Guatemala Main Facts
Guatemala lies in the Central American tropics between approximately 13°50’ and 17°50’ north of the Equator and 88°10’ and 92°10’ west of Greenwich. Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador share borders with this country.
With as many as 123 protected areas, covering more than 29% of its territory. Guatemala has the largest percentage of protected areas in Central America.
Much of Guatemala is mountainous, but the country’s average elevation is roughly 750 meters (2,460 ft.), since the northern part of it is covered by the vast limestone lowlands of Petén. Regardless, the country hosts the highest peak in Central America: Volcán Tajumulco, reaching 4,211 meters (13,815 ft.) above sea level. This is just one of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes.
The highlands of Guatemala span along the Motagua Fault, which sets the boundary between two important tectonic plates: the Caribbean and the North American. There’s also a major subduction zone off the Pacific coast: The Middle America Trench. Regardless, most of Guatemala’s main cities sit on the highlands and the Pacific coast whereas the area of Petén is poorly populated.
Thirty-eight major river basins drain the waters of Guatemala in three directions: One runs from the volcanic chain to the Pacific Coast; ten rivers flow east, towards the Caribbean Sea and finally there are ten major watersheds running from the mountains of southern Guatemala, that flow north to the Gulf of Mexico.
There are five terrestrial ecosystem types spanning through Guatemala’s landmass, each sharing similar elevational, topographic and climatic features:
- Montane humid broadleaf forests.
- Pine and pine-oak forests.
- Humid broadleaf forests.
- Dry deciduous forest and thorn scrub.
Streams, rivers, inland wetlands, and lakes, account for the country’s Freshwater ecosystems which altogether cover an area of nearly 2.6% of the country.
Because of its mountainous topography, Guatemala has provided shelter to plants and animals in times of changing climates over long evolutionary periods, thus producing high levels of endemic species. Guatemala is home to roughly 8,700 plants. There are 832 regional endemics and 538 Guatemalan endemics, accounting for 13.5% of Guatemala’s vascular plants.
More than 36.3% of Guatemala is forested, with 49.7% of the forests classified as primary; the most biodiverse forest type. There are 17 species of conifers including the endemic Abies guatemalensis. This the widest diversity in any tropical region around the world.
The mountains of Sierra Lacandón, Sierra Chamá, Sierra de Santa Cruz and the Mayan Mountains host the greatest diversity of fauna. Interestingly, Guatemala is the world center of diversity of Plethodontidae lungless salamanders, with 41 species, 19 of which are endemic.
There are 778 bird species recorded for the country, including 3 country endemics and 35 regional endemics restricted to the Guatemala/Mexico border area. This is certainly a must-see wildlife destination, worth visiting for naturalists and wildlife photographers the world over.
Guatemala has roughly 1,400 known species of terrestrial vertebrates. Around 6.7% of them are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 8.1% of the species are threatened. The list includes 164 amphibians, 273 reptiles, 778 birds (according to IOC 8.2 country species list) and 246 mammals.
Given Guatemala’s topographic diversity, its climate is diverse and complex. Wet winds from the Caribbean are intercepted by Guatemala’s mountains, thus creating high precipitation zones on the windward slopes, whereas leeward slopes tend to be much drier. Countrywide average temperature is 24 ºC (75 ºF), but temperatures range from below freezing at high elevations to more that 40 ºC (104 ºF) at lower altitudes. Average annual precipitation is 2,000 mm (78.7 inches), but it ranges from 500 mm (20 inches) to 6,000 mm (236 inches) per year. Most of the rains take place between May to October, during the wet season. Dry season spans from November to April.
Suggested tours for Guatemala
These tours give you a starting point for what your trip to Guatemala could entail. They cover routes we’ve found work particularly well and feature some of our favorite places to stay. Treat them as inspiration, as each trip is created uniquely for you.