The territory of modern Guatemala once formed the core of the Maya civilization, which extended across Mesoamerica. The Spanish conquered most of the country by the 16th century. Guatemala attained independence from Spain in 1821 as part of the Federal Republic of Central America, which dissolved in 1841.
Guatemala’s abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems includes a large number of endemic species and contributes to Mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity hotspot. The country is also known for its rich and distinct culture, which is characterized by a fusion of Spanish and Indigenous influences.
Guatemala is a highly diverse country, populated by a variety of ethnic, cultural, racial, and linguistic groups. According to the 2010 Census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (INE), about 41.5% of the population is Mestizo (also known as Ladino), reflecting mixed indigenous and European heritage. A similar proportion of Guatemalans (41%) are of full Amerindian ancestry, which is among one of the largest percentage in Latin America, behind only Peru and Bolivia. Most indigenous Guatemalans are of the Maya people, namely K’iche’ (11.0% of the total population), Q’eqchi (8.3%), Kaqchikel (7.8%), Mam (5.2%), and “other Maya” (7.6%). Less than 1% are indigenous non-Maya.
Guatemala’s sole official language is Spanish, spoken by 93 percent of the population as either the first or second language.
Twenty-one Mayan languages are spoken, especially in rural areas, as well as two non-Mayan Amerindian languages: Xinca, which is indigenous to the country, and Garifuna, an Arawakan language spoken on the Caribbean coast. According to the Language Law of 2003, these languages are unrecognized as National Languages.
In terms of religion, a 2012 survey estimated Catholics at 47.6%, Protestants at 38.2%, other religions at 2.6%, and the non-religious at 11.6%.
From 1970 to 2016, and particularly since the 1990s, Guatemala has experienced the rapid growth of Protestantism, currently more than 38% of the population, and still growing.
Guatemala is a constitutional democratic republic whereby the President of Guatemala is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. The president exercises Executive power. Legislative power is vested in both the president and the Congress of the Republic. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America, with a GDP (PPP) per capita of US$5,200. Guatemala faces many social problems and is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The distribution of income is highly unequal with more than half of the population below the national poverty line and just over 400,000 (3.2%) unemployed. The CIA World Fact Book considers 54.0% of the population of Guatemala to be living in poverty.