, it is the most visited country in Central America. It is generally thought to be a safer travel spot than heading to Honduras or El Salvador. Many of the popular tourist locations in Guatemala contain ruins and look like they haven’t been touched in years. Some of these include the Maya Biosphere Reserve, colonial Antigua, and the Tikal National Park which became the world’s first mixed UNESCO World Heritage spot to protect the Mayan ruins inside. There are actually 200 different Mayan sites.
The Lago de Atitlan is a lake that is surrounded by three different volcanoes, called San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlan. You can take hikes up the volcanoes, as well as rent kayaks and canoes. Swimming is also popular in the area since the lake is pretty clean. Semuc Champey is another must see, which has dozens of emerald lagoons that cascade into one another and make a great spot for swimming, diving, and cliff jumping.
Guatemala is a relatively small country, but it is still home to 33 volcanoes where live lava can often be seen. (Visitors have actually died doing this.) The volcano Pacaya erupts regularly, and it can be seen from the capital of Guatemala City. There used to be a different capital named Antigua, which actually became the capital when the prior capital perished in a volcano eruption.
These days Antigua is a very popular spot for students and is a quite charming town. It is more expensive than a lot of the other places in Guatemala, although still completely reasonably priced. The town of Xela on the other hand is way less touristy, more authentic, and cheaper.
Popular animals in the country include monkeys, crocodiles, and tropical birds. There is a lot of fruit endemic to the area including caimito, zapote mamey, and jocote. Most of the cuisine is based around beans, corn, tamales, and chilis. The first chocolate bar was actually created in Guatemala by the Mayans, who also came up with the concept of zero.
Guatemala was first conquered by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1524. Then in 1839 it became a republic. In 1960 the country got into the longest civil war in the history of Latin America, which ended up killing 200,000 people and lasting until 1996. The first inhabitants of the land however, got there around 18,000 BC, and the country was the hub of the Mayan civilization. Half the residents are still direct descendants of the Mayan people.
While Spanish is the official language of the country, there are 21 different Mayan dialects that are still used.