Capital City: Guatemala City
International Dialing Code: +502
President: Jimmy Ernesto Morales Cabrera
There is evidence of human inhabitants in Guatemala going back to 18,000 BC. The first established culture in Guatemala were the Clovis, who inhabited Guatemala around 11,000 B.C. Most of their subsistence involved hunting the large animals that roamed about in Guatemala at this time.
Around 3000 BC agriculture started to become more prevalent. Farming communities thrived which in turn led to an increase in the population.
The Mayan civilization was born out of this rising population and made rapid developments in agriculture and also science and artistic culture. As the farming abilities increased and food became more plentiful people were increasingly able to devote themselves to other activities which had the result of furthering the civilization. Great stone pyramids were built and a calendar was also developed. The people started to take an interest in artistic pursuits and a written language was created.
Between approximately 250 and 909 AD the Mayan Empire was at its peak. The Long Calendar was perfected along with the building of palaces and temples. There were also advances in drainage and farming techniques and a huge population which was based in El Mirador.
The beginning of the end of the Mayan culture in Guatemala began around 800 AD. Natural disasters including earthquakes and droughts brought starvation to the region and many of the population dispersed to neighboring regions.
The Spanish arrived in 1521 with Pedro de Alvarado sent to conquer the region for the Spanish throne. Pedro de Alvarado used the classic divide and conquer strategy to achieve his goal. First he allied himself with the Cakchiquel nation and fought with them against their enemies. It was a successful partnership and before long the two armies had conquered Guatemala. Once Pedro de Alvarado was in a position of power he turned on his Cakchiquel allies and eventually defeated them, leaving Spain as the dominant force in the area.
During the following centuries the Spanish Crown and later the Catholic Church were the two main powerhouses in the region. Powerful groups like the Jesuits gained a lot of control and wealth and started to wield more and more influence. The Guatemalan people were basically slaves while the ruling elites became increasingly wealthy. In theory the Church was supposed to provide hospitals, churches, education and security for the indigenous population but in reality this wasn’t always the case.
At the start of the 1800’s not much had changed. The Guatemalan people were unhappy with their status but there had been few attempts at revolution. There were occasional well-meaning reforms by different sections of the Church but not enough to make a tangible difference to the way of life for the majority. As had been the case since the first colonial settlements, the Spanish descendants were at the top of the tree and the native Guatemalans at the bottom.
In 1821 Spain was weak from battles with Napoleon and, under pressure from Mexico, declared Guatemala and the rest of Central America, independent. The anti-aristocracy feeling in Guatemala found expression in the Napoleonic values and systems of government and a new life was hoped for. In reality those with Spanish blood prospered more than ever before while those of Mayan descent found their situation became worse than ever.
1821 signaled the start of a long and bloody chapter in Guatemala’s history with the country being ruled by dictators. Civil wars were a regular occurrence and Mayan land was regularly stolen to be used by corporations for farming.
In 1871 Guatemala had a “Liberal Revolution” led by Justo Rufino Barrios. He modernized the country and introduced coffee growing to the region. Coffee would prove to be one of Guatemala’s most important crops and a source of future wealth for the country. Barrios dreamed of a united Central America and went to war to achieve this aim, though he was ultimately unsuccessful.
Guatemala remained an unstable country though the early part of the 1900’s. Many of the Presidents were corrupt and not a changed, whoever was in charge. A notable President was Juan Jose Arevalo. He established social security and a national health system and did a lot to protect the interests of the Mayan population. His successor, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzmen carried on his policies and started to take away land from large corporations. The land was given over to the Mayans and lots of small farms were established.
This redistribution of wealth and the increasing popularity of the Communist Party in Guatemala drew the interest of the CIA. A military coup took place in 1954 which led to 36 years of bloody civil war. Guerilla groups were formed by the Mayan population in response to an army which was ruling by terror. A peace agreement was finally signed in 1996 after the death of over 100,000 people.
In 1999 democratic elections were held and the modern Guatemala emerged. A Free Trade agreement with the U.S. was signed in 2004 and included Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Although Guatemala is not entirely free from corruption the presence of the U.N. and an increasing political awareness of the people mean the future looks brighter than ever for this country.
Guatemala is known as the land of Eternal Spring. The weather is generally mild here and can get cool at night. Temperature’s on the higher ground such as volcano’s can get cold and fall below zero. The most moderate temperatures are found around 3000-6000 feet which includes areas such as Antigua and Guatemala City.
The tropical region, which has a similar climate to the rest of Central America, consists of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Spanning from the coast, inland to the Mountains there is high temperatures and humidity all year round.
Like most of Central America, low lying Guatemala has 2 seasons, rainy and dry. The Rainy season runs from May through to October and the Dry season from November until April. However near the Gulf of Honduras it rains all year round.
The best time to visit is generally considered to be from December to April for the Pacific and southern coast and February to April for the Caribbean coast.
Guatemala has a reputation for being an unsafe place to live. Some areas certainly are dangerous, plagued by gang warfare and poverty. However other areas are some of the safest in Central America. Antigua for example is a UNESCO Heritage Site and draws a huge number of tourist and expats each year. It is in the interests of the Guatemalan government to make sure the area is well policed and it is. The police patrol the city in large numbers and there is even a tourist police to take care of overseas visitors.
Real estate in Antigua is affordable, the people are friendly, the climate is perfect with little to no humidity, overseas income is free of local tax, and you can live a very good lifestyle for less than US$1,400 a month, including regular entertainment eating out, and a furnished rental at US$800 monthly.
In fact, though, you could live in Antigua on much less…you could rent small and basic apartment in this town for as little as US$250 a month. That’d make your total monthly budget but US$950. Own your own place, and you can do away with rent altogether…meaning you could enjoy life in this beautiful colonial city for as little as US$700 a month.
The architecture in Antigua is stunning. As a UNESCO Heritage Site there are strict rules on how high buildings can be built. There are also laws and against neon signs and other obtrusive parts of modern life. Fast food brands are discreetly housed inside original colonial buildings for example. The buildings are colonial style and you can still find horse drawn carriages travelling along the cobbled streets. If that wasn’t enough beyond the city lies a panoramic view of the volcanos which are green and blanketed with trees.
The variety of food available in Antigua is excellent. Apart from native street food you can also find most other major cuisines here. The prices for eating day to day meals are also very inexpensive although if you insist on a lot of imported produce you can expect to pay a premium price.
If you are a digital nomad you will find the internet connection here is very good. In some areas you can receive over 10 Mbps although this will vary depending how close you are to a terminal.
Are you thinking, as I am, about moving to another country and wondering if it would be smart to learn a new language? Recently I attended a fantastic conference in Orlando produced by the folks of Live and Invest Overseas to find out as much as I could about the possibilities of relocating. I came away with a good plan for doing it right, including their advice to learn the native language of the country where I decide to move....Read more