Surprising Cultural Facts You Didn't Know About Guatemala

| © Oliver Wintzen / Alamy Stock Photo
Jack Guy

The largest country in Central America is a fascinating place with a long and turbulent history. Here are some of the most interesting facts you might not have known about Guatemala.

Explore the country for yourself on our five-day Mini Trip to Guatemala – highlights include a tour of Antigua, a hike up Pacaya volcano and kayaking on Lake Atitlan.

The national bird lends its name to the Guatemalan currency

Guatemala’s national bird is the quetzal, a long-tailed bird that lives largely in humid forests. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see them in the wild, but you can see them every day on Guatemalan bank notes, as the currency is also named after the bird.

Guatemala means “land of many trees”

It has been inhabited for 20,000 years

Long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Guatemala, the land was ruled by various Mayan kingdoms. You can still see evidence of these pre-Columbian civilizations at more than 5,000 archaeological sites.

22 languages are spoken in the country

While Spanish is the official language and the one that’s most useful throughout the country, there are many other languages spoken in Guatemala. The 21 indigenous Mayan communities each boast their own language, and many are still widely used today.

The CIA overthrew a socialist government in 1954

President Jacobo Árbenz was democratically elected in 1944, but his socialist policies attracted the attention of the United States. Historians have shown that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had a hand in the 1954 coup d’etat which brought down the Árbenz government and ushered in a period of military rule. Civil war broke out just six years after the coup.

The Guatemalan Civil War was the longest in Latin American history

Civil war raged in Guatemala from 1960 to 1996, and its effects are still felt throughout the country today. It is estimated that 200,000 people were killed during the 36-year conflict, making it the longest in Latin American history.

It is home to the deepest lake in Central America

The volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan is a jewel in the crown of Guatemala’s tourism industry, but it is also interesting below the surface. At 340 metres deep, Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America.

Guatemala is famous for its volcanoes

With more than 30 volcanoes in the country, Guatemala is known for its spectacular landscapes. Three of these volcanoes are active, including Fuego Volcano just outside the colonial city of Antigua. Look out for lava flows at night!

The country is home to three Unesco World Heritage sites

The ruins of Quirigua and the city of Tikal are both Unesco sites, and make for fantastic visits for anyone interested in the history of the Mayan civilization. Antigua Guatemala, the colonial city home to picturesque architecture and cobbled streets, has also been given the same distinction.

It boasts the tallest volcano in Central America

In a region where volcanoes are a common sight, Guatemala takes the title for the tallest one in Central America. Tajumulco, in the north of the country near the Mexican border, reaches 4,203 metres above sea level.

Guatemalan coffee is consumed around the world

Coffee is the biggest industry in Guatemala and you are never far from a coffee farm in the highland regions. Today coffee from Guatemala can be found around the world, and it has become famous for its great taste.

Want to visit more of Central America? Join our nine-day Epic Trip to Belize and Guatemala for unforgettable experiences in both of these fascinating countries.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,100 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article