Land and Resources, Rivers and Lakes
The principal rivers of Guatemala are the Motagua, Usumacinta, Dulce, Polochic, and Sarstun. The Motagua drains and divides the highlands and is navigable in its lower reaches, where it forms the boundary with Honduras before it empties into the Caribbean Sea. The Usumacinta, navigable for 480 km (300 mi), winds through the northern lowlands, forming part of the boundary between the Peten and Mexico, and then meanders across the Mexican state of Tabasco to the Gulf of Mexico. The Salinas, a tributary of the Usumacinta, and the Polochic drain the central Verapaz region. The Dulce, a short but navigable river, provides a scenic connection between Lake Izabal and El Golfete Lake, then empties into the Bay of Amatique on the Caribbean coast at Livingston. The Sarstun forms part of the boundary between Guatemala and Belize. Many shorter, fast-running rivers flow from the highlands into the Pacific, providing power for hydroelectric plants.
Lake Izabal, near the Caribbean ports, is Guatemala’s largest lake, covering about 800 sq km (about 310 sq mi). In the north is Lake Peten Itza (98 sq km/38 sq mi), around which are many Maya archaeological ruins and exotic birds. The major town of the Peten region, Flores, is built on an island in the lake, on the site of an ancient Maya city. Guatemala also has many smaller lakes nestled in volcanic craters in the highlands, including the mystically beautiful Lake Atitlan (126 sq km/49 sq mi). South of the capital is the popular Lake Amatitlan (16 sq km/6 sq mi), at the base of the Pacaya volcano.