A Quick Introduction to Guatemala (volcanos and wildlife await!)

In the native Náhuatl language, Guatemala means "the land of trees," although the country is more commonly referred to today as "the land of the eternal spring." As these two nicknames indicate, Guatemala is a special place when it comes to nature, ecology, and biology. Blessed with incredible biodiversity, Guatemala's landscapes and wildlife will blow you away.

Close to two-thirds of Guatemala is mountainous terrain, and it has more than 30 volcanoes, three of which are still active. The Volcan Fuego, which overlooks the old capital of Antigua, is one of the most active in Central America. Guatemala has 19 different ecosystems and 300 unique microclimates. Mangrove forests, subtropical and tropical rainforests, cloud forests, wetlands, and pine forests are home to more than 8,000 plant species and wildlife.

For wildlife, the country boasts 250 mammal species, 800 species of birds, and more than 200 reptile and amphibian species!

The country is alive with jaguars and pumas roaming the jungle, black howler monkeys roaring through the dense jungle canopy, colorful and vibrant toucans or quetzals flying overhead, and magnificent sea turtles laying eggs on the beach.

In addition to all this rich fauna, the highlands of Guatemala are blessed with the world’s finest and most complexly nuanced coffees. The most distinguished of these coffees, Guatemala Antigua, is named for the mountains that surround the gorgeous colonial city of Antigua.

This is just a very small glimpse of what Guatemala has to offer nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the country also faces pollution, deforestation, and other environmental issues. Guatemala has lost more than half of its forests since 1890, mainly due to a demand for wood as an energy source and land cleared for farming.

Fresh water is another big issue. Sixty percent of people in rural areas do not have access to clean water, and industrial and agricultural toxins continue to pollute critical water supplies in Guatemala.

Poachers are yet another threat to Guatemala’s wildlife. By some estimates there are fewer than 1,000 scarlet macaws remaining in the area shared by Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. Wildlife traffickers pluck the chicks from their nests, and many are bought on the black market as pets.

When it comes to nature conservancy in Guatemala, small communities are leading the way. The citizens’ engagement is driven by their strong connection to the land both a cultural inheritance and as a source of their livelihood. In the 1990s, locals started to manage the forest concessions of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which covers one-fifth of Guatemala and is one of the most important tropical forests north of the Amazon. By carefully regulating the extraction of timber and plants, local populations are protecting their sections of the reserve. In areas managed by these communities, the deforestation rate has been 0.4% in recent years.

Did you know?

  • Guatemala‘s currency is named after the magnificent green-feathered bird quetzal.

  • In Mayan mythology, the jaguar was seen as the ruler of the underworld, and a symbol of the night sun and darkness.

  • Guatemala's natural resources include petroleum, hydropower, fish, rare woods, and nickel.

  • Evidence of human life in the Guatemalan region dates back to 12,000 BC.

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