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Natural History of Lake Atitlan

Central America, like the rest of the Pacific Fire Rim, is geologically very active.  Proof of that are the three calderas found in the Atitlán area.

 

The oldest one, Atitlan I, identified with the help of satellite images, had a cycle from 14 to 11 million years ago. Atitlan II followed with a cycle from 10 to 8 million years ago, and Atitlan III with some 1.5 million years has had four enormous eruptions.   

 

The Lake Atitlan Basin was created only 85,000 years ago by a cataclysmic eruption that vaporized life in what is known today as Guatemala, and scattered volcanic ash from Ecuador to Florida. Around 275 cubic km erupted at this time. The San Pedro volcano emerged more than 40,000 years ago, the Atitlan volcano between 40,000 and 10,000 years back, while the Toliman less than 10,000 years ago. Data exists on recent eruptions in 1469 and intermittent ones from 1826 until 1856.

Volcanic features of the Lake Atitlan ar

Atitlan is the only active volcano in the area with eruptions in 1469 and between 1717 and 1721. It was also intermittently active between 1826 and 1856.  Of these eruptions, the only strong one among these was on 3 May 1853 when ash darkened the sky around Lake Atitlan.  Cerro de Oro (the Gold Hill) is a young lava dome, less than 5.000 years old. 

Just 13 to 15 million years ago and some 40 million years after the last dinosaurs walked the earth, the Central American land bridge emerged from the seas to link North and South America. (https://phys.org/news/2015-04-smithsonian-panama-debate-fueled-zircon.html)

            

In the encounter of the arctic and the tropics, a hugely varied and unique ecology developed with plants and animals of both continents. When humans first arrived on the isthmus some 20,000 years ago, they found a rich and diverse environment.  

 

The Ice Ages left mountains of nearctic abundance surrounded by tropical seas of life.  Furthermore, the isolation of these mountains and valleys facilitated the evolution of unique species of plants, animals and birds. Among others, the Horned Guan, a bird now nearly extinct, evolved in these very mountains.  This is known as “endemism”. 

 

Here at Lake Atitlan, the Nearctic life is found in the mountains that rim the lake to the north (pine, oak and deer), and the neotropical is found on the volcanoes’ slopes to the south (maize, cacao and armadillos).

 

  • Free parking

  • High speed internet

  • Free Wifi

  • Visitor Center

  • Auditorium (250 people)

  • Restaurant

  • Butterflies' Geodome

  • Zipline X-Tremos 

  • Zipline Ultra X-Tremos

  • Nature Trials

  • Hanging Bridges

  • Waterfalls