20 Unusual Guatemala Facts That Will Shock You
Ready for some Guatemala facts that will blow your mind?
Guatemala takes many tourists by surprise with its rich culture and diverse population. It’s no surprise that many tourists decide to stay in Guatemala long-term. This is the case for us here at Homeschool Spanish Academy, too. Our Spanish school chose Guatemala as its home, and it has brought employment to Guatemalans and foreigners alike, as well as Spanish education to students all around the world.
So, what makes this country so special? Let’s start by looking at 20 unusual Guatemala facts that will shock you.
20 Fun Guatemala Facts
1. Happy Meals
The first of our Guatemala facts is a blast to the not-so-distant past. In the mid-1970s, the concept of fast-food restaurants was new to many Guatemalans. They used to come in and sit down, waiting for table service like at a normal restaurant.
Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, one of the first McDonald’s restaurant operators in Guatemala, came up with the Menú Ronald, a menu catering specifically to kids. Bob Bernstein refined the idea into what we know today as the Happy Meal.
Guatemalan fact #2: coffee grown here is amongst the best in the world. The climate is ideal for coffee trees. The micro-climates enable the planting and harvesting of different varieties. This spurs a friendly competition between regions for who has the best coffee. True connoisseurs will be able to notice the difference. I personally enjoy any coffee as long as it’s hot and bitter.
3. Spanish Teaching
Did you know that Guatemalans are great at teaching Spanish? The slow pace and clear accent make it one of the easier dialects for beginners. Places like Antigua and Xela have lots of Spanish schools that teach hundreds of students how to speak Spanish every day!
4. Duolingo Creator
Speaking of Guatemalans teaching language, did you know Duolingo was created by a Guatemalan? Luis Von Ahn is the face behind the green owl. He often speaks at Guatemalan universities and forums. He also created the CAPTCHA and RECAPTCHA technologies, which Google bought in 2009. It’s an honor to have such a talented Guatemalan contribute to the internet as he did!
5. Customer Service
When you think “customer service outsourcing” you’ll probably think of India, but Guatemala is also a huge target for big companies looking to outsource their customer support services. Many large companies hire Guatemalans who speak English, French, or German. Working in a call center as a teenager is like working in retail or in the food industry in the U.S.; many of us did it to make a few extra bucks during summer vacation.
6. Armed Guards
This Guatemala fact may be on the gloomier side of things, but if you’re in any of the major cities in the country, you’ll find armed guards at every mall, bank, and gated community. As a Guatemalan myself, I don’t notice the guards, but whenever a friend from the U.S. has visited, they have told me they find this shocking.
7. Stray Dogs
In Guatemala, you’ll find stray dogs wherever you go. This doesn’t mean all of them lead sad lives, however! Lots of stray dogs have charitable people who feed them and volunteers who take care of their medical needs. Stray dogs can be happy dogs, and lots of us make sure to give them good homes.
Guatemala fact #8: the country has 360 different microclimates! These little pockets of land have weather patterns different from the surrounding area. They allow for unique flora and fauna to flourish, making Guatemala a prime spot for biologists to seek out new and strange species. Here, you’ll find rainforests, mountains, plains, plateaus, and many other climates. It’s great if you want variety but can’t travel to many different countries!
Guatemala fact #9: A total of 24 different languages are spoken here. While Spanish is our official language, we have 21 different Mayan languages, plus Xinca and Garifuna. That’s a whole lot of languages for such a small country!
10. Mayan Cosmovision
You probably heard the world was going to end in 2012 because of the end of the Mayan calendar. Guatemala has rich folklore that we call cosmovisión Maya. This particular set of beliefs includes dancing around sacred fires and asking the nahuales (animal and elemental spirits) for favors, guidance, or protection while giving offerings to the fire.
Modern-day Maya culture, due to influence from the Spanish colonists, is mixed with Christian imagery. In 2012, it was interesting to ask Mayan priests about 13 Baktun, the much-misunderstood “end” of the Mayan calendar. Most of them would laugh and say that the world would not be ending, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous when we had a power outage on December 21, 2012.
11. Chicken Buses
Old school buses from the U.S. retire to Guatemala and transform into chicken buses. The owner will add more seats, paint it colorfully, and overhaul the engine to breathe new life into the Guatemalan public transport system! Traveling in chicken buses can be tedious and unreliable, but their beauty is undeniable. Drivers usually name their buses after their wives or daughters.
Chocolate was a form of currency in ancient Mayan civilization, and now it’s a source of income for modern Guatemala. The city of Cobán is particularly famous for their chocolate. A hot chocolate drink in Guatemala tends to be on the bitter side, and we sometimes even add some spice to it! Nothing beats the cold like some spicy and bitter hot chocolate drink. ¡Qué rico!
13. Capital City Moves
Iximché, the original capital city of Guatemala, is now a historical site. The Spanish colonists organized the first move to Almolonga to make the capital easier to defend against revolts from locals. However, Volcano Agua, an inactive volcano whose crater was full of water burst, causing a huge wave that flooded and destroyed the capital city (which is now known as Ciudad Vieja). It then moved to Antigua Guatemala. Due to damage from the Santa Marta earthquakes, it moved one last time, to its current location, way back in 1776!
14. Star Wars Connection
Guatemala fact #14: the jungles of northern Guatemala featured in the famous Star Wars film franchise, appearing in both Star Wars Episode IV and The Force Awakens. Tikal National Park, one of the most famous tourist attractions in our country, was the location of the filming.
15. Lots of Volcanoes
Living in a country with so many volcanoes directly impacts Guatemalans’ lives and culture. Big eruptions have caused volcanic ash to rain down on Guatemalan citizens, too! I remember sweeping lots of ash off our driveway back when I was a teenager. They also bring happiness to our lives since most volcanoes are fun to climb for locals and tourists alike.
16. Unknown Ruins
The many ruins we have available to visit are just a portion of the vast amount of ancient buildings in Guatemala. Many of them are kept hidden by locals and land owners in order to preserve their natural state. It’s crazy to think about all the cool artifacts buried all over the country!
17. Great Artists
Guatemala has a great roster of wonderful artists such as the polymath Efraín Recinos and musician Ricardo Arjona. But even the artists who get less recognition are skilled and worth getting to know! If you’re in Guatemala, visit some live music venues and art galleries to see some of the greatest artists our country has to offer.
18. Great Candy
We love our dulces típicos, or traditional candy. Guatemalan candy ingredients include exotic fruit, marzipan, milk, pumpkin seeds, you name it! Going to a traditional candy store in Guatemala is like jumping into one of our colorful textiles, except you can eat it! The variety of candy is large and you will surely find something you love. My personal favorites are colochos de guayaba—try them out when you have the chance!
19. Tallest Volcano in Central America
Tajumulco is the tallest volcano in Central America, and the tallest peak in Guatemala! If you come here, climbing Tajumulco is a must. It stands at 4,220 meters tall (13,841 feet). Locals say that Tajumulco is not hard to climb, so you don’t need to be an expert to get to the highest point.
Telecommunications companies are some of the biggest companies in Guatemala, and they have extended their reach to remote corners of the country. Many Guatemalans have a smartphone, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Internet access is a great asset that enables us to connect with the world and each other.
Come Visit Soon!
I hope these Guatemala facts shocked, informed, and entertained you! If you want to be ready for your next trip to a Spanish-speaking country, take a free class with a native speaker at Homeschool Spanish Academy so you can talk about culture and discuss the Guatemala facts that you’ve just learned today.
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