The Petén region includes the world-famous Mayan ruins. In Petén, people tend to be reserved, but they are also warm and agreeable.

Guatemala Petén Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion

Roman Catholic

The Weather

  • The majestic tops of Tikal's temples rise above the dense rainforest covering most of Petén. Guatemala Temple Ruins
  • For children who are malnourished, Petén’s Compassion-assisted child development centers provide extra meals or special drinks packed with protein and other nutrients. Guatemala Girls Drinking Water
  • : Schools in this region typically are poorly equipped and have inadequate infrastructure. This photo shows the place where assemblies are held at one public school. Guatemala Courtyard and Stage
  • The pastor of a partner church in Petén pauses for photo with children from the Compassion center that his church operates. Guatemala Children Outside Project
  • Compassion-assisted children play with blocks to help develop their motor skills and their understanding about different shapes. Guatemala Children in Class
  • Local markets are busy places, especially in the mornings before the temperature rises to an uncomfortable level. Guatemala Children Playing Building Blocks

Overview: Petén Region of Guatemala

Altitudes in the Petén and eastern regions range from 3,000 to nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. The weather is hot and dry in the east, and hot and humid in Petén. During the rainy or wet season from May to December, the Petén region experiences a high rate of rainfall, up to 150 days of the year.

The Petén region includes the world-famous Mayan ruins, while the eastern region includes well-known tourist spots such as the Castillo de San Felipe (Castle of San Felipe), and the Rio Dulce, a river running from Lake Izabal to the Caribbean.

The people of the eastern region are known for being outgoing, straightforward and yet kind. It is a deeply machismo culture; men commonly carry guns as a sign of power. In Petén, people tend to be reserved, but they are also warm and agreeable.

Spanish is the main language spoken in both regions, but Q’eqchi’ is also spoken in the southern part of Petén. Garífuna is a dialect spoken in Izabal (the eastern region). Roman Catholicism and evangelical Christianity are the most common religions in this area.


Culture Corner

Culture in Guatemala


Spanish is the official language in Guatemala. Phrases that apply throughout Guatemala include:

¡Que Dios te bendiga!
God bless you!

¡Tú eres bonita!
You are pretty!

¡Tú eres muy guapo!
You are handsome!

¡Qué chilero!
How cool!

¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?
Hi! How are you?

¡Te quiero mucho!
I love you very much!

¡Te quiero!
I love you!

¡Estoy orando por ti!
I’m praying for you!

¿Cómo está tu familia?
How is your family doing?

¡Que todo te salga bien!
I hope everything goes well!

¿Cuál es tu versículo favorito de la Biblia?
What is your favorite Bible verse?

¿Cuál es tu historia favorita de la Biblia?
What is your favorite story of the Bible?

Life in the Petén Region of Guatemala

Petén is the northernmost region of Guatemala. Blanketed by tropical rainforest, Petén is hot and humid year-round. This region is famous for its Mayan ruins, especially for Tikal, a magnificent archeological site popular with tourists.

Because of its dense forest, this region is also popular with drug cartels, which traffic drugs easily across the ill-protected borders with Belize and Mexico. Drug-related violence is a problem for the people of Petén. Illegal immigration is another problem, because Petén is a popular route for Central Americans migrating north through Mexico.

Job opportunities are few for families in Petén, and most are unable to provide for even their most basic needs. Lack of food affects more than 86 percent of Péten’s people, and children commonly suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Children at Home

Most homes have four children, and both parents work. Many of the men work during harvest season in the fields or in regional plantations that export watermelons and other melons. Women contribute to household income by selling food or other items. Homes are small and Spartan, usually made of wood or cinder block, with dirt or brick floors, and tin roofs.


Community Issues and Concerns Community in Guatemala

Because of unemployment rates of up to 80 percent, parents seldom make enough to adequately feed their families. Guatemala has the fourth-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. Nearly 50 percent of children under age 5 are chronically malnourished.

Living in conditions ranging from the hot, dry plains and mountains of the east to the humid forests of Petén, children also commonly suffer from intestinal infections, respiratory ailments and allergies, and parasites.

Local Needs and Challenges

In addition to food insecurity and violence related to drug trafficking and illegal immigration, Petén’s children are affected by the poor school system. Beyond sixth grade, access to public education is limited, and not many can afford to attend private schools. Relatively few children secure the available public school spots, and the rest so have no choice but to wait a year and reapply. In the meantime, they work in whatever jobs they can find to help their families.


Schools and Education Education in Guatemala

In both regions, fathers take their sons to work with them when the harvest of corn, fruits and other crops begins. As in most of Guatemala, students rarely return to school when the harvest season is over.

The Guatemalan government has recently offered financial incentives for parents to send their children to school. While this practice has improved attendance, many parents continue to keep their children out of school so they can work and contribute to the household income.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

Children registered at Compassion centers learn skills that will help them in their studies and when they move into the workforce. Using technology to study and to play educational games encourages their proficiency on the computer. Compassion’s holistic approach of addressing the spiritual, economic, social and physical aspects helps children develop into healthy, well-rounded Christian adults.


Working Through the Local Church

Each of the 24 different ethnic groups in Guatemala has its own language and culture. Because the church is an integral part of its community, staff members understand the needs of the local people and what works best to meet those needs in the context of their unique culture. Churches also have credibility in their communities, which is vital for launching any new program.

Local churches have the God-given responsibility of affecting their communities for Christ, but in Guatemala, they are limited by a lack of resources. Compassion’s support, combined with the church’s understanding of the needs of local children, is an ideal partnership that is changing the country, one child at a time.

How Compassion Works in Guatemala Compassion in Guatemala

Compassion's work in Guatemala began in 1976. Currently, more than 39,400 children participate in 183 child development centers.

Compassion partners with local churches, helping them provide Guatemalan children with a long-term program of physical, educational, socio-emotional and spiritual development. Through this partnership between Compassion and local churches, children in need have the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all that God has created them to be.

The Role of a Partnership Facilitator

Partnership Facilitators play an important role in the alliance between Compassion and the local church. They are charged with nurturing that relationship to ensure that assisted children receive what they need to grow into healthy, responsible Christian adults.

Juan Díaz has been a Partnership Facilitator for Compassion Guatemala for seven years. Under his care are 11 local churches that operate Compassion centers. Juan enjoys his time at each partner church, training and encouraging staff. He also enjoys visiting children’s homes to hear what parents have to say about Compassion’s effect on their children’s lives.

“I think of Compassion as a blessing and opportunity to help others,” says Juan. “We get to support families, the community, the church and the children.”


Prayer Requests

  • Please pray for more job opportunities.
  • Pray for recovery from flood damages caused by a heavy rainy season.
  • Pray for the government to be a good steward of the international aid received.
  • Pray for the country to develop more effective security plans to overcome drug trafficking, smuggling and common crime.
  • Pray for new church partners and more Compassion programs that help families.