|Area||523,780 km2 (202,233 sq mi)|
|Population||43,308,660 (2013 est.)|
|Density||77/km2 (200/sq mi)|
|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 (2010)||List of 10 largest cities in Central America
San Salvador City
San Pedro Sula
|Part of a series on|
Central America (Spanish: América Central, América del Centro 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. The Middle America Trench runs on the Central American Pacific coast. Central America 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, which is also the most southern point of North America.
Central America is an area of 524,000 square kilometers (202,000 sq mi), or almost 0.1% of the Earth's surface. According to census records of Central American countries, the estimated population is approximately 34,787,502.
- 1 Definition
- 2 History
- 3 Geography
- 4 Geology
- 5 Environment
- 6 Demographics
- 7 Politics
- 8 Economy
- 9 Infrastructure
- 10 Education
- 11 Culture
- 12 Mass media
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Bibliography
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
"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 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 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.
- 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.
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 Costa Rica and 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 current States of:
- Guatemala (including the former state of Los Altos)
- El Salvador
- Costa Rica (including a region that is now part of Panama)
- Guanacaste Province, (which is now part of Costa Rica), and Soconusco (which is now part of the Mexican state of Chiapas).
The Republic lasted from 1823 to 1838, when it began to disintegrate due to civil wars.
The Spanish Empire and British Empire contested what is now Belize in a dispute that continued after Guatemala became independent. Spain, and later Guatemala, considered what is now Belize a Guatemalan department. In 1862, Britain formally declared it a British colony and named it British Honduras. It became independent 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. The United States played a significant role during the conflict, unrest, and revolutions of the 1980s and 1990s.
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.
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 kilometers. 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.
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.
Overall temperatures in Central America are the highest just prior to rains that occur in summer, and are lowest in January, that latter of which is significantly due to substantial trade winds, which typically contribute to a cooler climate. Trade winds have a significant effect upon the climate of the region. The highest temperatures occur in April, due to higher levels of solar radiation, lower cloud cover and a decrease in trade wind force. The air surface temperature in Central America has been described as "tropical, predominantly maritime, with small annual changes and dependent on cloud cover and altitude". Temperatures in high altitude places are typically lower compared to that of low altitude areas. Cold air currents from North America can also affect temperatures, making them cooler.
San Pedro Beach in Ambergris Caye, Belize
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 lava have made it possible to sustain dense populations in the agriculturally productive highland areas.
Map of the Central America Volcanic Arc, with captions showing the location of several volcanoes
The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, 2006
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 below shows current statistics for the seven countries:
Over 300 species of the region's flora and fauna are threatened, 107 of which are classified as critically endangered. The underlying problems are deforestation, which is estimated by FAO at 1.2% per year in Central America and Mexico combined, fragmentation of rainforests and the fact that 80% of the vegetation in Central America has already been converted to agriculture.
Efforts to protect fauna and flora in the region are made by creating ecoregions and nature reserves. 36% of Belize's land territory falls under some form of official protected status, giving Belize one of the most extensive systems of terrestrial protected areas in the Americas. In addition, 13% of Belize's marine territory are also protected. A large coral reef extends from Mexico to Honduras: the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. The Belize Barrier Reef is part of this. The Belize Barrier Reef is home to a large diversity of plants and animals, and is one of the most diverse ecosystems of the world. It is home to 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral species, 500 species of fish and hundreds of invertebrate species. So far only about 10% of the species in the Belize barrier reef have been discovered.
Flora and fauna
From 2001 to 2010, 5,376 square kilometers of forest were lost in the region. In 2010 Belize had 63% of remaining forest cover, Costa Rica 46%, Panama 45%, Honduras 41%, Guatemala 37%, Nicaragua 29%, and El Salvador 21%. Most of the loss occurred in the moist forest biome, with 12,201 square kilometers. Woody vegetation loss was partially set off by a plus in the coniferous forest biome with 4,730 km2, and a gain in the dry forest biome at 2,054 km2. Mangroves and deserts contributed only 1% to the loss in forest vegetation. The bulk of the deforestation was located at the Caribbean slopes of Nicaragua with a minus of 8,574 square kilometers of forest lost in the period from 2001 to 2010. The most significant regrowth of 3,050 km2 of forest was seen in the coniferous woody vegetation of Honduras.
The Central American pine-oak forests ecoregion, in the tropical and subtropical coniferous forests biome, is found in Central America and southern Mexico. The Central American pine-oak forests occupy an area of 111,400 square kilometres (43,000 sq mi), extending along the mountainous spine of Central America, extending from the Sierra Madre de Chiapas in Mexico's Chiapas state through the highlands of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to central Nicaragua. The pine-oak forests lie between 600–1,800 metres (2,000–5,900 ft) elevation, and are surrounded at lower elevations by tropical moist forests and tropical dry forests. Higher elevations above 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) are usually covered with Central American montane forests. The Central American pine-oak forests are composed of many species characteristic of temperate North America including oaks (Quercus spp.), pines (Pinus spp.), fir (Abies spp.), and cypress (Cupressus spp.).
Laurel forest, also called laurisilva, is the most common Central American temperate evergreen cloud forest type, found in almost all Central American countries, normally more than 1,000 m above sea level. Tree species include evergreen oaks, members of the laurel family, and species of Weinmannia, Drimys, and Magnolia. The cloud forest of Sierra de las Minas, Guatemala, is the largest in Central America. In some areas of southeastern Honduras there are cloud forests, the largest located near the border with Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, cloud forests are situated near the border with Honduras, but many were cleared to grow coffee. There are still some temperate evergreen hills in the north. The only cloud forest in the Pacific coastal zone of Central America is on the Mombacho volcano in Nicaragua. In Costa Rica, there are laurisilvas in the "Cordillera de Tilarán" and Volcán Arenal, called Monteverde, also in the Cordillera de Talamanca.
The Central American montane forests are an ecoregion of the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests biome, as defined by the World Wildlife Fund. These forests are of the moist deciduous and the semi-evergreen seasonal subtype of tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests and receive high overall rainfall with a warm summer wet season and a cooler winter dry season. Central American montane forests consist of forest patches located at altitudes ranging from 1,800–4,000 metres (5,900–13,100 ft), on the summits and slopes of the highest mountains in Central America ranging from Southern Mexico, through Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, to northern Nicaragua. The entire ecoregion covers an area of 13,200 square kilometres (5,100 sq mi)2 and has a temperate climate with relatively high precipitation levels.
Ecoregions are not only established to protect the forests themselves but also because they are habitat for an incomparably rich and often endemic Fauna. Almost half of the bird population of the Talamancan montane forests in Costa Rica and Panama are endemic to this region. Several birds are listed as threatened, most notably the resplendent quetzal (Pharomacrus mocinno), three-wattled bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), bare-necked umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis), and black guan (Chamaepetes unicolor). Many of the amphibians are endemic and depend on the existence of forest. The golden toad that once inhabited a small region in the Monteverde Reserve, which is part of the Talamancan montane forests, has not been seen alive since 1989 and is listed as extinct by IUCN. The exact causes for its extincition are unknown. Global warming may have played a role, because the development of fog that is typical for this area may have been compromised. Seven small mammals are endemic to the Costa Rica-Chiriqui highlands within the Talamancan montane forest region. Jaguars, cougars, spider monkeys, as well as tapirs, and anteaters live in the woods of Central America. The Central American red brocket is a brocket deer found in Central America's tropical forest.
- See also: Ethnic groups in Central America, List of indigenous peoples in Central America and Demographics of Latin America
|Name of territory,
(July 2013 est.)
|Costa Rica||51,100||4,695,942||82||San José||Spanish||0.763 High|
|El Salvador||21,040||6,108,590||292||San Salvador||Spanish||0.662 Medium|
|Guatemala||108,890||14,373,472||129||Guatemala City||Spanish||0.628 Medium|
|Panama||78,200||3,559,408||44||Panama City||Spanish||0.765 High|
|City||Country||Population||Census Year||% of National
|(1) Guatemala City||Guatemala||3,700,000||2010||26%|
|(2) San Salvador City||El Salvador||2,415,217||2009||39%|
|(5) San Pedro Sula||Honduras||1,600,000||2010||21%+4|
|(6) Panamá City||Panama||1,400,000||2010||37%|
|(7) San Jose||Costa Rica||1,275,000||2013||30%|
In Central America, the official language majority in 6 countries is Spanish, and one country officially speaks English (Belize). Mayan languages constitute a language family consisting of about 26 related languages; in 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 of these. Xinca and Garifuna are also present in Central America.
|Pos.||Countries||Population||% Spanish||% Mayan languages||% English||% Xinca||% Garifuna|
This region of the continent is very rich in terms of ethnic groups. Most of the population is mestizo, with sizable Mayan and White populations present, plus Xinca and Garifuna minorities. The immigration of Arabs, Jews, Chinese and others brought additional groups to the area.
|Ethnic groups in Central America (2010)|
|Country||Population1||% Mayans||% White people||% Mestizo||% Garifuna||% Xinca2||% Other|
Beginning with the Spanish colonization of Central America in the 16th century, Roman Catholicism became the most popular religion in the region until the first half of the 20th century. Since the 1960s, there has been an increase in other Christian groups, particularly Protestant, as well as other religious organizations, and individuals identifying themselves as having no religion.
||% Roman Catholicism
|% Don't Know
Central American Integration
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.
Until recently, all Central American countries have maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of China. President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, however, established diplomatic relations with China in 2007, severing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Central American Parliament
The Central American Parliament (also known as PARLACEN) is a political and parliamentary body of the SICA (Central American Integration System) The parliament's beginnings started at around 1980, and its primary goal was to solve wars in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Although the group was disbanded in 1986, ideas of unity of Central Americans still remained, so a treaty was signed in 1987 to create the Central American Parliament and other political bodies. Its original members were Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. The parliament is the political organ of Central America, and is part of the Central American Integration System (SICA). New members have since then joined including Panama and the Dominican Republic.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is an agreement between the United States and the Central American countries of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The treaty is aimed at promoting free trade between its members.
Guatemala is the largest economy in the region. Its main products are coffee, sugar and bananas. In addition to these products Guatemala also exports petroleum, clothing, fruits and vegetables, and cardamom. 40.2% of its 10,29 billion Dollar exports go to the US, 11.1% to neighboring El Salvador, and 8% to Honduras. 5.5% of Guatemalan exports are bought by its neighbor in the north, Mexico.
- Tourism in Belize has grown considerably in more recent times, and it is now the second largest industry in the nation. Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow has stated his intention to use tourism to combat poverty throughout the country. The growth in tourism has positively affected the agricultural, commercial, and finance industries, as well as the construction industry. The results for Belize's tourism-driven economy have been significant, with the nation welcoming almost one million tourists in a calendar year for the first time in its history in 2012.
- Tourism in Costa Rica is one of the fastest growing economic sectors of the country and by 1995 became the largest foreign exchange earner. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than bananas, pineapples and coffee exports combined. The tourism boom began in 1987, with the number of visitors up from 329,000 in 1988, through 1.03 million in 1999, to a historical record of 2.43 million foreign visitors in 2013. In 2012 tourism contributed with 12.5% of the country's GDP and it was responsible for 11.7% of direct and indirect employment.
- Tourism in Nicaragua has grown considerably recently, and it is now the second largest industry in the nation. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has stated his intention to use tourism to combat poverty throughout the country. The growth in tourism has positively affected the agricultural, commercial, and finance industries, as well as the construction industry. The results for Nicaragua's tourism-driven economy have been significant, with the nation welcoming one million tourists in a calendar year for the first time in its history in 2010.
The Pan-American Highway runs through Central America, and except for an 87-kilometer (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.
- Belize: see Rail transport in Belize
- Costa Rica: see Rail transport in Costa Rica
- El Salvador: see Rail transport in El Salvador
- Guatemala: see Rail transport in Guatemala
- Honduras: see Rail transport in Honduras
- Nicaragua: see Rail transport in Nicaragua
- Panama: see Rail transport in Panama
Central America contains few competing airlines. The biggest of them is Copa Airlines with 91 airplanes to over 65 destinations. Most of the other airlines in Central America are minor, and have few planes/destinations.
- Central American music
- Latin American cuisine – Central American cuisine
- List of cuisines of the Americas – Central American cuisine
- Central American Games
- Central American and Caribbean Games
- 1926 Central American and Caribbean Games – the first time this event occurred
- Central American Football Union
- Americas (terminology)
- Central American Integration System
- Central American Seaway
- Latin American cuisine
- Lists of cities in Central America
- Los Altos, Central America – was the sixth state of the Federal Republic of Central America, and a short-lived independent republic
- Maya civilization
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