Official name: Republic of Guatemala
Area: 108,890 square kilometers (42,042 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Tajumulco Volcano (4,211 meters/13,830 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: 7 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 457 kilometers (284 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest; 428 kilometers (266 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest
Land boundaries: 1,687 kilometers (1,046 miles) total boundary length; Belize 266 kilometers (165 miles); El Salvador 203 kilometers (126 miles); Honduras 256 kilometers (159 miles); Mexico 962 kilometers (597 miles)
Coastline: 205 miles (330 kilometers)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Guatemala is located at the northwestern end of Central America and is bordered by Belize to the northeast, Honduras and El Salvador to the east, and Mexico to the north and west. Guatemala covers an area of 108,890 square kilometers (42,042 square miles), or slightly less than the state of Tennessee.
Guatemala has no territories or dependencies.
The climate ranges from hot and humid in parts of the lowlands to very cold in the highlands, where frosts are common in some months and snow falls occasionally. Average annual temperatures at the coast range from 25°C to 30°C (77°F to 86°F); in the central highlands, they average 20°C (68°F); and in the higher mountain areas, they average 11°C (59°F). The rainy season lasts from May through October inland, and into December along the coast; the dry season thus extends from November (or January) to April. Annual rainfall is heavy in the El Petén, the largest geographic region, averaging 203 centimeters (80 inches) in the north and 441 centimeters (150 inches) in the south.
Most of the southern half of Guatemala consists of an interior upland region that includes high mountains and some thirty active volcanoes, as well as the plateaus and hills where the great majority of people live. There is a coastal plain to the south and swampy lowlands to the north.
In the east, Guatemala borders on the Caribbean Sea at the Gulf of Honduras. To the south lies the Pacific Ocean.
Amatique Bay, in the Gulf of Honduras, is 16 kilometers (10 miles) wide and 40 kilometers (25 miles) long.
Guatemala's Pacific coast is straight and open, with no natural harbors and relatively shallow offshore waters. Long stretches of black sand line the coast, flanked by mangrove swamps and a coastal plain farther inland. The coast along the Gulf of Honduras is flat and open to Caribbean storms.
There are two important lakes of volcanic origin in the Sierra Madre highlands. Lake Atitlán is said to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The volcanoes Atitlán, San Pedro, and Toliman line its shores. The lake is over 304 meters (1,000 feet) deep in places. Lake Amatitlán, just south of Guatemala City, is smaller and less spectacular. Steam rises from this warm-water lake, and medicinal sulfur springs are found along its banks. In the east is Lake Izabal, the largest lake in the country (43 kilometers/27 miles long and 19 kilometers/12 miles wide). Lake Petén Itzá is in the north.
Guatemala's eighteen principal rivers, which flow from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean, are relatively short. The Motagua River, flowing east for about 402 kilometers (250 miles), serves as part of the boundary between Guatemala and Honduras. The Polochic River empties into Lake Izabal, the largest lake in the country. The outlet of Lake Izabal is the Dulce River, which flows into Amatique Bay. The Sarstún River, to the south, serves as the boundary between Belize and Guatemala and links the El Petén region with the coast. Farther to the north, the Usumacinta River flows northeast along the Mexican border before continuing into that country. The Belize River and the Azul River both rise in El Petén and empty into the Caribbean.
There are no deserts in Guatemala.
The swampy Polochic River-Lake Izabal lowland lies north of the Sierra de las Minas and the Mico Mountains. The Pacific coastal plain is predominantly savannah.
The Sierra Madre system extends from Mexico, through Guatemala, to El Salvador and Honduras; it includes several active volcanoes. The country's highest peak, Tajumulco, is part of this system. The Sierra de Chuacús branches due east from the Sierra Madre in the central part of the country. To the east-northeast lie the Sierra de las Minas and the Mico Mountains. The Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, a great limestone massif that enters Guatemala from Mexico in the northwest, ranges from 2,743 to 3,352 meters (9,000 to 11,000 feet). To the east lie the Sierra de Chama and the Sierra de Santa Cruz.
Deep ravines often separate the lava plateaus and ash-filled basins of the mountains; these can be difficult to cross, even on foot.
The vast area of El Petén, comprising about one-third of Guatemala, extends to the north of the mountain ranges into the Yucatan Peninsula at elevations between 152 and 213 meters (500 and 700 feet). Other smaller plateaus to the south reach elevations of 2,438 meters (8,000 feet).
The Chiquimulilla Canal, which runs 112 kilometers (70 miles) from the port of San Jose to the Salvadoran border, is part of the coastal lagoon but has been dredged to allow river traffic.
Tikal National Park contains a major center of the native Mayan civilization, which was inhabited from the sixth century B.C. to the tenth century A.D.
Barry, Tom. Guatemala: A Country Guide. Albuquerque, NM: Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center, 1989.
Cummins, Ronnie. Guatemala. Milwaukee, WI: G. Stevens Children's Books, 1990.
Perl, Lila. Guatemala, Central America's Living Past. New York: Morrow, 1982.
Guatemala Online. http://www.quetzalnet.com/default.html (accessed June 17, 2003).
Lonely Planet Destination Guide. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/central_america/guatemala/ (accessed June 17, 2003).