Guatemala, located in Central America, means ‘land of the trees’ and is the most populous nation in the region. It is a heavily forested and mountainous, with the lowlands around the Pacific coast rising into the volcanic highlands of Sierra Madre where most Guatemalans live, then into the northern lowlands, covered in dense forest.
A thousand years ago, the Maya civilization dominated Guatemala, and today more than half of the Guatemalan population of 14,373,000 people are direct ancestors of the Maya people. Most of these indigenous Maya people live in the western highlands and make a living through subsistence farming, while urban areas are dominated by ‘Ladinos’ people of mostly mixed Maya-Spanish descent.
Historically, urbanized Ladinos have dominated commerce, government and the military, with the Maya people remaining overwhelmingly poor. Throughout Guatemala’s modern history, this ethnic inequality has caused a large amount of conflict, most notably, a 36-year-long civil war between the Ladino government and Maya guerillas, beginning in 1960 and ending in 1996.