Petén Basin: Maya Forest (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize)

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Petén Basin: Maya Forest (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize)

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 13:00

The Petén Basin of northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico is a geographical subregion of Mesoamerica and was a center of Maya civilizations. The Maya Forest, which includes Belize, is the second-largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Americas.

Petén Basin

The Petén Basin is a geographical subregion of Mesoamerica and was a center of Maya civilizations. It is primarily located within the Department of El Petén in northern Guatemala and Campeche State in southeastern Mexico.

Petén is a low limestone plateau, and except for areas of savanna vegetation, the region is covered by dense tropical rainforests. The region contains few rivers as most of the rainfall is drained underground.

During the Late Preclassic and Classic periods of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology, many significant centers of the Maya civilization flourished, such as Tikal and Calakmul. A distinctive "Petén style" Maya architecture and inscriptions can be found here.

Archaeological sites preserve essential remnants of the Classic Maya in the Petén Basin. Protected areas include Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park and Tikal National Park.

Maya area map

Map depicting the Maya area

Maya Forest: (Selva Maya)

Stretching across Belize, northern Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, the Maya Forest (Selva Maya) is Mesoamerica's largest tract of rainforest. At over 5 million ha (13.3 million acres), it is second in size only to the Amazon Rainforest in the Americas.

    The Maya Forest includes the following territories:

    • Guatemala: The Maya Forest in Guatemala covers an area of approximately 15,000 sq km (5,800 sq mi). It is located in the northern part of the country, in Petén, Alta Verapaz, and Izabal departments.

    • Belize: The Maya Forest in Belize covers an area of approximately 5,000 sq km (1,900 sq mi). It is located in the northern part of the country, in Cayo, Orange Walk, and Belize districts.

    • Mexico: The Maya Forest in Mexico covers an area of approximately 10,000 sq km (3,900 sq mi). It is located in the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán.

    The Maya Forest in the Petén region of northern Guatemala and the Maya Forest of Belize and Mexico together represents one of the largest areas of tropical forest north of the Amazon and the northernmost tropical forest in the Western Hemisphere.

    Protected Areas

    The Maya Forest is the site of three contiguous UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserves:

    Flora and Fauna

    The Maya Forest provides refuge for countless rare and endangered species, such as the white-lipped peccary, tapir, scarlet macaw, harpy eagle, and howler monkey. In addition, it is one of the few places on Earth where five large cat species live: the jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarondi, and margay.

    The Maya Forest also harbors up to 400 species of birds, with millions visiting during peak winter migratory months.


    The forest also preserves archaeological sites of the ancient Maya civilization, and today its descendants continue to live in this diverse landscape.

    Staple livelihoods include agriculture, honey production and the harvesting of timber. Commercially important species include allspice, chicle (traditional base for chewing gum) and xadatealm (used in many floral arrangements).

    Many continue to practice traditional farming techniques; however, conventional small-scale production is giving way to extensive agriculture and ranching, posing a threat to this vast and unique ecosystem.