The Maya Region currently spans the countries of Guatemala, Belize, the western of Honduras and El Salvador, and the Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. Like any cultural region, this territory cannot be defined by clear boundaries, so its limits have varied over time and represent areas of high interaction with neighboring groups. In the pre-Hispanic times, other Middle American populations held periodic contacts with the Mayas. To the east, there were Mixe-Zoque, Zapotec and Nahuatl groups; to the west, Lenca and Jicaque groups; and in the Pacífic Coast there were Xincas and other ethnic groups that have not been identified linguistically. Today there are 28 Mayan linguistic groups, which can be found in isolated communities but most are within regions with various external influences, therefore their culture is not static; is dynamic in the way that adapts to globalization and intercultural relations
The Maya area is relatively small compared to other cultures that have occupied the world, and its geography is characterized by high diversity and sharp contrasts with tropical forests, river basins, lake areas, coastal ecosystems, karstic plains, forests cloud and volcanic landscapes. . All these zones have been accessible by means of land and aquatic routes, mainly for the existence of networks of local and long distance exchange. The high biodiversity of the different regions has had an important effect in the development of the human settlements, since they have created different kinds of adaptation, based in the availability of mineral, vegetable and animal resources. This particular way of integrating the different natural settings also influenced the development of an own worldview, which was expressed in pre-Hispanic times in the way of a lot of symbols, materialized in various ways. For example, the center of the cosmos was represented by the Ceiba tree, the sun like a jaguar, the mountains like the loin of a turtle or crocodile and the flashes of lightning like snakes. As to the cities, they were planned according to astronomic orientations and the symbolic landscape, so the pyramidal temples conceived themselves like sacred mountains that remembered the myths of creation. Likewise, caves and water bodies like lakes and cenotes were associated as portals to the underworld. The distribution of resources in each area also directly influenced the development of ancient Mayan cities. The availability of fertile grounds enabled a high agricultural productivity, and the climatic conditions also favored the specialization of certain crops like the cocoa. The presence of deposits of obsidian, flint, jade, pyrite, basalt and other minerals, also determined the exportation of raw material or finished objects. The same happened to the salt mines, shells, feathers, skins and other wildlife resources, which were valued as luxury items. As for forest resources, wood and palms were vital for building homes.
In general, the Maya region can split into three big sub-regions: Lowlands, Highlands and the Pacific Coast. This division is based on differences of altitude that in turn reflects in changes in geology, hydrology, fauna and flora. It is interesting that these divisions of physical character have caused differences in cultural patterns, so it is important to notice that not all the Mayan groups had the same characteristics. That’s why it is appropriate to recognize that there has been a significant differentiation between the Mayan populations of the Highlands and the ones of the Lowlands.