8 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Guatemala City

Red bus in Guatemala City | © Ralf Steinberger / Flickr
Red bus in Guatemala City | © Ralf Steinberger / Flickr
Photo of Jack Guy
26 February 2018

The Guatemalan capital is increasing in popularity with travellers after years in the wilderness. Here are some intriguing facts you should know about Guatemala City.

Palacio Nacional, Guatemala City | © Fernando Reyes Palencia / Flickr

It’s the largest city in Central America

With an estimated 3.7 million people living in the metropolitan area, Guatemala City is the biggest city in any of the Central American countries.

It covers 267 square miles

Spread over a valley in the south of the country, Guatemala City covers 267 square miles of land. That’s approximately 1.5 times as much as Greater Manchester.

The city is split into 22 zones

It might seem like a familiar system in cities, but in Guatemala City some of them are missing. Zones 20, 22 and 23 do not exist, due to the fact that they would have encroached on the territory of other municipalities.

2010 sinkhole in Guatemala City | © KiwiDandy / flickr

Sinkholes are a danger

Due to the unique geography of the area, there is a pronounced risk of sinkholes. These holes are normally caused by underground rivers which erode the bedrock on which cities are built. In the case of Guatemala City, that means weak volcano pumice. As a result sinkholes open rapidly, including one in 2010 which swallowed a three-story factory and a house.

The Guatemalan capital hasn’t always been found there

Present day Guatemala City is the fourth permanent capital of the country. It was founded in 1776 following the destruction of the former capital, Antigua Guatemala, in an earthquake.

Natural disasters have shaped the city

The current site of the capital was chosen for its supposed protection from earthquakes. However the city has been reconstructed several times following devastating earthquakes in 1917-18 and 1976.

In 2009 lava flows were visible on Pacaya volcano, Guatemala, but they’ve since cooled | © Andrew White / flickr

Schools here close for ash days rather than snow days

Some readers may be familiar with the idea of snow days, when children can’t get to class due to heavy weather. In the temperate climes of Guatemala City snow is incredibly unlikely to be a problem, but there is something else that shuts down schools. Volcanic ash from the surrounding volcanoes has been known to rain down following an eruption and make people stay inside.

Che Guevara spent time there

The famed revolutionary spent around six months in Guatemala at the time when the democratically-elected government was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. It has been said that his ideology was sharpened by what he saw in the country.

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