Petén Basin: Maya Forest (Mexico, Guatemala)
The Petén Basin is a geographical subregion of Mesoamerica and was a center of Maya civilizations. It is primarily located in northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico. The Maya Forest is the second-largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Americas.
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 area contains few rivers as most of the rainfall is drained underground.
During the Late Preclassic and Classic periods of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology, many major 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 important remnants of the Classic Maya in the Petén Basin. Protected areas include Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park and Tikal National Park.
Maya area map
Stretching across Belize, northern Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the Maya Forest is the single largest tract of forest in Central America. At over 5 million ha (13.3 million acres), it is second in size only to the Amazon Rainforest, within all of the Americas.
The Maya Forest provides refuge for countless rare and endangered species such as the white-lipped peccary, tapir, jaguar, scarlet macaw, harpy eagle and howler monkey. 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 xate palm (used in many floral arrangements).
Many continue to practice traditional farming techniques; however, traditional small-scale production is giving way to extensive agriculture and ranching, posing a threat to this vast and unique ecosystem.