Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast.Guatemala should be one of the best travel destinations in Central America: It is home to the stunning Maya ruins at Tikal, the well-preserved colonial city of Antigua, a vibrant indigenous culture, active volcanoes, highland lakes and exotic wildlife. Accessing and safely enjoying these gems, however, can be a challenge.
Guatemala has approximately 10 million inhabitants. A large percent belong to 21 ethnolinguistic Mayan groups who have retained the cultural traditions they have inherited from their ancestors. A lot of very interesting sights can still be seen, most of them in the northern department called "Peten". There are also mestizo, and the Carribean coast population, which has retained its afrocarribean roots.
Guatemala is a small country with a striking variety of topographic features. Nearly two-thirds of the country is mountainous and volcanic. Parallel to the Pacific lies the Sierra Madre mountain range, with peaks that rise to an elevation of up to 12.000 feet. 33 volcanoes dominate the landscape, and these, coupled with the lush tropical rain forests to the north, the fertile plains of the south and east, the beautiful lakes, and the wonderful rivers, make this a land of varied contrasts.
To this rich array of contrasts, one must add a major contributing factor to Guatemala's unique brand of beauty: its wealth of traditions, and the striking colors and patterns of the weavings of the Mayans. Noted for its lush colors and intricate design, the cloth is made into blouses called "huipiles", sashes, skirts and headdresses. Every group or town has its own particular native costume. Woven by its women, usually on a stick loom, its patterns feature the traditional symbolism that identifies their history and ancient gods.
Individuals such as Miguel Angel Asturias, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and Rigoberta Menchú, the Nobel Peace Price recipient, have brought Guatemala international fame, but the country has given birth to many other great artists in all fields of art.
The marimba, which looks like a large xylophone and has a wooden keyboard which produces a unique sound, is the national instrument of Guatemala. Possibly of African origin, the Indians played a simplified version before the coming of the Spaniards. A large modern marimba requires up to nine players.
In the highland region of Cobán, very much in seclusion, lives a bird of rare beauty called the quetzal. If it is kept in captivity, the quetzal dies; hence, it has become the national emblem that symbolizes freedom.