I went to Guatemala hoping that the negative government warnings and bad press were nothing more than sensationalised BS. Everything official I read talked about tourist attacks, gun point hijackings, ransommed kidnappings and worse. Something inside me just knew that it couldn’t be that bad so we decided to take a risk and go.
After four brilliant and diverse weeks in Guatemala I’ve learned quite a lot about this wonderful country which I’d gladly spend another four in!
Here are some facts about a country we fell in love with that might surprise you.
Some surprising facts about Guatemala
- Lemons are often green on the outside and orange on the inside. They’re called ‘limon mandarina’ and we squeezed them on salad as a tasty dressing.
- Corn (on the cob) grows everywhere and its kernels are much smaller than in Europe and pale yellow in colour. Locals eat them rubbed in lemon and they taste delicious.
- There are thirty-seven volcanoes in Guatemala but only three are active; Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito. Two of which I was lucky enough to see glowing in the night sky.
- Guatemala has two coast lines. The Pacific Coast has nearly deserted black-sand beaches whilst the east coast is Caribbean in temperature with white-sand beaches.
- Bus travel can cost just a few pence/cents and whilst it’s touted as dangerous, we felt safe and had fun on it.
- Coffee grows in the western country and the plantations are everywhere. Coffee beans are green as they’re growing and turn red before they’re ready to be picked. They also take over a year to grow.
- Apart from drinking coffee there are a number of other local drinks. A fruit juice and ice is blended to make licuados and plantains are mushed and boiled with water and cinnamon to make Atol. It’s incredibly tasty but also really filling.
- Guatemala has more undiscovered ruins than discovered. Researchers just discovered 60,000 hidden Mayan ruins around Tikal with more expected to be discovered over time.
- After 4 weeks in Guatemala, I have still not been kidnapped, attacked, robbed, pillaged, held at gun-point or held for ransom. I must try harder!
- Guatemala’s internet is the second fastest in Central America and in some places, the internet is better than in America!
- Fresh food is plentiful and delicious and being vegan is simple. Avocados can be bought for 10p/17c each!
- Tortillas can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner as can re-fried beans. We bought fifteen, freshly made and cooked tortillas for 25p/32c.
- A funeral procession in our local village was led by a brass band where mourners carried an intricately carved wooden coffin on their shoulders – up a very steep hill.
- National dress is still worn by many people in the west of the country and by gosh is it gorgeous. Brightly coloured material is woven by hand and worn with pride.
- Most people are happy, smiling, welcoming and eager to chat with you. They’re generous and hospitable.
- The pineapples are a glorious golden yellow colour, picked fresh and so sweet! The sweetest I’ve ever had.
- The driving is not as terrible as everyone makes out but it is quite bad lol.
- Gringo is not seen as a bad word. I am a Gringa and it’s all good.
- American missionaries are everywhere and it isn’t good. Guatemalans need jobs not bibles.
- Secondary education is a huge privilege afforded to few children. Most boys start work in their early teenage years with girls following soon after.
- Wildlife is everywhere from buzzards and herons to monkeys and jaguars and every bug and turtle in between.
- One of the national dishes is called Tamales which are made from corn & rice flour and cooked in banana leaves. On a Saturday morning Tamale vendors will place a red flag outside their store to signal to people there are fresh tamales available for sale.
- I’ve never met a Guatemalan outside Guatemala however we met a young man in Guatemala City who had been in Krakow at the same time as us.
- The Spanish the Guatemalans speak is so much better than in Spain. It’s clear and they say the ends of the words. The accents are much easier to understand too.
- Although Spanish is the official language there are still about twenty Mayan languages used
- The Quetzal is both their national bird and money. Unlike the majority of central American currencies it’s also pretty stable and uses very few zeros! £24 is Q240. Super simple for us Brits. The bird adorns their flag.
- The first ever chocolate bar was produced in Guatemala. Today, Guatemala produces 10,414 tons of chocolate with 9,172 cacao farms and over 3,920 hectares of land.
- Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America,with a maximum depth of roughly 340 meters. It’s a very beautiful area with many villages dotted around it’s steep sides.
- The country is also the world’s leading producer of Jade and many shops have the name Jade in their title.
- The majority of rural villages do not have running water but do have phone signal.
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