Mountains and rugged highlands dominate Guatemala's landscape. The Pacific plain is a narrow belt between mountains and ocean. In the southern highlands, the most populous region, is Guatemala City, and to the north is jungle.
More than half of Guatemalans descend from Mayan Indians and reflect the culture of their ancestors. The great Mayan empire flourished throughout much of Guatemala for more than a thousand years before the Spanish conquest in 1524. In 1821, the country gained independence from Spain. Since then, Guatemala's politics have been marked by rivalries and insurgencies. After a series of coups, short-lived rulers, and ever-increasing protest and repression, civil war erupted in the 1960s. Several attempts have been made to end the decades-old dispute, the most recent of which was the 1996 signing of peace accords.