Most surprising facts about Guatemala
Think you know everything there is to know about Guatemala? Think again.
This incredible country is one of the most fascinating on the planet. It has a rich history, vibrant, exciting cities, amazing wildlife and a culture shaped by a diverse range of ethnic groups.
It all adds up to a place that constantly surprises. So, with that in mind, here are seven surprising facts about Guatemala that you may not know.
7 surprising facts about Guatemala
Guatemala City is our country’s fourth capital
We love Guatemala City. But did you know our vibrant capital is actually the fourth city to enjoy the honour since the Spanish conquest?
The first capital was built on the site of an ancient Maya city. It was known as Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan. Then, after a local rebellion, the Spanish moved the capital onto the site of present-day Ciudad Vieja.
This city was then destroyed in a volcanic eruption. And so in 1543 the Spanish founded the city of Antigua as the new capital. When Antigua was subsequently destroyed by an earthquake in 1776, Guatemala City was finally founded as the nation’s latest capital.
The Quetzal is our national bird – and the national currency
We love this spectacular creature in Guatemala, and it’s no surprise. Our national bird is beautiful, and represents the colourful, exotic heart of this wonderful country.
The bird is also intrinsically tied into Mayan myth and legend. Ever since the Spanish conquest, it is said that the bird has remained silent and won’t sing until the country is free again. The bird is also rare, so you’re more likely to spot one in your wallet as you are on your next jungle hike: it’s also the name of Guatemala’s currency.
Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America
So deep, in fact, that no one has properly measured just how far down it goes. As well as being one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala, Atitlán is a fascinating body of water.
It is actually a ‘caldera’ – a vast hole that is the result of a huge explosion that helped to form the dramatic landscape of this region. If you’re in the area, you’ll love the awe-inspiring volcanoes that surround Atitlán, including Fuego, San Pedro and Tolimán. A stunning place.
The Day of the Dead is a major event here
While the Day of the Dead is often thought of as a Mexican tradition, it is a big deal for Guatemalans too. We celebrate this special day in our own unique way.
Many gravestones in Guatemala are brightly painted and richly decorated. The Day of the Dead celebrations bring families to the cemeteries to spend time close to their ancestors.
One of the most beautiful traditions that has grown up around this day involves huge, colourful kites. Families take weeks to create them, and decorate them with an intricate range of patterns and symbols.
Guatemalans have a chocolate pudding fruit
You might know that the indigenous Maya people of Guatemala pretty much invented chocolate as we know it. It’s something us chocoholics are eternally grateful for. But did you know that Guatemala is also home to an usual fruit, that is known as the ‘chocolate pudding fruit’?
If you carve one open at the right stage, you’re rewarded with a gooey, chocolate-like inside. But while it looks like chocolate, the taste isn’t quite there for us. Still, a unique taste experience, and worth a try.
This is truly the land of volcanoes
We wouldn’t have the most beautiful lake in the world – Atitlán – without them. And today, Guatemala is a country that owes so much of its geography and its culture to volcanoes.
There are more than 30 volcanoes across the country, including three active ones: Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito. Volcanoes are destructive, of course. But they have also given our country its dramatic landscape and its fertile soil – soil which is perfect for growing Guatemala’s most popular export of all, coffee.
… And the land of pyramids
Egypt might have cornered the market in pyramid tourism, but it isn’t the only country to have pyramids (quick bonus fact: even neighbouring Sudan has more!).
Guatemala is full of them too. Ours are not as old as those in northern Africa, but they’re no less spectacular. There are thousands of Mayan ruins across the country, including the world-famous site at Tikal.
The likelihood is that there are also many more as-yet-undiscovered ones in the depths of the country’s jungles. So, for those of you who are looking for an adventure, we recommend you skip the crowds at Tikal. Instead, hike for days to the wondrous pyramids of El Mirador, hidden away in the jungle. It is an experience you will never forget.
Editorial credit: Malachi Jacobs