Guatemala is mountainous, except for the south coastal area and the northern vast lowlands of Petén department. Two mountain
chains enter Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the highlands, where the mountains
are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the Petén region, north of the mountains. All major cities are
located in the highlands and Pacific coast regions; by comparison, Petén is sparsely populated. These three regions vary in
climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between hot and humid tropical lowlands and colder and drier
highland peaks. Volcán Tajumulco, at 4,220 meters, is the highest point in Central America.
The rivers are short and shallow in the Pacific vertient, larger and deeper, such as the Polochic which drains in Lake
Izabal, Motagua and Sarstún that form the boundary with Belize in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico vertient. The Usumacinta
river, which forms the boundary between Chiapas, Mexico and Petén is the largest river of the country, and has La Pasión and
San Pedro rivers as its tributaries.
According to Parkswatch and the IUCN, Guatemala is considered the fifth Biodiversity Hot Spot in the world. The country
has 14 ecoregions ranging from Mangrove forest (4 species), in both ocean littorals with 5 different ecosystems, Dry forest
and Thorn bushes in the Eastern Highlands, Subtropical and Tropical rain forest, Wetlands, Cloud Humid forest in the Verapaz
region, Mix and Pine forest in the Highlands.
36.3% or about 3,938,000 hectares of Guatemala is forested (2005). Of this, 49.7% or roughly 1,957,000 hectares is classified
as primary forest, the most biodiverse form of forest. including 17 Conifer (Pines, Cypress and the endemic Abies Guatemalensis)
species, the most in any Tropical region of the world.
Guatemala has listed 252 wetlands, including 5 lakes, 61 lagoons. 100 rivers, 3 swamps, 6 of those wetlands are of international
importance or RAMSAR sites. Tikal National Park, with 11 micro climes in it, was the first mix UNESCO World Heritage Site
in the world.
Guatemala has some 1246 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation
Monitoring Centre. Of these, 6.7% are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 8.1% are threatened species. Guatemala
is home to at least 8681 species of vascular plants, of which 13.5% are endemic. 5.4% of Guatemala is protected under IUCN
categories I-V. Guatemala has the largest percentage of Protected areas in Central America, with a total of 91 protected areas
and more than 28% of the territory as a protected area.
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