Guatemala Population, People, Languages and Religions

By | January 21, 2022

Guatemala Country Overview

Where is Guatemala located? The Republic of Guatemala is a Central American country located in the south of the Yukatan Peninsula. The time zone map places Guatemala in a world time zone that is 6 hours off Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This time zone is called “Central Standard Time” and clocks in this region are always 6 hours ahead of those showing universal time. There is no time difference to daylight saving time in Guatemala in summer.

Guatemala National Flag

Population Distribution

As of 2023, the latest population of Guatemala is 17,153,288, based on our calculation of the current data from UN (United Nations).

Total population 17,153,288
Population growth rate 1.68%
Birth rate 24.10 births per 1,000 people
Life expectancy
Overall 71.46 years
Men 69.56 years
Women 73.45 years
Age structure
0-14 years 34.55%
15-64 years 60.98%
65 years and above 4.46%
Median age 21.40 years
Gender ratio (Male to Female) 0.97
Population density 157.53 residents per km²
Urbanization 46.30%
approx. 60% indigenous people (including Maya-Quiché, Mames, Cakchiqueles, Kekchi), 30% of European indigenous descent (Ladinos); Minorities of European, African and Asian descent
Catholics (Roman Catholic), Protestants, indigenous Mayan beliefs
Human Development Index (HDI) 0.651
HDI ranking 126th out of 194

People in Guatemala

We call the people of Guatemala Guatemalans. 39.8 percent of them are of indigenous descent. They are descendants of the Maya and belong to different ethnic groups: the Quiché in the western highlands (share 11 percent), the Kekchí in the “Middle” East (8.3 percent, in their own name Q’eqchi ‘), the Cakchiquel (also in the western highlands, 7.8 percent) and the Mam in the west on the border with Mexico (5.2 percent). Guatemala is the country in Central America with the highest proportion of indigenous people.

40.5 percent are Ladinos. This is the name given to descendants from connections between Spaniards (or other Europeans) and Indians. In other countries like Mexico they are called mestizos. For us, this term sounds derogatory, which is why we don’t use it. 18.5 percent are of European descent, i.e. whites, also called criollos (creoles).

The remaining 1.2 percent are of Asian origin and Garifuna. Garifuna live on the Caribbean coast. They are the descendants of black slaves from West Africa who mixed with the residents of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. In 1635 two slave ships ran aground there. In 1795 the British took possession of the island and relocated the Garifuna to islands off Honduras, from where they spread to Belize and Guatemala.

  • Children: Every woman in Guatemala has an average of 2.7 children. With us, every woman has an average of 1.4 children. So the families in Guatemala are bigger than ours.
  • Urban and rural areas: Around half of Guatemala’s residents live in cities (52 percent). That is much less than ours at 75 percent.

Languages in Guatemala

Spanish is the official language in Guatemala. 65 percent of the population speak Spanish as their mother tongue. Another 28 percent learn it as a second language. This means that 93 percent of the population speak Spanish. In the country in particular, however, you can also meet Indians who do not speak Spanish, especially the elderly.

Indigenous languages

In addition to Spanish, other languages ​​are spoken in Guatemala. Quiché, the language of the Quiché Indians who live in the highlands of Guatemala, has the largest number of speakers. This is followed by the Mam language of the Mam Indios and Cakchiquel, which is spoken by the people of the same name. A total of 22 Maya languages ​​are spoken in Guatemala.

There are also two languages ​​in Guatemala that are not Mayan. The Garifuna minority on the Caribbean coast also has its own language, either called Garifuna or Igñeri. And then there is the Xinca language, an Indian language spoken by the Xinca people. It is spoken by a minority in southern Guatemala. Can you find it on the language card? Unfortunately, the language is threatened with extinction and only a few elderly people speak it.

Today the Mayan languages ​​are written in Latin letters. Before the Spanish conquest, the Maya pictorial writing was used. In the translation into Latin script, apostrophes are used. They show that the letter in front of it is spoken in a certain way, namely without inhaling or exhaling. The Popol Voh, the holy book of the Quiché, was also written in Quiché. One of the pieces reads: Are utzijoxikwa’e, k’akatz’ininoq, k’akachamamoq, katz’inonik, k’akasilanik, k’akalolinik, katolonapuchupakaj. That means: “This is the account of how everything was in tension, everything still, in silence; everything motionless, everything trembling, and the vastness of the sky was empty.”

Spanish in Guatemala

From the Spanish (Castilian) spoken in Spain, Spanish in Guatemala differs in a number of ways. For example, for “her” one says ustedes (instead of vosotros). And while in Spain the c is usually pronounced like an English th, i.e. between the teeth (as in the English word through), in Guatemala (and throughout Latin America) the c is pronounced like a sharp s (as in see).

Religions in Guatemala

Almost all residents belong to a Christian church. 47 percent are Catholic, 40 percent Protestant. 9 percent are atheists or do not belong to any church, 4 percent belong to other churches and are, for example, Muslims or Jews.