"Covering a land area of 109,000 km² (42,085 sq. mi.), Guatemala stands within the 25 most biodiverse countries on Earth. There’s a vast network of national parks and nature reserves throughout the country, created to protect its unique wildlife, but also to preserve Guatemala’s Mayan archaeological and artistic patrimony."

Guatemala is a country embedded in the heart of Central America, bordered to the east by the Gulf of Honduras –in the Caribbean Sea– and to the west by the North Pacific Ocean. Guatemala boasts a remarkable variety of habitats and climate. Throughout time, Guatemala’s unique geographical setting has helped positioning the country as the main economic and cultural exchange zone in Central America; a natural link between all countries in the area, which also stands out for its extraordinary cultural heritage of Mayan origin.

Guatemala’s national parks and nature reserves are more than wildlife sanctuaries, since many of them preserve the country’s Mayan archaeological and artistic patrimony as well, with Tikal standing out of all the rest. Nestled in the heart of the Mayan Biosphere’s Reserve, Tikal National Park is a World Cultural Heritage Site, hosting more than 3,000 Mayan structures within an area of 576 km2 (222 sq. mi.), including temples, palaces and causeways. This is also one of Guatemala’s top birding spots worth visiting for naturalists and cultural travelers looking for an unforgettable tour experience.

Guatemala Birdwatching Tours

Birds and Wildlife of Belize and Guatemala

Nature and Culture of the Mayan World
10 Days - 9 Nights
Birds and Wildlife of Belize and Tikal

Discovering Belize’s Nature and Cultural Heritage
15 Days - 14 Nights

Main Features

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, 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.

 

Life Zones

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.
  • Mangroves.

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.

 

Biodiversity

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.

 

Climate

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.