Guatemala Demographics

What is the population of Guatemala?

Population 18,255,216
Population: Male/Female male: 9,050,684

female: 9,204,532
Population Growth Rate 1.49%
Population Distribution the vast majority of the populace resides in the southern half of the country, particularly in the mountainous regions; more than half of the population lives in rural areas
Urban Population urban population: 53.1% of total population

rate of urbanization: 2.59% annual rate of change
Population in Major Urban Areas 3.095 million GUATEMALA CITY (capital)
Nationality Noun noun: Guatemalan(s)

adjective: Guatemalan
Ethnic Groups Mestizo (mixed Indigenous-Spanish - in local Spanish called Ladino) 56%, Maya 41.7%, Xinca (Indigenous, non-Maya) 1.8%, African descent 0.2%, Garifuna (mixed West and Central African, Island Carib, and Arawak) 0.1%, foreign 0.2%
Language Note Spanish (official) 69.9%, Maya languages 29.7% (Q'eqchi' 8.3%, K'iche 7.8%, Mam 4.4%, Kaqchikel 3%, Q'anjob'al 1.2%, Poqomchi' 1%, other 4%), other 0.4% (includes Xinca and Garifuna); note - the 2003 Law of National Languages officially recognized 23 indigenous languages, including 21 Maya languages, Xinca, and Garifuna
Demographic profile Guatemala is a predominantly poor country that struggles in several areas of health and development, including infant, child, and maternal mortality, malnutrition, literacy, and contraceptive awareness and use. The country's large indigenous population is disproportionately affected. Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America and has the highest fertility rate in Latin America. It also has the highest population growth rate in Latin America, which is likely to continue because of its large reproductive-age population and high birth rate. Almost half of Guatemala's population is under age 19, making it the youngest population in Latin America. Guatemala's total fertility rate has slowly declined during the last few decades due in part to limited government-funded health programs. However, the birth rate is still more close to three children per woman and is markedly higher among its rural and indigenous populations.

Guatemalans have a history of emigrating legally and illegally to Mexico, the United States, and Canada because of a lack of economic opportunity, political instability, and natural disasters. Emigration, primarily to the United States, escalated during the 1960 to 1996 civil war and accelerated after a peace agreement was signed. Thousands of Guatemalans who fled to Mexico returned after the war, but labor migration to southern Mexico continues.

Guatemala Learning

What is school like in Guatemala?


Because there are few schools in rural areas, many private schools have been opened, usually run by the Roman Catholic Church. In rural areas, some grade schools with between 100 and 200 students have only one teacher for the entire school.

Even when schools have sufficient desks and teachers, which is too often not the case, they usually lack books. Very often, as much as 80% of the class time is taken up in copying material from the blackboard at the front of the classroom because students don’t have books. This lack of books also prevents teachers from requiring homework, which means that students do not practice their study skills at home either. Teachers also are not well trained, especially in rural schools. Currently it is possible to become a teacher right after passing the exam at the conclusion of secondary school.

Guatemalan schools are not well equipped with computers or other electronic technology. Although some universities are making good progress in this area, schools for the younger children lack even the basics, especially in the mountainous, rural areas. Students who are able to afford such technology often take courses offered outside the country via the Internet.

Most schools require a uniform, which families must pay for in addition to the school enrollment fee and monthly tuition.

Education Culture

The literacy rate in Guatemala is one of the lowest in Central America. Education is valued among the wealthier families, but even they find the costs difficult to manage. For the poor, many find it simply impossible, especially for girls. More boys than girls in Guatemala can read, and girls are sometimes encouraged to stay home from school and prepare for marriage.

Many children in Guatemala do not attend school. Rather, they begin working at a fairly young age to support the family, and often do not understand the value of an education. Two-thirds of all students do not attend school after elementary school. Approximately only 2% will ever attend a university, and only half of those will graduate. Perhaps more significant, however, are the numbers who end up marrying young or joining gangs instead of pursuing secondary and high school.

Because of the rather significant adult reading problem in the country (the country produces one million illiterate citizens every nine years), Guatemala began a rather interesting program for their high school students. In order to graduate and obtain an official certificate from high school, each student wishing to graduate must teach five people to read. Although schools initially were concerned about this program, it has turned out to be quite successful.

Another challenge in some parts of the country is that the Indian populations often feel discriminated against and will not send their children to school. The lessons are in Spanish, and they include nothing of the local customs or culture.

School in Guatemala runs from January through October.


Children attend up to four years of preschool, six years of elementary or primary school, three years of secondary school, and two or three years of high school, depending on the technical training they are receiving. School is required from ages 7 to 14.

Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, but approximately 40% of the country’s population speaks one of the local Indian languages instead. For this reason, many of the rural schools are taught in the local language rather than in Spanish. Better equipped schools, such as one might find in the larger cities, will teach students not only Spanish but also emphasize English-language learning or perhaps French, German, or Italian. Other standard courses include science, mathematics, and history.

At the end of each school year, students are given a test. If a student fails any part of that test, he or she must repeat that entire school year. Compulsory education ends at the end of elementary school.

Like many Latin American countries, the quality of education can vary widely throughout the country, with money being the most important influence. In communities with more money, the schools have better resources; in poor villages, the local school can struggle to even provide the most basic education.

A higher quality of education is available from private schools, but only the upper-middle and upper-class families can afford to send their children there. The biggest problem throughout the country and in all levels of schools is the lack of money.

To School

School generally begins at 7:30 in the morning and is done at around 1:30 in the afternoon. Kids will usually walk or ride a public transportation bus to school, depending on how far from the school they live.

Children are home for lunch, which may consist of a traditional Guatemalan stew made of chicken, potatoes, and local vegetables and seasonings. It might also include rice and tortillas. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day for most areas, especially in the country and mountainous regions.

In some schools, mothers will take turns preparing lunch for the children, but the government provides the money to buy the food.

Guatemala Population Comparison

Guatemala Health Information

What are the health conditions in Guatemala?

Life Expectancy at Birth total population: 73.5 years

male: 71.5 years

female: 75.6 years
Death Rate - deaths/1,000 population 4.9
Infant Mortality Rate - total deaths/1,000 live births total: 25 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 28.1 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 21.7 deaths/1,000 live births
Health Expenditures - percent of GDP 6.5%
Physicians Density - physicians/1,000 population 1.24
Hospital Bed Density - beds/1,000 population .4
Major Infectious Diseases - degree of risk degree of risk: high

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

vectorborne diseases: dengue fever and malaria
Drinking Water Source - percent of urban population improved improved: urban: 97.9% of population

rural: 92.2% of population

total: 95% of population

unimproved: urban: 2.1% of population

rural: 8% of population

total: 5% of population
Tobacco Use total: 10.9%

male: 20.1%

female: 1.6%
Maternal Mortality Rate - deaths/100,000 live births 96
Mean Age for Mother's First Birth (age 25-49) 20.6
Contraceptive Prevalence Rate - female 12-49 60.6%
Total Fertility Rate - children born/woman 2.52
Gross reproduction rate 1
Obesity - adult prevalence rate 21.2%
Sanitation Facility Access - percent of urban population improved improved: urban: 90.4% of population

rural: 66.3% of population

total: 78.8% of population

unimproved: urban: 9.6% of population

rural: 33.7% of population

total: 21.2% of population
Underweight - percent of children under five years 14.4%
Alcohol consumption per capita total: 1.63 liters of pure alcohol

beer: 0.9 liters of pure alcohol

wine: 0.05 liters of pure alcohol

spirits: 0.68 liters of pure alcohol

other alcohols: 0.01 liters of pure alcohol
Currently married women (ages 15-49) 57.2%

Guatemala Life Expectancy

How long do people live in Guatemala?

Life Expectancy at Birth total population: 73.5 years

male: 71.5 years

female: 75.6 years
Median Age total: 24.8 years

male: 24.2 years

female: 25.4 years
Gross reproduction rate 1
Contraceptive Prevalance Rate - female 12-49 60.6%
Infant Mortality Rate total: 25 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 28.1 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 21.7 deaths/1,000 live births
Maternal Mortality Rate - deaths/100,000 live births 96
Total Fertility Rate - children born/woman 2.52

Guatemala median age, birth rate and death rates

Birth Rate - births/1,000 population 21
Median Age total: 24.8 years

male: 24.2 years

female: 25.4 years
Net Migration Rate - migrant(s)/1,000 population -1.6
Population Growth Rate 1.49%
Sex Ratio at Birth - male/female at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.8 male(s)/female

total population: 0.98 male(s)/female
Age Structure 0-14 years: 31.5% (male 2,925,079/female 2,819,927)

15-64 years: 63.2% (male 5,688,500/female 5,839,958)

65 years and over: 5.4% (male 437,105/female 544,647)
Contraceptive Prevalance Rate - female 12-49 60.6%
Gross reproduction rate 1
Infant Mortality Rate total: 25 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 28.1 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 21.7 deaths/1,000 live births
Maternal Mortality Rate - deaths/100,000 live births 96
Mother's mean age at first birth 20.6
Total Fertility Rate - children born/woman 2.52

Guatemala Medical Information

What are the health conditions in Guatemala?

Medical Facilities and Health Information

The full range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside the city is limited. Guatemala's public hospitals frequently experience serious shortages of basic medicines and equipment. Care in private hospitals is generally adequate for most common illnesses and injuries, and many of the medical specialists working in them are U.S.-trained and -certified.

Health Expenditures - percent of GDP


Hospital Bed Density - beds/1,000 population


Physicians Density - physicians/1,000 population


Guatemala Education

What is school like in Guatemala?

Education Expenditures - percent of GDP 3.1%
Literacy - female 79.3%
Literacy - male 87.7%
Literacy - total population 83.3%
Literacy Definition age 15 and over can read and write
Total School Life Expectancy - (primary to tertiary) total: 11 years

male: 11 years

female: 10 years

Guatemala Literacy

Can people in Guatemala read?

Literacy - female 79.3%
Literacy - male 87.7%
Literacy - total population 83.3%
Literacy Definition age 15 and over can read and write

Guatemala Crime

Is Guatemala a safe place to visit?

Crime Information

To decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim, do not display items of value such as laptops, iPods, tablet computers, cameras, or jewelry and refrain from using a cell phone on the street. Carry a photocopy of your passport when out and about to avoid losing it during a robbery. The Embassy discourages its employees from carrying large sums of money. Do not resist if you are being robbed. Victims have been killed when they resisted attack or refused to give up their money or other valuables. Assailants are often armed with guns and do not hesitate to use them if you resist.

Emboldened armed robbers have attacked vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Travel on rural roads increases the risk of being stopped by a criminal roadblock or ambush. Widespread narcotics and alien-smuggling activities make remote areas especially dangerous. There is no evidence that U.S. citizens are specifically targeted, although an appearance of wealth could increase the chances that you might become a focus of attention for criminal gangs. Criminals look for any opportunity to strike, so all travelers should remain constantly vigilant.

A number of travelers have experienced carjackings and armed robberies after just having arrived on international flights, most frequently in the evening. In the most common scenario, tourists or business travelers who land at the airport after dark are held up by armed men as their vehicle departs the airport, but similar incidents have occurred at other times of the day. Private vehicles, taxis and shuttle buses have all been targeted. Typically, the assailants steal money, passports, and luggage, and in some but not all cases, the assailants steal the vehicle as well. In some cases, assailants have been wearing full or partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating that some elements of the police might be involved. Armed robberies have occurred within minutes of a tourist’s vehicle having been stopped by the police. Recently, many of these attacks have taken place far from the airport, just as travelers were arriving at their homes, or in less busy areas of the city. Victims who did not resist the attackers were not physically injured.

Security escorts for tourist groups and security information are available from the Tourist Assistance Office (PROATUR) of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourism Institute) at 7a Avenida 1-17. Zona 4, Centro Civico, Guatemala City. INGUAT’s PROATUR division has 24-hour/seven days per week direct telephone numbers for tourist assistance and emergencies. You may call them at (502) 2421-2810, fax them at (502) 2421-2891, or simply dial 1500 in Guatemala to reach INGUAT Tourist Assistance. You can also contact INGUAT by e-mail. PROATUR also maintains regional offices in all major tourist destinations in Guatemala, and the regional delegates provide rapid and appropriate assistance to crime and accident victims. Travelers may also wish to visit INGUAT’s web site (Spanish only). Tourist groups are advised to request security escorts from INGUAT. There have been no incidents of armed robbery of groups escorted through the Tourist Protection Program. The request should be submitted by mail, fax, or e-mail and should arrive at INGUAT at least three business days in advance of the proposed travel. Requests should be directed to the attention of the Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance Program, and should provide the itinerary, names of travelers, and model and color of the vehicle in which they will be traveling. Travelers should be aware that INGUAT might not be able to accommodate all requests.

Taxis: Hailing taxis on the street in Guatemala City is discouraged. Taxi Seguro can be reached at 2312-4243, but may not always be available, especially late at night. Taxi Amarillo Express is a radio-dispatch taxi service, and can be reached by dialing 1766. The Guatemalan tourist assistance agency, PROATUR, may be able to provide additional information, and can be reached by dialing 1500. Some best practices for travel safety include:

Coordinate arrival times with those picking up passengers, minimize time spent standing outside in the airport passenger pick-up area, and do not walk out of the airport with valuables in plain sight.

Carry laptops inconspicuously in a backpack or other carry-on luggage.

Avoid using electronic devices in traffic or leaving purses on seats in plain sight.

Buses: Avoid low-priced intra- and inter-city public buses (commonly recycled U.S. school buses). They are often attacked by armed robbers and are poorly maintained and dangerously driven. In the first three months of 2012, nine bus drivers were killed and in 2011, 91 bus drivers were murdered in robberies staged by holdup gangs targeting public transportation, both urban and inter-city. Outside the capital, shuttles and buses carrying tourists have been stopped and robbed, including incidents on the road to Tikal. Do not hail taxis on the street in Guatemala City. For shorter trips, the safest option is to take radio-dispatched (Taxi Amarillo) or hotel taxis.

The use of modern inter-city buses somewhat improves security and safety; however, several travelers have been attacked on first-class buses on highway CA-2 near the border areas with both Mexico and El Salvador, and on highways CA-1 and CA-9 near the border with El Salvador, and in the highlands between Quetzaltenango and Sololá. Be cautious with personal items such as backpacks, fanny packs, and passports while riding buses, as tourists’ possessions are a favorite target of thieves.

Highway Safety: There have been numerous reports of violent criminal activity along Guatemala’s main highways, including the Carretera a El Salvador (Inter-American Highway CA-2). In addition, travelers using alternate routes out of Antigua have reported armed assaults in recent years. There has also been an increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents on this same road at night. Embassy employees are discouraged from driving at night. Due to the dangers of travelling Guatemalan highways with an abundance of valuables, U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from driving from or through Mexico and Belize to their assignment in Guatemala and must have their possessions shipped in.

The main road to Lake Atitlán via the Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and Sololá is safer than the alternative secondary roads near the lake. Specifically, the main road is preferable to the alternative road through Las Trampas and Godinez to Panajachel (RN-11) where robbery, rape, and assault are known to have occurred in the past. Armed attacks have occurred on roads between Guatemala City and the Petén as well as between Tikal and the Belize border. Visitors to the Mayan ruins at Tikal are urged to fly to nearby Flores and then travel by bus or tour van to the site. Violent attacks have occurred in the Mayan ruins in the Petén, including in the Cerro Cahui Conservation Park, Yaxha, the road to and inside Tikal Park, and in the Tikal ruins, particularly during early morning sunrise tours of the ruins. However, tourist police (POLITUR) patrols have significantly reduced the incidence of violent crime inside the park and there have been no reports of armed assaults on tourists there in the past year. Travelers should remain in groups, stay on the principal trails leading to the Central Plaza and the Temple IV complex, and avoid remote areas of the park.

Flat-tire Scam: In one popular scam, robbers place a nail in a parked vehicle’s tire. The vehicle is then followed by the robbers who pose as “good Samaritans” when the tire becomes flat and the victims pull to the side of the road. While “help” is being rendered, the contents of the car are stolen, often without the knowledge of the victims. However, in some cases, the robbers have threatened the tourists with weapons. Parking areas in and around the Guatemala City International Airport are particularly prone to this crime.

Parking Lot Scam: Victims are approached in a hotel, restaurant or other public place by an individual claiming that there is some sort of problem with his or the would-be victim’s automobile in the parking lot. On the way to investigate the “problem,” usually in a remote or concealed area near the parking lot, the robber pulls a gun on the victim and demands cash, credit cards and other valuables.

Swimming and Boating Safety: Travelers should be aware that basic safety precautions commonly required in the United States for swimming, boating and other outdoor activities may not be observed in Guatemala. Multiple boaters in the Rio Dulce area of the Department of Izabal have been victimized in violent armed attacks while on their boats.

Indigenous Areas: Indigenous activists have taken foreign tourists hostage in the Rio Dulce and Livingston area. Although all hostages have been released unharmed, tensions between indigenous activists and authorities remain. In January 2012, a group of National Geographic explorers, including U.S. citizens, were detained in Quiche by local residents when they jumped into a pond considered sacred in the Mayan tradition. They were released unharmed but the incident serves as a warning to be mindful of local traditional practices when visiting indigenous Mayan communities.

Armed robberies are common in all areas of the country; persons carrying laptop computers and expensive cell phones are often targets. Areas that offer wi-fi computer services have been targeted. Several individuals have been killed and their laptops taken upon departure from these establishments after they were seen using their computers in public. Avoid carrying laptop cases or anything that resembles one, even if they do not contain laptops.

Pickpockets are active in all major cities and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts of Zone 1 in Guatemala City. Pickpockets also are common throughout the country. For security reasons, the Embassy does not allow U.S. government employees to stay in hotels in Zone 1 and urges private travelers to avoid staying in this area. In a common scenario, an accomplice distracts the victim while an assailant slashes or simply steals a bag or backpack. The Embassy advises tourists and residents to be very vigilant of their surroundings and report any crime incidents promptly to the police.

Use of ATMs: We strongly encourage you not to use ATMs. Scams involving attempts to acquire a victim’s ATM card and personal identification number (PIN) are common. Some sophisticated criminals have even placed electronic boxes outside ATM kiosks to record the PIN of unsuspecting victims who believe they must enter their PIN to gain entry to the ATM foyer. After recording the PIN, robbers then steal the owner’s ATM card to complete their crimes. There have been a number of incidents in which foreigners have been robbed immediately after making a large withdrawal from local banks. While complicity by bank employees is strongly suspected in these crimes, the police have only arrested credit card forgers. There are dozens of techniques scammers can use to rob victims of money and possessions. While most people mean no harm, always be cautious when strangers approach you for any reason or make unusual requests. Dozens of victims (mostly foreign tourists) have had their bank accounts emptied remotely from places such as Bogota, Lima, Caracas, and the Dominican Republic shortly after using their ATM cards at banks in Antigua and other places. Recently, U.S. Embassy employees have had money fraudulently taken from their accounts due to the theft of their ATM card information and pass-code.

Guatemala Penalties for Crime

Criminal Penalties

While in a foreign country, you are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

If you break local laws in Guatemala, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go. Persons violating Guatemalan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guatemala are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Pseudoephedrine is banned in Guatemala since it can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamines. Possession or distribution of drugs containing pseudoephedrine is illegal and can result in arrest of violators.

Arrest notifications in Guatemala:

While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas. If you are arrested in Guatemala, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy or Consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

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