Guatemala

Land and People

A highland region, where most of the population lives, cuts across the country from west to east. The rugged main range includes the inactive volcano Tajumulco, which is the highest point in Central America (13,816 ft/4,211 m). The range is flanked on the Pacific side by a string of volcanoes (some active), including Tacaná, Santa María, Acatenango, Fuego, and Agua. Volcanic eruptions, floods, and hurricanes have plagued Guatemala throughout history. In the center of the range is Lake Atitlán, and south of the highlands is the Pacific coastal lowland. North of them are the Caribbean lowland and the vast tropical forest known as Petén. Lake Petén Itzá is in N central Guatemala. The largest river is the Motagua, which flows into the Caribbean at the port of Puerto Barrios. North of the Motagua is the Lake Izabal–Río Dulce system, which was a major waterway in colonial times.

About 60% of the population is of mixed Mayan and Spanish descent (Ladinos) and about 40% are of purely Mayan origin. The latter have historically suffered from discrimination, poverty, and relative geographical isolation. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, and there are also Protestant and traditional Mayan minorities. Spanish is the language of about 60% of the people; the balance speak several indigenous dialects.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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