|| The Maya culture flourished and continues to exist in a region of Mexico and Central America often referred to as Mesoamerica. This encompasses the Yucatan peninsula (Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche) and Tabasco and Chiapas of present day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and the western parts of Honduras and El Salvador. Geographically the region is broken into the lowlands and the highlands.
The lowlands are a limestone shelf bordered on the north and west by the Gulf of Mexico and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. The northern lowland climate is hot, and the rainy season, from May through October, often brings insufficient rainfall. Permanent rivers and lakes are virtually nonexistent and only cenotes (large sinkholes filled with rainwater), provide precious water. The southern lowlands consist of rainforest and savannas where lakes and rivers are fed by the mighty Usumacinta River.
The highlands are a wide swathe of mountains and valleys of the Sierra Madre, bounded on the south by a narrow coastal plain and the Pacific Ocean. Although subject to tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes, the soil is fertile and the climate pleasantly cooler than the lowlands. The rainy season is between May and November, with peak rainfall in June and October.
Culturally the area is divided into three sections: the northern, central and southern regions. The earliest evidence of the Maya civilization is found in the southern region. At Izapa carvings depict gods that were the precursors of the Classic deities and at Kaminaljuyú glyphs on stelea foreshadow the Maya writing system. The area was clearly influenced by the Olmec.
The central region includes the southern lowlands, from Tabasco in the Northwest to Belize and Guatemala's Motagua River region in the southeast. Here is where the Classic Maya flourished, along the Usumacinta River and throughout the Petén.
The northern region, which encompasses the northern lowlands, was populated by the Maya in the Late Classic period, when influence from central Mexico created a hybrid Maya/Toltec culture, and was home to the Maya well into the Post-Classic period.