Encyclopedia Article


Officially titled the Republic of Guatemala, this Central American country is bounded by Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize. The origin of the name Guatemala has two possible sources. The first possibility is that the word derived from an Aztec word Quauhtemallan (“land of trees”), and the second is that Guatemala derived from Guhatezmalha (“mountain of vomiting water”). Since there are 27 volcanoes within the country, which is, or was before the devastating encroachment of coffee plantations, also heavily forested, either name seems appropriate.

Guatemala was also the territorial seat of the Maya civilization, one of the three great civilizations (including the Aztecan and Incan empires) that dominated the Americas prior to European contact in the sixteenth century. Known for its impressive pyramid temples and extraordinary art and artifacts, its written language, and its advanced mathematical and astronomical achievements, descendants of the Maya civilization and culture still populate the Guatemalan highlands in one of the most concentrated indigenous populations currently extant in Central America.

Photo Credit: 

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, Augist 1, 2005" by Pedro Szekely.

Published Works: