Los Altos Model Forest

Country: Guatemala
Location: Quetzaltenango Department, part of Region VI of Guatemala's Western Highlands
Area: 53 520 ha
Year joined IMFN: 2008
Regional affiliation: Ibero-American Model Forest Network
Contact information:

Juan Morales Ovando
President, MESAFORC VI
E-mail: losaltos@imfn.net

Forest profile and resources

The Los Altos Model Forest (BMLA) is located within Region VI of Guatemala's Western Highlands, with its own bioclimatic characteristics. In the Quetzaltenango Department there are many volcanoes and thermal water sites. The Los Altos Model Forest features very different climate conditions because of its geographical location and a wide range of altitudes. The annual average precipitation is 985 mm with a dry season and a rainy season, each one of them lasting six months. The rainy season starts in May and ends in October while the dry season is from November to April. Thanks to its geographical location, the BMLA is the source of more than 60% of drainage basins in the country, draining in two areas:

  1. The Pacific basin, located at the southern end of the region. A set of twelve rivers drain here. These rivers are short in length but they have very heavy flows, running along the Southern Coast to finally flow into the Pacific Ocean.
  2. The Gulf of Mexico catchment area, which includes seven basins and very long rivers that go into the states of Chiapas and Tabasco, in Mexico. The most important one of them corresponds to the Chixoy River.

The BMLA provides water for human consumption, electric power generation and productive activities, including irrigation for the agricultural crop area (vegetables, coffee, sugar cane, African oil palm, cattle and sheep), for both domestic consumption and export, in the Highlands and the Southern Coast.

The region has twelve protected areas, linked to each other, forming the main biological corridor of the western highlands where endemic species of flora and fauna can be found, with some of them being in danger of extinction.

Some of the communities in the protected areas have benefitted from the Forest Incentive Programs, with such activities as the protection of forest and water resources; management and reforestation for the restoration of areas with no forest cover, and productive forest areas for forest use, agricultural crop areas, volcanoes and mountains; and cities with rural and urban populations.

In Quetzaltenango there are two main ethnic groups: indigenous and non-indigenous people or ladinos. The first group resides mainly in the Highlands and the second group in the southern municipalities, but the indigenous people who live there maintain their language and customs.

Indigenous people, particularly those in rural areas, still maintain their ancient traditions. The Maya priests or xamanes follow the sacred calendar and practice their customs in the mountains, volcanoes, etc. The Chicabal lake, in San Martin Sacatepequez, is one of the main religious centers of the indigenous people. They bring flowers, incense, pom incense, eau-de-vie to the lake. They perform some of their rituals in the water, around the edge of the lake and they place crosses decorated with flowers.

Economic profile

Among the main and most significant activities that take place in the BMLA, and part of the economic operations of families, are the forest-based products, agricultural products, crafts, textile products, woven fabrics and the wood industry. These are all considered main sources of income. This department is important not only because it is a large commercial and industrial center but also because many of the significant historical events of Guatemala took place there.

Within the BMLA there are some settlements where houses are built in the old style, as well as houses made of adobe, cinder block, and brick, typical of the area. These constructions vary depending on whether it is an urban or rural area.


The BMLA has several entities working in coordination with the MESAFORC VI (the Coordinating Forest Committee from Western Region VI) in the western highlands of the country.
Partners involved:

  • Ministry of Agriculture, Cattle Raising and Food (MAGA)
  • National Forest Institute (INAB)
  • National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP)
  • The Alliance of Municipalities Metropoli de los Altos
  • Producers’ organizations
  • Like-minded regional NGOs working in conservation and/or sustainable development
  • Entrepreneurial groups active in the forest industry
  • Schools, universities and research and training centers
  • Owners of Community Forest Reserves
  • Technicians and Forest Managers

Strategic goals

The following are some of the projects:

  • Eco-tourism development
  • Forest, Industrial, Commercial, Craft and Services Development
  • Development of Natural Resources and the Environment