Geography

Guatemala

The Republic of Guatemala, located in Central America, is bounded on the west and north by Mexico; on the east by Belize and the Gulf of Honduras; on the south-east by Honduras and El Salvador and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. Its total area is 108 889  km2. The country can be divided into three main regions:

    The great mountain chains stretching from the border with Mexico down to the border with Honduras, with the highest peaks being found in the west and deep valleys dividing the mountains. The southern edge of the western highlands is marked by the Sierra Madre range, which stretches from the Mexican border south and east, almost to Guatemala City. It then continues at lower elevations toward El Salvador, in an area known as the Oriente.

    The chain is punctuated by steep volcanic cones, including Tajumulco Volcano (4220 m), the highest point in the country. The northern chain of mountains begins near the Mexican border with the Cuchumatanes range, then stretches east through the Chuacús and Chamá mountains and slopes down to the Santa Cruz and Minas mountains near the Caribbean Sea.

    The northern and southern mountains are separated by a deep rift, where the Motagua River and its tributaries flow from the highlands into the Caribbean. Rainfall ranges from 1 200 to 5 000 mm.

    The second region is a low-lying Pacific coastal area, a fertile plain of volcanic soil that stretches along the Pacific coast. Once covered with tropical vegetation and grasslands, this area is now developed into plantations where sugar, rubber trees, and cattle are raised. Rainfall varies between 1 000 and 2 000 mm.

    The flat low-lying region of El Petén north of the mountains. This lowland region is composed of rolling limestone plateaux covered with dense tropical rain forest, swamps, and grasslands, dotted with ruins of ancient Maya cities and temples. Rainfall is between 2 000 and 4 000 mm.

Most of the population lives in the first region. The main conifer forests are also found here, but are subject to an ever-increasing demand for farmland and pasture. In the east of this zone, pressure has been so great that conifer stands are now only residual.

The second region ­ the low-lying Pacific coast ­ is primarily agricultural, although the effects of deforestation of the highlands situated to the north are felt here too, since it is a flood-prone zone.

Broadleaved tropical rainforests are found in El Petén, with small patches of P. caribaea in the south-east, in Poptún. A strong settlement policy has been pursued in this region in recent years, so that the forested area has shrunk considerably. Until very recently, only a small part of the El Petén region was accessible by road, river or tracks.

The climate of Guatemala varies according to altitude, from hot coastal plains to cold mountain heights. Temperatures vary greatly from area to area because of differences in altitude. The plains and lowlands have an average yearly temperature of about 27° C with little seasonal change.

Mountain valleys 1 200 to 1 800 meters high are usually comfortably mild. They have a yearly average temperature of 16° C to 21° C. The higher valleys sometimes have frost, and average 4° C. Rainfall varies as noted above. The rainy season generally lasts from May to November, and daily showers fall during most of this period.

The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

last updated:  Monday, May 28, 2012