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Land and Resources, Natural Regions

rubber trees, exclusive economic zone, active volcanoes, Oriente, Mexican border

Two mountain chains traverse Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the western highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the Peten region, north of the mountains. These areas vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between dense tropical lowlands and highland peaks and valleys.

The southern edge of the western highlands is marked by the Sierra Madre range, which stretches from the Mexican border south and east, almost to Guatemala City. It then continues at lower elevations toward El Salvador, in an area known as the Oriente. The chain is punctuated by steep volcanic cones, including Tajumulco Volcano 4,220 m (13,845 ft), the highest point in the country. Most of Guatemala’s 19 active volcanoes are in this chain, and earthquakes occur frequently in the highland region. The northern chain of mountains begins near the Mexican border with the Cuchumatanes range, then stretches east through the Chuacus and Chama mountains and slopes down to the Santa Cruz and Minas mountains near the Caribbean Sea. The northern and southern mountains are separated by a deep rift, where the Motagua River and its tributaries flow from the highlands into the Caribbean.

To the north of the western highlands is the sparsely populated Peten, 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.

Guatemala has 400 km (249 mi) of coastline, but lacks a natural deepwater port on the Pacific. Guatemala claims territorial waters extending out 12 nautical miles (22 km/14 mi), plus an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km/230 mi) offshore. Hurricanes and tropical storms sometimes batter the coastal regions.

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