Capital | Guatemala City
Population | 13,824,463 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 108,890 SQ KM
Official Language | Spanish
Holidays | Independence Day, 15 September (1821)
Currency | Quetzal (GTQ)
Time Zone | UTC -6
Best Time to Visit | November through to May (the dry season)
Connecting with the Culture | Joining a Spanish-language school in Antigua. Spending a day in a hammock on lazy Santa Cruz la Laguna. Hiking to the highest point in Central America (Tajumulco Volcano), camping overnight and watching the sun rise. Engaging in a spot of bartering at the Sunday Chichicastenango markets. Spending a day at the Mayan ruins at Tikal.
Read | Hombres De Maíz, by Miguel Ángel Asturias, the Nobel Prize-winning author and long-time exile who combines Mayan mysticism and social consciousness to deliver an indictment of dictatorial rule.
Listen | to Guatemala: Celebrated Marimbas, highlighting the principal instrument of traditional Guatemelan music. Paco Pérez’s ‘Luna de Xelaju’ is the best-known composition for marimbas.
Watch | What Sebastian Dreamt. Part documentary, part narrative, this rare Guatemalan film offers the rainforests as primary suspect in murder/mystery thriller.
Eat | tortilla, a thing round patty of corn dough cooked on a griddle; frijoles, black beans; tapado, a Caribbean casserole of seafood, plantains, coconut milk and vegetables.
Drink | coffee, hot chocolate, fresh fruit, and vegetable juices.
In a Word | Basta que basta (enough is enough)
Characteristics | Old Mayan gods and ruins; colourful masks; cheerfully painted buses; the quetzal; brooding volcanoes; rainforests; corn fields; brilliantly coloured textiles; Mayan trouble dolls; tongue-challenging place names; highly wrought iron crucifixes.
Surprises | The quality of jewelry; the national passion for football (soccer); the cold in the Highlands; cheap mobile phone calls.