Official NameRepublic of Guatemala.

Official NameRepublic of Guatemala.

LocationThe first Central American state you reach, moving south from Mexico.

LanguageSpanish, and many Mayan languages.

SizeAt 109,000sq km, this small country still manages to be more than three times the size of Belgium.

PopulationEleven million. Very crowded, by American standards.

National DishMeat. Lots and lots of it.

Best MonumentThe Mayan ceremonial centre at Tikal, near the town of Flores, comprises tall stone pyramids deep within a jungle full of parrots and monkeys. The ruins include an acropolis and temples.

Most Famous CitizenRigoberta Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work opposing the repression of native peoples by white colonialists. It was her book I, Rigoberta Menchu - documenting the experience of growing up in conditions akin to slave labour - that brought her international fame.

Best Moment In HistoryThe so-called Early and Late Classic Periods of Mayan civilisation lasted from around AD250 to 900. These years of great prosperity saw fabulous temple cities being constructed, first in the Guatemalan highlands, and later in the El Petén lowlands.

Worst Moment In HistoryIn 1523, Pedro de Alvarado came to conquer Guatemala for the King of Spain. The highland kingdoms of the

Quiché and Cakchiquel Maya were crushed, their lands divided up into vast estates and their people exploited by the new landowners.

Essential AccessorySpare wallet. Beware armed bus- and car-jackings, especially at night.

What Not To DoTry not to expropriate peasant lands or violently suppress anti-government elements - particularly if you come from the United States.