Guatemala: A Biodiversity Hot Spot

According to the World Conservation Union, Guatemala is number five on the list of Biodiversity Hot Spots in the world. It boasts an amazing fourteen eco-regions, ranging from mangrove forests, subtropical and tropical rainforests, cloud forests, and wetlands to dry and pine forests. A tour of Guatemala is sure to take travelers through at least a sampling of these regions, encountering the equally diverse flora and fauna along the way.

The Guatemalan rainforest is characterized by high rainfall, with the minimum normal annual rainfall between 1750-2000 mm (68-78 inches). Rainforests are home to two-thirds of all the living animal and plant species on the planet. It has been estimated that many hundreds of millions of species of plants, insects and microorganisms are still undiscovered. Tropical rainforests have been called the "jewels of the Earth," and the "world's largest pharmacy," because of the large number of natural medicines discovered there. The undergrowth in a rainforest is restricted in many areas by the lack of sunlight at ground level. This makes it possible to walk through the forest. If the leaf canopy is destroyed or thinned, the ground beneath is soon colonized by a dense, tangled growth of vines, shrubs and small trees called a jungle. Guatemala’s awe-inspiring Tikal ruins are in the lowland rainforest. During a Guatemala trip, travelers are commonly as impressed with the rainforest that surround Tikal, as they are with the ruins themselves.

Guatemala's location on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean makes it a target for hurricanes, such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Stan in October of 2005, which killed more than 1,500 people. The damage was not wind related, but rather due to significant flooding and resulting mudslides.

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.