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Central America

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Central America
Map of Central America
Area 523,780 km2 (202,233 sq mi)
Population 41,739,000 (2009 est.)
Density 77 /km2 (200 /sq mi)
Countries 7
Demonym Central American, American
GDP $107.7 billion ( exchange rate) (2006)
$ 226.3 billion ( purchasing power parity) (2006).
GDP per capita $2,541 ( exchange rate) (2006)
$5,339 ( purchasing power parity) (2006).
Languages Spanish, English, Mayan languages, Garifuna, Kriol, European languages, and many others
Time Zones UTC - 6:00, UTC - 5:00
Largest cities (2002) Guatemala City
San Salvador
San Pedro Sula
Panama City
San José, Costa Rica
Santa Ana, El Salvador
San Miguel

Central America (Spanish: América Central or Centroamérica) is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Central America is part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot, which extends from northern Guatemala through central Panama. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, the North Pacific Ocean to the west, and Colombia to the south-east.

Central America is an area of 524,000 square kilometers (202,000 sq mi), or almost 0.1% of the Earth's surface. As of 2009, its population was estimated at 41,739,000. It has a density of 77 people per square kilometer.


Political Evolution of Central America and the Caribbean from 1700 to present

In pre-Columbian times, the north-western areas of modern Central America were part of the Mesoamerican civilization. The Native American societies of Mesoamerica occupied the land ranging from central Mexico in the north to Costa Rica in the south. Most notable among these were the Maya, who had built numerous cities throughout the region, and the Aztecs, who created a vast empire. The pre-Columbian cultures of Panama traded with both Mesoamerica and South America, and can be considered transitional between those two cultural areas.

Following Christopher Columbus's discovery of the Americas for Spain, the Spanish sent numerous expeditions to the region, and they began their conquest of Maya lands in the 1520s. In 1540, Spain established the Captaincy General of Guatemala, which extended from southern Mexico to Costa Rica, and thus encompassed most of what is currently known as Central America, with the exception of British Honduras (present-day Belize). This lasted nearly three centuries, until a rebellion (which followed closely on the heels of the Mexican War of Independence) in 1821.

After the dissolution of Spanish authority, the former Captaincy General remained intact as part of the short-lived First Mexican Empire. Central America then emerged as a distinct political entity upon the independence of the Federal Republic of Central America a representative democracy with its capital at Guatemala City. This union consisted of the present day nations of Guatemala (which included the former state of Los Altos), El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica (which included a region which is now part of Panama, and the Guanacaste Province which was once part of Nicaragua), and Soconusco, a portion of the modern Mexican state of Chiapas. The Republic lasted from 1823 to 1838, when it began to disintegrate due to civil wars.

Belize was contested between the Spanish Empire and the British Empire, a dispute that continued after the independence of Guatemala, who considered Belize to be a Guatemalan department. It was declared a British colony and given the name British Honduras in 1871, gaining independence as Belize in 1981.

Panama, situated in the very south of Central America on the Isthmus of Panama, has for much of its history been culturally linked to South America. Panama was a part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada, and then, following independence, became part of Gran Colombia. Only after independence from Colombia in 1903 did some begin to regard Panama as a North or Central American entity.

After two decades of internal violent conflict, social unrest, and revolutions in the 1980s and 1990s, Central America is still in a period of political transformation. Poverty, social injustice and violence are still widespread.


Countries and capitals of Central America.

Central America has an area of 524,000 square kilometers (202,000 sq mi), or almost 0.1% of the Earth's surface. As of 2009, its population was estimated at 41,739,000. It has a density of 77 people per square kilometer or 206 people per square mile.

Physical geography

  Central America and the Caribbean Plate

Physiographically, Central America is the tapering isthmus of southern North America, with unique and varied features extending from the north-western borders of Belize and Guatemala southeastward to the Isthmus of Panama where it connects to the Colombian Pacific Lowlands in northwestern South America. Alternatively, some physiographists sometimes locate its northern border at some point in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico.

Central America is an area of some 524,000 square kilometres. The Pacific Ocean lies to the southwest, the Caribbean Sea lies to the northeast, and the Gulf of Mexico lies to the north. Most of Central America rests atop the Caribbean Plate.

The region is geologically active, with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occurring frequently. The 1976 Guatemala earthquake killed 23,000 people. Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, was devastated by earthquakes in 1931 and 1972; the latter killed about 5,000 people. Three earthquakes have occurred recently in El Salvador: one in 1986, and two in 2001. An earthquake struck northern and central Costa Rica in 2009, killing at least 34 people. In Honduras, a powerful earthquake killed 7 people in 2009.

Volcanic eruptions are common in the region. In 1968 the Arenal Volcano, in Costa Rica, erupted killing 87 people as the 3 villages of Tabacon, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis were buried under pyroclastic flows and debris. Fertile soils from weathered volcanic lavas have made it possible to sustain dense populations in the agriculturally productive highland areas.

Central America has many mountain ranges; the longest are the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, the Cordillera Isabelia and the Cordillera de Talamanca. Between the mountain ranges lie fertile valleys that are suitable for the people; in fact most of the population of Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala live in valleys. Valleys are also suitable for the production of coffee, beans and other crops.


El Chorreron, El Salvador.
San Pedro Beach in Ambergris Caye, Belize
Tropical beach San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.

Central America is part of the Mesoamerican Biodiversity hotspot, boasting 7% of the world's biodiversity. As a bridge between North and South America, Central America has many species from the Nearctic and the Neotropic ecozones. However the southern countries (Costa Rica and Panama) of the region have more biodiversity than the northern countries (Guatemala and Belize), meanwhile the central countries (Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador) have least biodiversity. The table shows current statistics for the seven countries:

Country Amphibians Birds Mammals Reptile
 Belize 46 544 147 140 877 2894 3771
 Costa Rica 183 838 232 258 1511 12119 13630
 El Salvador 30 434 137 106 707 2911 3618
 Guatemala 133 684 193 236 1246 8681 9927
 Honduras 101 699 201 213 1214 5680 6894
 Nicaragua 61 632 181 178 1052 7590 8642
 Panama 182 904 241 242 1569 9915 11484


Guatemala City is the largest city in Central America
Countries of Central America
Name of territory,
with flag
(July 2009 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Capital Official
 Belize 700422966000000000022,966 7005307000000000000307,000 700113000000000000013 Belmopan English 0.694 High
 Costa Rica 700451100000000000051,100 70064196000000000004,196,000 700182000000000000082 San José Spanish 0.744 High
 El Salvador 700421040000000000021,040 70066163000000000006,163,000 7002292000000000000292 San Salvador Spanish 0.674 Medium
 Guatemala 7005108890000000000108,890 700714027000000000014,027,000 7002129000000000000129 Guatemala City Spanish 0.574 Medium
 Honduras 7005112090000000000112,090 70067466000000000007,466,000 700167000000000000067 Tegucigalpa Spanish 0.625 Medium
 Nicaragua 7005130373000000000130,373 70065743000000000005,743,000 700144000000000000044 Managua Spanish 0.589 Medium
 Panama 700478200000000000078,200 70063454000000000003,454,000 700144000000000000044 Panama City Spanish 0.768 High
Total 7005523780000000000523,780 700741356000000000041,356,000 700180000000000000080 - -
Largest metropolitan areas in Central America
City Country Population Census Year % of National
Guatemala City Guatemala 3,700,000 2010 26%
San Salvador El Salvador 2,415,217 2009 39%
Managua Nicaragua 2,408,000 2012 42%
San Jose Costa Rica 1,715,485 2006 37%
San Pedro Sula Honduras 1,542,364 2010 21%
Tegucigalpa Honduras 1,324,000 2010 18%
Panamá City Panama 1,272,672 2010 37%


Central American Integration

Sistema de Integración Centroamericana
Central American Integration System


Motto: «Peace, Development, Liberty and Democracy»
Anthem: La Granadera

Area 560,988 km²
Population 50,807,778 hab.
Countries  Belize
 Costa Rica
 El Salvador
 Dominican Republic

Central America is currently undergoing a process of political, economic and cultural transformation that started in 1907 with the creation of the Central American Court of Justice.

In 1951 the integration process continued with the signature of the San Salvador Treaty, which created the ODECA, the Organization of Central American States. However, the unity of the ODECA was limited by conflicts between several member states.

In 1991, the integration agenda was further advanced by the creation of the SICA, Sistema para la Integración Centroamericana or System for the Central American Integration. The SICA provided a clear legal basis to avoid disputes between the member states. The SICA membership includes the 7 nations of Central America plus the Dominican Republic, a state that is traditionally considered part of the Caribbean.

On December 6, 2008 SICA announced an agreement to pursue a common currency and common passport for the member nations. No timeline for implementation was discussed.

Central America already has several supranational institutions such as the Central American Parliament, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Central American Common Market.

On July 22, 2011 President Funes of El Salvador became the first president pro tempore to the SICA. El Salvador also became the headquarters of SICA in the inauguration of a new building.

Foreign Relations

Until recently, all Central American countries have maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of China. President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, however, established diplomatic relations with China in 2007, severing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.


Panoramic view of El Salvador's capital city San Salvador
The skyline of Panama City from Ancon Hill.
Panoramic View of San José, Costa Rica
Panoramic View of Managua, Nicaragua
Panoramic View of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Guatemala City skyline
Construction began of the first Expressway/ Freeway in Central America RN-21 (Boulevard Diego Holguin), due to the increasing amount of vehicular traffic in the west side of the San Salvador Metropolitan Area, which consist of three cities: Santa Tecla, Antiguo Cuscatlan, and San Salvador, in El Salvador.
City rail in La Ceiba, Honduras is one of the few remaining passenger train services in Central America
A Copa Boeing 737-700 in Honduras


The Pan-American Highway runs through Central America, and except for an 87 kilometres (54 mi) rainforest break, called the Darién Gap, the road links the mainland nations of the Americas in a connected highway system. According to Guinness World Records, the Pan-American Highway is the world's longest "motorable road". However, because of the Darién Gap, it is not possible to cross between South America and Central America by traditional motor vehicle.




"Central America" may mean different things to various people in the world based upon different contexts:

  • In English-speaking countries, Central America is usually considered a region of the North American continent. Geopolitically, it usually comprises seven countries – Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Mexico, in whole or in part, is sometimes included, regardless of correctness, by Britons. Some geographers include the five states of Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán, together representing 12.1% of the country's total area.
  • In Latin America, Iberia, and some other parts of Europe, the Americas are considered to be a single continent called America, and Central America is considered a distinct region of this continent and not a part of North America. In Ibero-America, the region is defined as seven nations – Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama – and may occasionally include Mexico's southernmost region. Geopolitically, Mexico is considered part of North America.
  • Occasionally, regardless of correctness, the term Central America is used synonymously with Middle America. Among some German geographers, Mittelamerika may be used to refer to the territories on the Central American isthmus.
  • In German, Zentralamerika may be used to refer to the territories on the Central American isthmus.
  • The UN geoscheme defines the region as all states of mainland North America south of the United States; conversely, the European Union excludes Belize and Mexico from its definition of the region.
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