Geography of Guatemala

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A map of Guatemala Un-guatemala.png
A map of Guatemala

Guatemala is mountainous, except for the south coastal area and the vast northern lowlands of Petén department. The country is located in Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Honduras and Belize and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico. Two mountain chains enter Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the limestone plateau of the Petén region, north of the mountains. These areas vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between hot and humid tropical lowlands and highland peaks and valleys.

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is located on the southern tip of North America, or is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas, bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The combined population of Central America has been estimated to be 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

Caribbean Sea A sea of the Atlantic Ocean bounded by North, Central, and South America

The Caribbean Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean in the tropics of the Western Hemisphere. It is bounded by Mexico and Central America to the west and south west, to the north by the Greater Antilles starting with Cuba, to the east by the Lesser Antilles, and to the south by the north coast of South America.

Honduras republic in Central America

Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. In the past, it was sometimes referred to as "Spanish Honduras" to differentiate it from British Honduras, which later became modern-day Belize. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

Contents

Regions

The southern edge of the western highlands is marked by the Sierra Madre, which stretches from the Mexican border south and east, and continues at lower elevations toward El Salvador. The mountain chain is characterized by steep volcanic cones, including Tajumulco Volcano 4,220 m or 13,845 ft, the highest point in the country and Central America. All of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes (3 of them active: Pacaya, Santiaguito and Fuego), are in this mountain chain, and are abundant in the highlands.

Guatemalan Highlands upland region in southern Guatemala, lying between the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to the south and the Petén lowlands to the north; made up of a series of high valleys enclosed by mountains

The Guatemalan Highlands is an upland region in southern Guatemala, lying between the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to the south and the Petén lowlands to the north. The highlands are made up of a series of high valleys enclosed by mountains. The local name for the region is Altos, meaning "highlands", which includes the northern declivity of the Sierra Madre. The mean elevation is greatest in the west and least in the east. A few of the streams of the Pacific slope actually rise in the highlands, and force a way through the Sierra Madre at the bottom of deep ravines. One large river, the Chixoy or Salinas River, escapes northwards towards the Gulf of Mexico. The relief of the mountainous country which lies north of the Highlands and drains into the Atlantic is varied by innumerable terraces, ridges and underfalls; but its general configuration is compared by E. Reclus with the appearance of "a stormy sea breaking into parallel billows". The parallel ranges extend east and west with a slight southerly curve towards their centres. A range called the Sierra de Chamá, which, however, changes its name frequently from place to place, strikes eastward towards Belize, and is connected by low hills with the Cockscomb Mountains; another similar range, the Sierra de Santa Cruz, continues east to Cape Cocoli between the Polochic and the Sarstoon; and a third, the Sierra de las Minas or, in its eastern portion, Sierra del Mico, stretches between the Polochic and the Motagua rivers. Between Honduras and Guatemala, the frontier is formed by the Sierra de Merendón.

Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain in Central America

The Sierra Madre de Chiapas is a major mountain range in Central America. The Sierra Madre de Chiapas is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western "backbone" of North America, Central America, and South America.

El Salvador country in Central America

El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. It is bordered on the northeast by Honduras, on the northwest by Guatemala, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador's capital and largest city is San Salvador. As of 2016, the country had a population of approximately 6.34 million.

The northern chain of mountains begins near the Mexican border with the Cuchumatanes range, then stretches east through the Chuacús and Chamá sierras, down to the Santa Cruz and Minas sierras, near the Caribbean Sea. The northern and southern mountains are separated by the Motagua valley, where the Motagua river and its tributaries drains from the highlands into the Caribbean being navigable in its lower end, where it forms the boundary with Honduras.

The Sierra de Chuacús is situated in the central highlands of Guatemala, and runs southeast from El Quiché to Baja Verapaz. Its northwestern border is marked by the Chixoy River basin in Uspantán, which separates it from the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. Its eastern border is marked by the Salamá River which separates it from the Sierra de las Minas. Its southeastern border is defined by the Motagua River valley.

The Sierra de Santa Cruz is a small mountain range in eastern Guatemala. It is situated north of Lake Izabal, in the department of Izabal. The mountain range has a south-west to north-east orientation, and is approximately 55 km long and 13 km wide. Its highest peaks have an altitude of approximately 1100 m.

Sierra de las Minas mountain range

Sierra de las Minas is a mountain range in eastern Guatemala, extending 130 km west of the Lake Izabal. It is 15–30 km wide and bordered by the valleys of the rivers Polochic in the north and the Motagua in the south. Its western border is marked by the Salamá River valley which separates it from the Chuacús mountain range. The highest peak is Cerro Raxón at 3,015 m. The Sierra's rich deposits of jade and marble have been mined throughout the past centuries. These small scale mining activities also explain the name of the mountain range.

The rivers are short and shallow in the Pacific vertient, larger and deeper, such as the Polochic which drains in Lake Izabal, Río Dulce, Motagua and Sarstún that forms the boundary with Belize in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico vertient (Usumacinta, which forms the boundary between Chiapas, Mexico and Petén and its tributaries such as La Pasión and San Pedro.

The Polochic River is a 194-kilometre (121 mi) long river in eastern Guatemala. It flows eastwards through a deep valley and flows into Lake Izabal at 15.46667°N 89.36667°W. The river is navigable for 30 kilometres (19 mi) to Panzós. It was used many years ago to transport coffee and timber, but most commercial transport in the river valley is now carried out by truck.

Lake Izabal lake

Lake Izabal, also known as the Golfo Dulce, is the largest lake in Guatemala with a surface area of 589.6 km² and a maximum depth is 18 m (59 ft). The Polochic River is the largest river that drains into the lake. The lake, which is only a metre above sea level, drains into the Gulf of Honduras of the Caribbean Sea through the smaller Golfete Dulce, which is at sea level, and the navigable Rio Dulce.

Sarstoon River river in Guatemala and Belize

The Sarstoon River is a river in the Toledo District of Belize. It forms the country's southern boundary with Guatemala.

Most of the major cities are located in the Highlands. Major cities are the capital Guatemala City, elevation 1,500 m (Central Highlands), Antigua Guatemala, elevation 1,530 m (Central Highlands), Quetzaltenango elevation 2,350 m (Western Highlands) and Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast. The largest lake Lago de Izabal (589.6 km²), is close to the Caribbean coast. Volcán Tajumulco, 4,220 m, the highest point in Central America, is located in the western department of San Marcos.

Guatemala City City in Guatemala, Guatemala

Guatemala City, locally known as Guatemala or Guate, officially Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, is the capital and largest city of Guatemala, and the most populous city in Central America. The city is located in the south-central part of the country, nestled in a mountain valley called Valle de la Ermita. It is estimated that its population is about 1 million. Guatemala City is also the capital of the Municipality of Guatemala and of the Guatemala Department.

Antigua Guatemala City in Sacatepéquez, Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala, commonly referred to as just Antigua or la Antigua, is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Quetzaltenango City in Guatemala

Quetzaltenango (Spanish pronunciation: [ketsalteˈnaŋgo], also known by its Maya name, Xelajú[ʃelaˈχu] or Xela, is the second largest city of Guatemala. It is both the capital of Quetzaltenango Department and the municipal seat of Quetzaltenango municipality.

The last major earthquake was on February 4, 1976, killing more than 23,000 in the Central Highlands.

1976 Guatemala earthquake February 1976 earthquake in Guatemala

The 1976 Guatemala earthquake struck on February 4 at 03:01:43 local time with a moment magnitude of 7.5. The shock was centered on the Motagua Fault, about 160 km northeast of Guatemala City at a depth of 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) near the town of Los Amates in the department of Izabal.

Climate

Guatemala map of Koppen climate classification zones Koppen-Geiger Map GTM present.svg
Guatemala map of Köppen climate classification zones

Climate is hot and humid in the Pacific and Petén Lowlands. It is more temperate in the highlands, to freezing cold at the high of the Cuchumatanes range, and hot/drier in the easternmost departments.

Guatemala's location on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean makes it a target for hurricanes, including Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Stan in October 2005, which killed more than 1,500 people. The damage was not wind related, but caused by flooding and landslides.

A report by the Guatemalan System of Climate Change Sciences in 2019 indicated that rainy season is starting later as a result of climate change, putting subsistence farmers and indigenous people in poor communities at risk of food shortages resulting from poor harvests. [1]

Guatemala has joined the V20, a group of 48 developing economies working together with development banks towards climate resilience and 100% renewable energy. [2]

Geographic data

Guatemala's topography. Guatemala Topography.png
Guatemala's topography.
Geographic coordinates
15°30′N90°15′W / 15.500°N 90.250°W / 15.500; -90.250
Map references
Central America and the Caribbean
Area
  • Total: 108,889 km²
  • Land: 107,159 km²
Land boundaries
  • Total: 1,667 km
  • Border countries: Belize 266 km, El Salvador 199 km, Honduras 244 km, Mexico 958 km
Coastline
400 km
Maritime claims
  • Territorial sea: 12 nmi (22 km)
  • Exclusive economic zone: 200  nmi (370 km)
  • Continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Extreme points
Natural resources
Petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower
Land use
  • Arable land: 14.32%
  • Permanent crops: 8.82%
  • Other: 76.87% (2012 est.)
Irrigated land
3,121 km² (2003)
Total renewable water resources
111.3 km3 (2011)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)
  • total: 3.46 km3/yr (15%/31%/54%)
  • per capita: 259.1 m3/yr (2006)
Natural hazards
Several active volcanoes, occasional violent earthquakes; Caribbean coast subject to hurricanes and other tropical storms, causing flooding, mudflows and landslides
Environment—current issues
Deforestation; soil erosion; water pollution
Environment—international agreements
Geography—note
No natural harbors on west coast

See also

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References

  1. Moloney, Anastasia (2019-05-04). "The poorest in Guatemala bear brunt of climate change, research says". Reuters. Retrieved 2019-05-04.
  2. Rowling, Megan (2019-04-12). "Shunned by investors, poorer nations seek to climate-proof growth". Reuters. Retrieved 2019-05-04.