Monday, July 10, 2006
Guatemala's Mapa en Relieve
During my last stay in Guatemala City, I visited what has to be one of the world’s most unusual maps: the Mapa en Relieve, a giant relief map of Guatemala located in Parque Minerva. Dating back to the early years of the 20th century, this concrete and masonry map covers more than 1,800 square meters (19,500 square feet) and shows the entire country of Guatemala as well as Belize.
The map's builders used a horizontal scale of 1:10,000 and a vertical scale of 1:2,000 to exaggerate Guatemala's rugged topography. This dual scale produced steep-sided valleys and spindly mountain ranges with peaks that look like inverted ice-cream cones. Small signs mark cities, towns, and prominent physical features. Railway lines and roads are also clearly shown. A special hydraulic system simulates water bodies by pumping water into the map's rivers, lakes and oceans.
From walkways and strategically placed viewing towers, you can get a sense of Guatemala's remarkable physical diversity. The Mapa en Relieve has been declared a National Historic Monument by the Guatemalan government, and it provides an entertaining way for travelers to get oriented before they set out to explore the rest of the country.
The Mapa en Relieve is located in Zona 2, a short bus or taxi ride north of downtown Guatemala City. Opening hours are 9 am to 5 pm daily. Admission is about US$2.