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mapa de guatemala click on the image to enlarge
Guatemala is the most western of the Central American states, bounded on the west and north by Mexico, on the east by Belize and the Gulf of Honduras, on the southeast by Honduras and El Salvador, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. Its total area of 108,889 sq km (42,042 (1998) sq mi) makes it the third largest nation in the region, after Nicaragua and Honduras. At its widest points, the republic stretches about 430 km (270 mi) east to west and 450 km (280 mi) north to south.

Guatemala volcano click on the image to enlarge
Guatemala’s geography has frequently influenced its history. About two-thirds of the country’s total land area is mountainous. The rugged terrain provided refuge that allowed the indigenous peoples to survive the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, while the fertile valleys eventually produced fine coffees and other crops that dominated the nation’s economy. Frequent volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and torrential rains have often brought disaster to the country and made building and maintaining roads and railways very difficult.

Peten Itza lake click on the image to enlarge
Two mountain chains traverse Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the western highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the Petén region, north of the mountains. These areas vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between dense tropical lowlands and highland peaks and valleys.

tajumulco click on the image to enlarge
The southern edge of the western highlands is marked by the Sierra Madre range, which stretches from the Mexican border south and east, almost to Guatemala City. It then continues at lower elevations toward El Salvador, in an area known as the Oriente. The chain is punctuated by steep volcanic cones, including Tajumulco Volcano (4220 m/13,845 ft), the highest point in the country. Most of Guatemala’s 19 active volcanoes are in this chain, and earthquakes occur frequently in the highland region. The northern chain of mountains begins near the Mexican border with the Cuchumatanes range, then stretches east through the Chuacús and Chamá mountains and slopes down to the Santa Cruz and Minas mountains near the Caribbean Sea. The northern and southern mountains are separated by a deep rift, where the Motagua River and its tributaries flow from the highlands into the Caribbean.

centro arqueologico click on the image to enlarge
To the north of the western highlands is the sparsely populated Petén, which includes about a third of the nation’s territory. This lowland region is composed of rolling limestone plateaus covered with dense tropical rain forest, swamps, and grasslands, dotted with ruins of ancient Maya cities and temples.

A narrow, fertile plain of volcanic soil stretches along the Pacific coast. Once covered with tropical vegetation and grasslands, this area is now developed into plantations where sugar, rubber trees, and cattle are raised.

Guatemala has 400 km (250 mi) of coastline, but lacks a natural deepwater port on the Pacific. Guatemala claims territorial waters extending out 12 nautical miles (22 km/14 mi), plus an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km/230 mi) offshore. Hurricanes and tropical storms sometimes batter the coastal regions.
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