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Guatemala categories on this page include, Guatemala Overview, Economy II, Lake Atitlan Multiple Use Area, Topography, Forest, Tikal National  Park, Areas of Instability, Monterrico National Reserve, Hawaii National Park, and Sierra de los Cuchumatanes Multiple Use Area...
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Guatemala Overview...

Official Name Republic of Guatemala 

CAPITAL CITY Guatemala City 


Location: Middle America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Honduras and Belize and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico 

total area: 108,890 sq km 
land area: 108,430 sq km 
comparative area: slightly smaller than Tennessee 

Land boundaries: total 1,687 km, Belize 266 km, El Salvador 203 km, Honduras 256 km, Mexico 962 km 

Coastline: 400 km 

Maritime claims: 
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation 
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm 
territorial sea: 12 nm 

International disputes: border with Belize in dispute; talks to resolve the dispute are stalled 

Climate: tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands 

Terrain: mostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau (Peten) 

Natural resources: petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle 

Land use: 
arable land: 12% 
permanent crops: 4% 
meadows and pastures: 12% 
forest and woodland: 40% 
other: 32% 

Irrigated land: 780 sq km (1989 est.) 

current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; water pollution 
natural hazards: numerous volcanoes in mountains, with frequent violent earthquakes; Caribbean coast subject to hurricanes and other tropical storms 
international agreements: party to - Antarctic Treaty, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands; signed, but not ratified - Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea 

Note: no natural harbors on west coast 


Overview: The economy is based on family and corporate agriculture, which accounts for 25% of GDP, employs about 60% of the labor force, and supplies two-thirds of exports. Manufacturing, predominantly in private hands, accounts for about 15% of GDP and 12% of the labor force. In both 1990 and 1991, the economy grew by 3%, the fourth and fifth consecutive years of mild growth. In 1992 growth picked up to almost 5% as government policies favoring competition and foreign trade and investment took stronger hold. In 1993-94, despite political unrest, this momentum continued, foreign investment held up, and annual growth was 4%. 

National product: GDP - purchasing power parity - $33 billion (1994 est.) 

National product real growth rate: 4% (1994 est.) 

National product per capita: $3,080 (1994 est.) 

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 12% (1994 est.) 

Unemployment rate: 4.9%; underemployment 30%-40% (1994 est.) 

revenues: $604 million (1990) 
expenditures: $808 million, including capital expenditures of $134 million (1990) 

Exports: $1.38 billion (f.o.b., 1994 est.) 
commodities: coffee, sugar, bananas, cardamon, beef 
partners: US 30%, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Germany, Honduras

Imports: $2.6 billion (c.i.f., 1994 est.) 
commodities: fuel and petroleum products, machinery, grain, fertilizers, motor vehicles 
partners: US 44%, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan, Germany 

External debt: $2.2 billion ( 1992 est.) 

Industrial production: growth rate 1.9% (1991 est.); accounts for 18% of GDP 

capacity: 700,000 kW 
production: 2.3 billion kWh 
consumption per capita: 211 kWh (1993) 

Industries: sugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism 

Agriculture: accounts for 25% of GDP; most important sector of economy; contributes two-thirds of export earnings; principal crops - sugarcane, corn, bananas, coffee, beans, cardamom; livestock - cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens; food importer 

Illicit drugs: transit country for cocaine shipments; illicit producer of opium poppy and cannabis for the international drug trade; the government has an active eradication program for cannabis and opium poppy 

Economic aid: 
recipient: US commitments, including Ex-Im (FY70-90), $1.1 billion; Western (non-US) countries, ODA and OOF bilateral commitments (1970-89), $7.92 billion 

Currency: 1 quetzal (Q) = 100 centavos 

Exchange rates: free market quetzales (Q) per US$1 - 5.7372 (January 1995), 5.7512 (1994), 5,6354 (1993), 5.1706 (1992), 5.0289 (1991), 4.4858 (1990); note - black-market rate 2.800 (May 1989) 

Fiscal year: calendar year 


Sixty percent of its territory is mountainous. A mountain range crosses Guatemala from east to west and divides into two branches: to the south, the Sierra Madre bordering the Pacific Coast, and more to the north, the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, which becomes the Sierra Chuacus and Sierra de las Minas until they reach the Caribbean. 


The Tajumulco Volcano at 4,220 m.a.s.l. is the highest peak in Central America. There are 32 additional volcanoes, whose cones are protected by law. 


Pacific Coast: 240 kilometers 

Caribbean Coast: 170 kilometers 

There are less than 400 kilometers between the two coasts. 


Rainfall 500 to 5,000 mm. There is less rainfall on the Pacific than on the Caribbean side. 

The areas with the highest rainfall are the Cerro San Gil in the Department of Izabal and the Ixil region in El Quiche. 

The rainy season runs from May through October, with the highest rainfall in August and September. 


Forest cover: 44,600 square kilometers (41% of the national territory. 

Broadleaf forests: 78.0% 

Conifer forests: 7.0% 

Mixed forests: 14.4% (broadleaf and conifers) 

Mangrove stands: 0.6% 

Guatemala has its own forest species, such as the Guatemalan fir Abies guatemalensis. 


Guatemala has three, the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico watersheds. 

Areas of Instability...

The government of Guatemala and URNG guerrillas signed a final peace accord on December 29, 1996 to end the country's 36-year internal conflict. There have been no armed encounters between the Guatemalan army and guerrilla forces since the March 1996 Mutual Cessation of Offensive Activities. The final peace accord includes a permanent ceasefire and demobilization of the guerillas in specified locations with international verification. In the past, terrorist incidents have occasionally occurred during periods surrounding key political events. One recent trend has seen the involvement of groups, some proclaiming themselves as guerrillas, in extortion and other criminal activity

 Periodically, unfounded rumors that foreigners are involved in the theft of children for the purpose of using their organs in transplants have led to threats and incidents of mob violence in various parts of Guatemala. The last such incidents occurred in 1994. While the threat of further incidents is not currently considered immediate, travelers should be aware that in areas outside the major tourist and business destinations there exists greater likelihood, albeit small, of such an incident. Travelers also increase their risk if they have contact with Guatemalan children. Adoptive parents, in particular, are encouraged to travel within Guatemala without their adoptive children, or to limit such travel to the extent possible. 


LOCATION: These two protected areas lie next to each other on the Pacific Coast in the Department of Santa Rosa. 

DESCRIPTION: Although they are under separate administration, the Monterrico Natural Reserve and the Hawaii National Park form a natural unit and are made up of the best conserved mangrove stands on Guatemala's Pacific coast. The beautiful Chiquimulilla Canal, which goes through both, is in a wetlands area which serves as a refuge for resident and migratory birds. The Palmilla Lagoon, close to the village of Monterrico, is ideal for bird watching. 

The mangrove swamps are a refuge, among others, for the green iguana, for which there is a reproduction program. The beaches nesting places for two species of sea turtles, the Pacific Ridley and the Leatherback, where turtles lay their eggs particularly from May to September. Both at Monterrico and at Hawaii there are programs for the care and reproduction of these turtles. 

Due to their volcanic origin, the Pacific beaches of Guatemala have dark gray sand, which makes them special. 

IMPORTANCE: This is an important station for migratory birds, particularly pelicans. Both areas still have remnants of good mangroves stands. The sea turtle management programs have had a very positive ecological impact on the communities. 

HOW TO GET THERE: By Highway CA-2 to Taxisco, Santa Rosa, and then by paved road down to the village of La Avellana, where there are boats for passengers and barges for vehicles which cross the Chiquimulilla Canal to Monterrico. 

Another way to get there is from the port of Iztapa, crossing the Maria Linda river by ferry to Pueblo Viejo and then by car on a dirt road to Monterrico. 

The village of Hawaii can be reached by water from El Papaturro, where you can drive by dirt road starting in the City of Chiquimulilla on Highway CA-2. 

SERVICES AND FACILITIES: The village of Monterrico is the only one with hotel and food service. CECON provides information for touring the waterways in the mangrove swamps and lagoons, as well as on the reproduction projects for the sea turtles, green iguanas and crocodiles. 

There is also a short path in the dry forest. 

The village of Hawaii has no lodging facilities, but does have the sea turtle reproduction station which is run by the Directorate General of Forests. 


LOCATION: Mainly located in the Department of Huehuetenango, a small part of it extends into the Department of El Quiche. 

DESCRIPTION: Although no legal official declaration has been made, it is considered a specially protected area. Its size is approximately 350,000 hectares and it covers the highest mountain range in Central America. These particular features make its landscapes outstanding. Its latitude and altitude make its conifer forests and natural grasslands a unique Andean ecosystem in this part of the continent, with its own endemic species. 

The Sierra de los Cuchumatanes is also a region of great cultural diversity, with four groups of Maya populations which maintain their traditional customs and way of life. 

IMPORTANCE: Breathtaking landscapes and unique ecosystems in Central America. 

HOW TO GET THERE: By Pan American Highway (CA-1) to Huehuetenango, which also has first-class bus service, and from there on dirt roads to the towns of Todos Santos Chuchumatan, San Juan Ixcoy, San Miguel Acatan, San Pedro Soloma and San Juan Atitan, by second- class bus service. 

SERVICES AND FACILITIES: The city of Huehuetenango has different kinds of hotels and restaurants, as well as telephone, postal, telegraph and banking services. Todos Santos Chuchumatan has lodging and eating places. 

LOCATION: Lake Atitlan basin is spread over 17 Municipal Districts of the Department of Solola and is located on the Pacific watershed of the Sierra Madre mountain complex in Guatemala's western highlands. 

DESCRIPTION: This region is extremely complex and contains many interesting features. It includes the lake ("the most beautiful lake in the world," according to Aldous Huxley), with an area of 130 square kilometers at an altitude of 1,562 meters above sea level. Its basin contains three volcanoes, the Atitlan (3,535 m.a.s.l, San Pedro (3,020 m.a.s.l.) and Toliman (3,153 m.a.s.l.) and their cones are the refuge of endemic species of high scientific value, as well as of others which are endangered, such as the horned guan. These volcanic cones are also inhabited by species of fauna such as the trogons and spider monkeys. The wooded areas contain conifer, broadleaf and mixed forests. 

The lake was formed by a volcanic caldera, one kilometer in depth, which filled up with water and sediments. When the volcanoes emerged on its southern side, the incredibly beautiful landscape we enjoy today was created. 

Atitlan is also one of the regions of greatest cultural diversity in Mesoamerica. Its inhabitants keep their colorful cultures alive, and this is a delight for visitors. Most of the towns around the lake are of pre-Hispanic origin, like Santiago Atitlan and its ancient settlement Chuitinamit. However, the present layout of its villages only dates back to Colonial times. 

All of these features make the Multiple Use Area of Atitlan a fascinating place of natural scenic beauty, living Maya cultures, pre-Hispanic vestiges and Colonial monuments. 

IMPORTANCE: The lake has no visible outlet, making it the only closed water basin in the country. It is the second largest body of fresh water in Guatemala, after Lake Izabal. It is an important development factor as supplier of life-giving water to the people and to its species of flora and fauna, as well as for irrigation, communication, tourist and recreational activities. 

HOW TO GET THERE: On Pan American Highway CA-1, the turnoff to the lake is just beyond a place called Los Encuentros, at Km 129, from which another highway goes down for another 18 kilometers to the town of Panajachel. This is the best place for starting lake tours. There is also a dirt road leading from Panajachel to Santa Catarina Palopo (8 Kms.) and San Antonio Palopo (12 Kms.). 

By road, the southern shore of the lake can be reached by Highway CA-2 to Cocales, following the road from there to Patulul and continuing on to San Lucas Toliman. The towns of Santiago Atitlan, San Pedro La Laguna and San Juan La Laguna can be reached by dirt road from San Lucas Toliman. 

SERVICES AND FACILITIES: Panajachel has the most services for visitors, with many hotels and restaurants of all kinds, banks, postal, telegraph and telephone services, travel agencies and an INGUAT Information Office. 

On a lesser scale, San Antonio Palopo, Santa Catarina Palopo, Santiago Atitlan, and San Pedro La Laguna also provide services for visitors. 



LOCATION: In the north of the Department of Peten, 65 kilometers from the city of Flores. 

DESCRIPTION: This park is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and has an area of more than 57,600 hectares. Most of the park is covered with mature forests and contains many species of endangered trees, such as cedar and mahogany. 

Tikal Park is not only a refuge for most of Guatemala's mammals, but one of the places where they can easily be observed. The spider monkeys and howler monkeys allow themselves to be seen by visitors and, with some luck, coatis, raccoons and white tailed deer as well. It is not probable that you will run into pumas and jaguars in the areas open to the public. 

More than 300 species of birds have been recorded in the Tikal National Park, from hummingbirds to great birds of prey. Reptiles, particularly snakes, also abound. 

The main interest of the area consists of the ensemble made up by the natural environment and archaeological ruins of the ancient city. Tikal was one of the most important, if not the most important, urban center of the Maya area of its time as proven by the more than 3,000 buildings spread over 16 square kilometers, including palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, ball courts, terraces, residences, plazas, causeways and steam baths. There are also more than stone 200 stelae and altars, hundreds of graves and ritual sites. All of these monuments and more than 100,000 tools, images and ornaments found in Tikal indicate that Tikal had an uninterrupted history of at least one thousand years. 

IMPORTANCE: This is one of Guatemala's first protected areas and the only place in the world which UNESCO declared to be both a Cultural and a Natural Heritage of Humanity. 

HOW TO GET THERE: A 65 kilometer long paved highway connects the Park and the city of Flores. Tourist buses and other public transportation cover this route regularly. 

SERVICES AND FACILITIES: Tikal is one of the protected areas with the most services. It has two museums, many paths to see the monuments, guided visits, toilets, camping areas, hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

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