Guatemala’s rainforests, mountains and coastal plains are form a unique ecosystem which is home to an amazing array of native wildlife.
From the magnificent jaguars and beautiful keel-billed toucan deep in the jungle, to threatened species of sea turtles on the Pacific coast, Guatemala is a nature lover’s dreamland.
Geography creates biodiversity
Guatemala’s three distinct regions — northern lowlands, southern lowlands and central highlands — create different climates and landscape to allow a variety of animals to thrive.
The north is dominated by hot, humid rainforest, typified by the enormous Maya Biosphere Reserve, which forms a 50km-wide belt of jungle stretching from Mexico to Belize.
Most of the country’s human population lives in the central highlands, which are formed by two different mountain chains.
Guatemala’s Pacific coastal lowlands are humid but much less densely forested than the north.
Jaguar and margay
Jaguars hold a special place in the culture of Central America, often appearing in Mayan art, so it’s wonderful that Guatemala is home to hundreds of these beautiful animals.
They live mainly in the northern rainforests of the Maya Biosphere reserve, where around 500 adults are believed to be active, and many of some of these will roam into neighbouring Belize and Mexico.
The margay, a small nocturnal cat, also lives mainly in the dense northern jungles and, like the jaguar, is considered a threatened species.
Guatemala is estimated to be home to around 750 species of birds, and around 10 percent of these are believed to be unique to the country.
The northern rainforests have abundant bird life, including the magnificent keel-billed toucan, with its enormous green beak and yellow breast, but the central highlands also have some special feathered attractions
The horned guan is considered endangered and lives mainly in the highlands, as does the bearded screech owl.
Guatemala’s oceans, jungles and mangroves are home to many native species of reptiles, including alligators, frogs, iguanas and turtles.
The Pacific coast area near Monterrico is a particularly important nesting site for several endangered species of sea turtle, including the leatherback, hawksbill and olive ridley.
One of Guatemala’s native animals you might want to catch a sight of is the spiny-tailed iguana, which lives only in the Rio Montagua Valley of eastern Guatemala. It is yet another endangered species
Protection of Guatemala’s native animals
Guatemala took a big step forward in preserving its population of amphibians — and many other types of animals — when it opened Sierra Caral Amphibian Reserve along the Caribbean coast in 2012. You can now take tours to see some of the species it protects.
This includes rare frogs and salamanders, as well the Merendon palm-pit viper, which was only discovered in 2000. Many rare birds also live in the park, and it supports populations of margays and jaguars.
As well as Sierra Caral, you can visit other nature reserves in Guatemala, including Sierra del Lacandon, which forms the western part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. You can book day trips to the park through agencies in Flores or San Andres.
Guatemala’s native animals are one of the country’s real treasures and well worth seeing. Conservationists are working hard to preserve these creatures and their habitats, and the growth of eco-tourism makes it easier to glimpse them in their natural environment.