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Geography of Guatemala


Situated in Central America, Guatemala has an area of 108,890 km² (42,043 mi²), with a maximum length of 457 km (284 mi) north northwest-south southeast, and a maximum width of 428 km (266 mi) east northeast-west southwest. Comparatively, the area occupied by Guatemala is slightly smaller than Cuba, or the state of Tennessee, USA. It is bounded on the east by Belize, Amatique Bay and the Caribbean Sea, on the southeast by Honduras and El Salvador, on the south by the Pacific Ocean, and on the west and north by Mexico, with a total boundary length of 2,087 km (1,297 mi). Guatemala's capital city, Guatemala City, is located in the south central part of the country.

Guatemala has long laid claim to territory held by Belize (formerly known as British Honduras). In 1821, upon achieving independence, Guatemala considered itself the rightful inheritor of this former Spanish possession and continued to regard Belize as an administrative adjunct of Guatemala.

In 1859, British rights to the area were defined in a treaty with Guatemala, but, alleging that the UK had not fulfilled its obligations, Guatemala subsequently refused to recognise the British title. In mid-1975, Guatemala demanded the cession of one-fourth of the territory of Belize as a condition for recognising that country's sovereignty. When Belize did become independent in September 1981, Guatemala refused to recognise the new nation. In January 1983, the Guatemalan government announced that it would drop its sovereignty claim and would press instead for the cession of the southernmost fifth of Belize's territory. Guatemala's claim has been rejected not only by the UK and Belize but also by the UN General Assembly and, in November 1982, at the CARICOM heads of government conference. In mid-1986, Guatemala and the UK re-established consular and commercial relations.

A tropical plain averaging 48 km (30 mi) in width parallels the Pacific Ocean. From it, a piedmont region rises to altitudes of from 90 to 1,370 m (300 to 4,500 ft). Above this region lies nearly two-thirds of the country, in an area stretching northwest and southwest and containing volcanic mountains, the highest of which is Mt. Tajumulco (4,211 m/13,816 ft). The larger towns and Lake Atitlán are located in basins at elevations of about 1,500 to 2,400 m (5,000 to 8,000 ft). To the north of the volcanic belt lie the continental divide and, still farther north, the Atlantic lowlands. Three deep river valleys – the Motagua, Polochic and Sarstún – form the Caribbean lowlands and banana plantation area. North of it, occupying part of the peninsula of Yucatán, is the lowland forest of Petén, once the home of the Mayas. The largest lakes are Izabal, Petén Itza, and Atitlán.

Of some 30 volcanoes in Guatemala, 6 have erupted or been otherwise active in recent years. A catastrophic earthquake in February 1976 left nearly 23,000 dead, 70,000 injured, and 1 million people whose homes were partially or completely destroyed.

Temperature varies with altitude. The average annual temperature on the coast ranges from 25° to 30°C (77° to 86°F); in the central highlands the average is 20°C (68°F), and in the higher mountains 15°C (59°F). In Guatemala City, the average January minimum is 11°C (52°F) and the maximum 23°C (73°F); the average minimum and maximum temperatures in July are, respectively, 16°C (61°F) and 26°C (79°F). The rainy season extends from May to October inland and to December along the coast, and the dry season from November (or January) to April. Because of its consistently temperate climate, Guatemala has been called the "Land of Eternal Spring."

On 4 October 2005, Hurricane Stan, a Category 1 hurricane, struck Guatemala's Pacific coastal region, sending winds of 128 km/h (80 mi/h) along the coast below Guatemala City. The disaster caused landslides and mudslides, which destroyed many towns. Villages near the popular tourist area of Lake Atitlán suffered damage. Almost 1,000 died and hundreds lost their homes.


Location : Central America, bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico, and bordering the Gulf of Honduras (Caribbean Sea) between Honduras and Belize
Geographic coordinates : 15 30 N, 90 15 W
Map references

: Central America and the Caribbean

: total: 108,889 sq km
land: 107,159 sq km
water: 1,730 sq km
Area - comparative : slightly smaller than Cuba, or the state of Tennessee, USA
Land boundaries : total: 1,687 km
border countries: Belize 266 km, El Salvador 203 km, Honduras 256 km, Mexico 962 km
Coastline : 400 km
Maritime claims
: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate : tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands
Terrain : mostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau
Elevation extremes
: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Volcan Tajumulco 4,211 m
note: highest point in Central America
Natural resources

: petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydro power
Land use : arable land: 13.78%
permanent crops: 8.68%
other: 77.55% (2011)
Irrigated land

: 3,121 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources

: 111.3 cu km (2011)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)

: total: 3.46 cu km/yr (15%/31%/54%)
per capita: 259.1 cu m/yr (2006)
Natural hazards
: numerous volcanoes in mountains, with occasional violent earthquakes; Caribbean coast extremely susceptible to hurricanes and other tropical storms
volcanism: significant volcanic activity in the Sierra Madre range; Santa Maria (elev. 3,772 m) has been deemed a "Decade Volcano" by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior, worthy of study due to its explosive history and close proximity to human populations; Pacaya (elev. 2,552 m), which erupted in May 2010 causing an ashfall on Guatemala City and prompting evacuations, is one of the country's most active volcanoes with frequent eruptions since 1965; other historically active volcanoes include Acatenango, Almolonga, Atitlan, Fuego, and Tacana
Environment - current issues
: deforestation in the Peten rainforest; soil erosion; water pollution
Environment - international agreements
: party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note : no natural harbours on west coast




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