In 2019 Guatemala had an average population density of 158 residents per km2; The closest, besides the metropolitan area, is the western volcanic highlands, where a majority of Indians live.
According to Countryaah, the country’s Native American population has a child mortality rate that is much higher than the average for Guatemala’s entire population, and the average life expectancy is also significantly lower.
In 2019, 49 percent of the population lived in the countryside, but the cities and especially the capital have grown rapidly as a result of the prolonged political violence; the Indians who fled from the massacres in the countryside during the now-ending civil war (the peace agreement was signed in 1996) hid in the slums of the cities. The country’s largest cities are Guatemala City (994,300 residents, 2018), Villa Nueva (489,000) and Mixco (474,400).
For information on life expectancy and other demographic statistics, see Country facts.
Nearly half of Guatemalan population is Native American, which is the highest proportion in Central America. Only about 5 percent are white, the rest are miserable.
The Indians can be divided into twenty ethno-linguistic groups, most descendants of highland Maya. The largest of these people are q’uiché (9.1 percent), kaqchikel (8.4 percent), mam, (7.9 percent) and k’ekchí (6.3 percent). Kanjobal, ixil and other Mayan-speaking people amount to about 8.6 percent.
Most of these people are small farmers, who mainly grow maize for self-sufficiency. The Mayan Indians are known today for their craft, especially their weaving art, and their colorful clothing. There are a number of common features in their cultures, including language and religious conceptions, but the features are also evident. Many of the major Native American languages have many dialects, and locally there can be great cultural variation.
The relationship with the Spanish-speaking miseries, “ladinos”, is very tense, and the social stratification in the country is reminiscent of a caste system with the whites in leading positions, the miseries as an official class and the Indians as “caste” servants, guardians and day laborers. The differences in status are not least noticeable in statistics relating to education and health issues.
The official language is Spanish. However, the mother tongue of about half of the population is one of the more than twenty Mayan languages spoken in the country. These were recognized in 2003 as national languages alongside Spanish, like the Arabic language garífa, spoken on the Caribbean coast. In the central highlands, northwest of the capital, different k’iche languages are spoken, of which the two largest are k’iche ‘(quiche) and kaqchikel. K’iche ‘has a special position as a trading language in marketplaces around the country and is increasingly used in teaching and in the media. Further west, in the region bordering Mexico, different native languages dominate, while q’eqchi ‘(kekchí) is found in the eastern parts of central Guatemala.
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Catholicism has been dominating religion since the colonial era. After independence in 1825 came Bible societies, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists. A strong Mayor unites a living Mayan religion and Christianity. An interreligious dialogue is ongoing between Christian and religious Mayan traditions.