Guatemala is the most populated country in Central America, with almost 18 million people living there. So what’s the capital of this vibrant country?
The capital of Guatemala is Guatemala City. Guatemala City is in the country’s south-central region in a valley of Guatemala’s highlands. It has been the capital since 1776 and is the country’s center economically, culturally, and politically.
Located near Guatemala’s most active volcano and having survived earthquakes and revolutions, Guatemala City’s history is rich and varied, and its impact on the region is significant. Here’s how it came to be that way.
The Capital Of Guatemala Is Guatemala City
In a country of 17.6 million, Guatemala City has a population of around 1 million, with a population of 3 million in the metropolitan region. Much of the country’s population lives in poor, rural areas.
Guatemala City is the largest city in Central America. This is impressive, especially since Guatemala is about the size of Tennessee (whose population is 7 million).
Guatemala City is, of course, the country’s political center and is home to the National Palace and the police headquarters. Fun fact, all of the major highways begin at the National Palace.
The Central American Parliament is located here as well as the Organization of American States’ regional headquarters.
Economically, Guatemala City holds more than half of the country’s industrial facilities. It is also the home of the banking and commercial sectors, and the country’s transportation infrastructure is centralized around the city.
Culturally, Guatemala City is where many history and archeology museums are located. The National Archeological Museum, in particular, holds many important Mayan artifacts.
Where is Guatemala City Located?
Guatemala City is located in the central highlands of Guatemala in the south-central region of the country.
Just south of the city is the volcanic lake Lake Amatitlan, the fourth largest lake in the country.
A little farther south and you’ve reached Pacaya, one of three active volcano complexes in Guatemala. Pacaya last erupted in 2021.
Brief History Of Guatemala City
In colonial times, the capital of Guatemala was Antigua Guatemala in the south. In 1773, it was destroyed by heavy earthquakes.
Guatemala City was established as the replacement in 1776 and has been the capital ever since, although during some periods this was more of a title than a reality.
In 1821, the Captaincy-general of Guatemala declared independence from Spain in Guatemala City. It was a collection of surrounding regions such as El Salvador, Costa Rica, and others that then joined the Mexican Empire.
Shortly after, in 1823, Guatemala City served as the capital of the Central American Federation, which broke away from the Mexican Empire. That lasted until 1833, and afterward, Guatemala slowly became the country we know it to be today.
Earthquakes rocked the city throughout the 20th century. The earthquakes of 1917, 1918, and 1976 were particularly devastating.
And not only natural disasters kept the country, and the city, under pressure. In addition, a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996 is credited for holding the country’s development back despite its healthy GDP output.
Why Is Guatemala City The Capital Of Guatemala?
Guatemala City is the capital of Guatemala because previous cities have been destroyed by the country’s volatile natural landscape. Antigua Guatemala’s destruction was the reason for Guatemala City becoming the capital in the first place.
Later on, a city called Quetzaltenango had been serving as the de facto capital of the country. But in 1902, it was also destroyed by earthquakes, and Guatemala City became the home of the country’s leaders once more.
Today, it continues to be the capital of the country due to its high population relative to the area, the concentration of economic and political power within its borders, and its cultural significance to its people.
Best Places To Visit In Guatemala City
If you’re going to visit Guatemala City, you should definitely see the National Palace, affectionately known as The Big Guacamole, because of its green exterior. If you’re looking for Guatemalan history, you can’t do much better.
Before Guatemala became Guatemala, it was the seat of Mayan civilization, and the country is home to many important Mayan sites and artifacts.
For artifacts, check out the National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, which houses Guatemala’s most extensive collection of Mayan artifacts, including masks, jewelry, and sculptures. There’s also the Museo Popol Vuh, which houses artifacts and Mayan art.
If you have transportation, consider checking out Mixco Viejo. It’s the site of a Mayan city inhabited by the Chajoma people, who survived until the Spanish arrived. It’s got great views of the surrounding area, as it was built high up for defense against neighboring Mayans.
Are you looking to get your lay of the land? Try the Relief Map, a geographical depiction of Guatemala set in concrete. With such easy access to satellite images today, it might not seem like much. But this map of Guatemala was constructed in 1904 and depicts the country’s natural and man-made features, like volcanos, rivers, roads, and cities.
Religious architecture is also prevalent in the city. If you want to check out some of the cathedrals, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the city’s main house of worship. Or there’s the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, with its gold stuccoed altar.
Guatemala is a country whose natural landscape shifts the paths of history with each quake. Yet, Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala, has stood strong through many of these earthquakes and remains the center of Guatemalan life politically, culturally, and economically.
Whether you’re looking for Mayan architecture and art, Central American historical landmarks, or Catholic buildings of worship, Guatemala City is a treasure trove.
If you’re planning on visiting this great city, keep in mind that the country faces a significant amount of income inequality, and poverty is high. This means crime is a factor, and the U.S. government currently has a travel warning 3 out of 4 for Guatemala because of the crime. Something to keep in mind when you go to visit this beautiful place.