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History Of Guatemala

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The earliest evidence of human settlement in Guatemala dates back to at least 12,000 BC. Sites dating back to 6500 BC have been discovered at Quiché in the central highlands and at Sipacate, Escuintla, on the central Pacific coast. Archaeologists divide Mesoamerica’s pre-Columbian history into a pre-Classical period (2000 BC to 250 AD). El Mirador was by far the most populous city in pre-Columbian America. The pyramids of El Tigre and Monos both comprise a volume of over 250,000 cubic metres. Mirador was the first politically organised state in the Americas.

The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilisation corresponds to the height of Maya civilisation and is represented by countless sites throughout Guatemala, with the greatest concentration in Petén in the northern lowlands. This period is characterised by the construction of numerous cities, the development of independent city states and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures. It lasted until about 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilisation collapsed. The Maya abandoned many cities in the central lowlands or fell victim to famine caused by drought. The Postclassic period is represented by regional kingdoms such as the Itza’ and Ko’woj in the lake region of Petén and the Mam, K’iche’, Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil, Poqomchi’, Q’eqchi’ and Ch’orti’ in the highlands. These cities have preserved many aspects of Maya culture, but have never reached the size or power of the classical cities.

The colonial period

After their arrival in the so-called New World, the Spaniards undertook several expeditions to Guatemala from 1519 onwards. Soon, contact with the Spaniards caused an epidemic that devastated the indigenous population. During the colonial period, Guatemala was an Audiencia and a Capitanate General of Spain and belonged to New Spain (Mexico). It stretched from what are now the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to Costa Rica. This region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru and was therefore not considered as important. Its main products were sugar cane, cocoa, blue añil dye, red dye from cochineal insects and the precious woods used for the artwork of churches and palaces in Spain.

After independence

On 15 September 1821, the General Capitanate of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras) officially proclaimed its independence from Spain and incorporation into the Mexican Empire, which was dissolved two years later. The Guatemalan provinces form the United Provinces of Central America. Guatemala’s “liberal revolution” took place in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernise the country, improve trade and introduce new crops and industries. During this time, coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions to reunite Central America and led the country into war in an unsuccessful attempt. In 1885, he lost his life on the battlefield against the forces of El Salvador. From 1898 to 1920, Guatemala was ruled by dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, whose access to the presidency was facilitated by the United Fruit Company.

On 4 July 1944, dictator Jorge Ubico Castañeda was forced to resign in response to a wave of protests and a general strike. From then until the end of a deadly civil war in 1996, Guatemala experienced a series of coups accompanied by massive civil rights violations. The state-sponsored murders of students, human rights activists and ethnic Mayans earned Guatemala a bad reputation worldwide. In 1999, US President Bill Clinton said that it was wrong for the United States to support Guatemalan forces involved in the brutal killings of civilians.

Since the 1996 peace agreement, Guatemala has had several democratic elections. The last one took place in 2007, when the National Unity of Hope and its candidate Álvaro Colom won the presidency and the majority of seats in Congress.

How To Travel To Guatemala

By air Guatemala's main airport, La Aurora International Airport (IATA: GUA), is located in Guatemala City. International flights come mainly from other Central American countries, the USA, Mexico, Colombia and Spain. The airport recently underwent a modernising reconstruction. Today it is a glass and concrete building with modern shops and...

How To Travel Around Guatemala

By bus It's hard to miss the brightly coloured buses that fill the streets of Guatemala's big cities and highways. These are chicken buses, or camionetas in Spanish, and are a common mode of transport for Guatemalans and an adventure for tourists. They are much cheaper than tourist buses or...

Visa & Passport Requirements for Guatemala

The following nationalities do not require a visa to visit Guatemala: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Singapore,...

Destinations in Guatemala

Regions in Guatemala Central HighlandsThis region is home to the capital of Guatemala and at least one active volcano.Western HighlandsThis region is by far the most beautiful part of Guatemala and includes many indigenous Mayan villages. Lake Atitlan is also in this region, as are at least two active volcanoes.Eastern...

Weather & Climate in Guatemala

Guatemala has a varied climate. Most parts of the country are hot (between 80 and 90 , depending on the season and location), with post-meridian thunderstorms usually moderating the heat somewhat. In the Altos, the mountainous region, the weather is generally a little cooler, varying between 70 ...

Things To See in Guatemala

The Mayan ruins are the country's main attractions and the most notable are El Mirador, perhaps the cradle of Mayan civilisation, and Tikal. Volcanoes Guatemala has many volcanoes, many of which are over 3,000 metres high. Volcán de Pacaya (2500m) - this is an active volcano located about 30 minutes from Antigua....

Things To Do in Guatemala

Guatemala is rich in natural beauty and travel opportunities. It is a country that offers so much for those who are willing to get off the beaten track for a while. Antigua Guatemala is often referred to as a hub for travellers, a picture-perfect ruined city in Central America surrounded...

Food & Drinks in Guatemala

Food in Guatemala Typical food : Kaq IkPepiánJocomQuichomTortillas and tortillas de harina. Corn tortillas are served with most meals.Frijoles negros - stewed black beansCaldos - Beef brothsTamales - steamed maize flour with various toppings, wrapped in banana leaves.Rice and beans (Garifunafood in Puerto Barrios)Tapado, ceviche and other fish dishesChurrascos The typical breakfast...

Money & Shopping in Guatemala

Currency The local currency is the quetzal, named after the national bird, whose connotations are still ancient and mythical today. One US dollar is equivalent to 7.61 quetzals. US dollars are widely accepted and can be exchanged in most small towns. ATMs can be found in larger towns, but don't...

Festivals & Holidays in Guatemala

The Guatemalan Labour Code recognises the following dates as public holidays with paid leave: 1 January: New YearMarch / April Thursday, Friday and Saturday: Easter, Holy Week1 May: International Labour Day, known as "Workers' Day".30 June: Armed Forces Day15 September: Independence Day20 October: Revolution Day1 November: All Saints' Day24 December:...

Internet & Communications in Guatemala

Phone The international telephone code for Guatemala is 502. There is no area code. All telephone numbers have eight digits. On 18 September 2004, the telephone system was changed from seven to eight digits, and there is a system for adding certain digits to the beginning of seven-digit numbers (description...

Language & Phrasebook in Guatemala

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala and the most widely spoken language. More than twenty indigenous languages are still spoken throughout the country, but many Maya have at least a basic knowledge of Spanish, except in the most remote areas. For the Garifuna of Livingston, Garifuna and English...

Culture Of Guatemala

Guatemala City is home to many of the country's libraries and museums, including the National Archives, the National Library and the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which has an extensive collection of Mayan artefacts. There are also private museums such as the Ixchel, which focuses on textiles, and the...

Stay Safe & Healthy in Guatemala

Stay Safe in Guatemala Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world. Travellers should take extra precautions while in Guatemala. If you are assaulted, robbed or approached by armed persons, cooperate. Do not make any sudden movements or hand over any items or money that are...



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