The biological, cultural and landscape diversity of Guatemala make it an ideal destination to explore, know and enjoy. Its relatively small territory (67,670 sq. miles) is home to 37 volcanoes, (three of them active), miles of volcanic sand beaches, impressive mountain forests, exuberant rainforests, wetlands of global significance, a set of archaeological sites that host over 3,500 years of history, and the colorful cultural traditions and expressions of a millenary people. These characteristics make Guatemala the Heart of the Mayan World.
Guatemala, Rich in Biodiversity
Guatemala is classified as one of the 19 mega diverse countries of the planet on account of its immense biological and cultural wealth. Its exceptional location as a transition zone between two large bio-geographical regions: Neartic (North) and Neotropical (South) is home to its rich eco-systems, species and genes. Its unique location and rugged terrain, engenders a rich diversity of habitats and endemic species, which live only in this region of the planet.
Guatemala is the heart of Mesoamerica, a region that is recognized for its broad biological diversity known as the second global hot spot for endemic plant and animal species.
The country has 288 structures identified as volcanic in origin, but only 37 are recognized to be volcanoes, and of them, 3 are active. The large number of volcanoes in the country is part of its attraction as a tourist destination; visitors enjoy climbing these terrains, which offer unequalled views.
Species that are unique to the region
The country’s protected areas shelter many endangered species, among them:
• Guatemalan fir (Abies guatemalensis)
• “Chipe” (Cyathea spp): Primitive arborescent ferns reaching up to 12m in height
• Monja Blanca Orchid (Lycaste skinneri var.alba)
• Nine endemic cacti species
• Guatemalan Myotis Bat (Myotis cobanensis).
• Big Deer Mouse (Peremyscus gransis and the Maya Mouse (P. mayensis).
• Beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum charlesborgerti): reptile endemic to the Valle del Motagua region
• Jewel scarabs (Chrysina pehlkei and C. prototelica) endemic to Guatemala’s cloudy forests
Guatemala is one of the eight world centers of origin and an ancient site of a diverse cultivation of plants. The country has a rich variety of ancestral and wild cultivations of important food species which are currently planted throughout the world.
Some indigenous species are:
• “Chipilín” (Crotalaría longirostrata)
• Sapodilla (poutería sapota)
• Avocado (persea spp)
• Chilli peppers (Capsicum spp)
• “Jocote” (Spondias purpurea)
• Beans (Phasoleus spp)
• Cocoa (Theobroma cacao)
• Maize (Zea mays)
Guatemala’s natural environment also offers an array of outdoor activities:
• Protected areas
Guatemala is the perfect destination for bird-watching, as it is home to more than 720 species (migratory and resident) of which 33 are somewhat endemic to the region. The geographic location and the shape of its territory allow migratory birds to make a stop here during their journey. Any time of the year is good to watch birds in the country, but the best months are March and April, when birds are more active. This is because migratory birds come back home with very colorful and fresh feathers, while resident birds sing and dance to attract a partner during this season.
Some resident birds of the emblematic species that can be seen in cloudy forests are the Highland Guan (penelopina nigra), Pink-headed Warbler (Ergaticus versicolor), and the Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus). The colorful Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris Ocellata) can be viewed in the Maya rainforest, as can more than three species of Toucans. The Azure-rumped Tanager (tangara cabanisi) is viewed on the Pacific side of the country. You can dazzle with the wonderful Quetzal (pharomachrus mocinno mocinno), the most spectacular bird of the Americas, in the cloudy forests of Verapaz and San Marcos.
The exuberant natural landscape, the rich biodiversity, and the traditional knowledge of the ancestral indigenous people of Guatemala are the perfect setting for an authentic eco-tourism experience.
Visitors to the eco-touristic sites in Guatemala help to contribute to the conservation and preservation of nature and culture. Eco-tourism destinations are found in all the regions of the country. Tours combine adventure with nature to provide an opportunity to experience local traditions.
San Juan La Laguna is one of these sites located in the highlands. This is a charming village surrounded by mountains and found on the beautiful shores of Lake Atitlán, home of the Maya Tz’utujil people, who speak their own language. Visitors will also have the opportunity to learn the local traditional painting techniques that use natural textile dyes, and can also learn of the medicinal use of local plants.
Another unequalled adventure is a visit to the exuberant tropical forest of Chisec, Alta Verapaz, where visitors can make rapid descents on exciting rappel routes or tubes into beautiful caves.
A trip to Guatemala guarantees an authentic eco-tourism experience; Guatemala offers a variety of ecological activities, such as a visit to cenotes, underground rivers, waterfalls, lagoons in volcano craters, among others.
Cetacean-watching can be done on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but the Pacific Ocean is favored for this type of activity.
On the Pacific Ocean, several species of cetaceans are viewable, the most spectacular of them being the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaengliae) and several dolphin species, such as the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the Spinner Dolphin (stenella longitostris) and the Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (stenella attenuata).
Dolphins are present throughout the year; however, the best time to see whales is between January and April, which is migration season. During the winter, whales migrate to tropical waters to mate and give birth.
A trip along the Pacific Coast guarantees contact with marine fauna and offers the opportunity to view huge and spectacular animals.
If you are a true nature-lover and wish to have unique and authentic contact with wildlife, Guatemala is the place to visit. More than 35% of its territory is classified as protected area. In addition to preserving different habitats, the country’s biodiversity offers the most amazing sites.
A visit to protected areas ensures the experience of authentic contact with nature and wildlife. A huge variety of birds, hauling monkeys, spider monkeys, jaguars, pumas, tapirs and raccoons, among many, can be viewed in the dense forest of the North of the country.
The Guatemalan system of protected areas (SIGAP) is formed by more than 260 areas listed under different management categories that cover 3,490,823.51 hectares, 32.05% of the country’s territory.
With less than 0.5% of the world’s territory, Guatemala, together with Belize and the States of the South of Mexico, are home to between 7% and 10% of all forms of life known and 17% of all terrestrial species known. Protected areas contribute valuable benefits for Guatemala and for peoples who live close to them.
Fertile soil, rich diversity of edible species and old traditional cultivation techniques, as well as the sustainable use of forest resources, make Guatemala the perfect destination for agricultural tourism.
For hundreds of years, the people of Guatemala have used a variety of species that are native to the region, such as avocado, beans, maize, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, annona fruit and cocoa. In addition, a large part of this knowledge is used for the production of non-timber products that currently have high commercial value such as Camedor Palm (chamaedorea spp) and chewing gum (manilkara spp).
Volcanic soils are very fertile and are ideal for the production of vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, zucchini, cabbage, beets and broccoli, among many others.
The country produces two of the most popular beverages of the world, tea and coffee. Several varieties of coffee are grown in different geographic areas of the country, in ideal temperature and moisture conditions. Guatemala has 8 coffee-growing regions with a unique profile, but all of them with pleasant aroma and acidity, robust body and a delicate flavor.
Visitors interested in learning more about the coffee-growing process, can visit Antigua, Atitlán or the Verapaces. These areas are famous for their production of excellent coffee beans to get the perfect cup, as well as for the processing of decaffeinated coffee.
Guatemala welcomes visitors to its mega-diverse country. Its natural attractions offer a broad variety of outdoor activities including volcanoes, archaeological sites, bird-watching, landscape, beaches, caves, adventure, environmental education and culture.
Latina Republic thanks, Julio E. Orozco, Commercial Counselor, Embassy of Guatemala in Washington, D.C.
Source, Content, Photography, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo
For more information, contact INGUAT, Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo
Tourist Assistance 2290-2810
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is a reporting, research, advocacy and charitable organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We fill the void in coverage of urgent social, political, human rights, economic and gender inequalities affecting the Americas. Through our allies in Latin America, we highlight contributions, heritage, history, leadership and innovation. Latina Republic reports on stories that integrate local strategies to the betterment of the region. We make space for and empower unheard voices and celebrate the rich histories of Latin America.