Central America

Central America

Central America, narrow, southernmost region (c.202,200 sq mi/523,698 sq km) of North America, linked to South America at Colombia. It separates the Caribbean from the Pacific. Historically, geographers considered it to extend from the natural boundary of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, S Mexico, to that of the Isthmus of Panama. Generally, it is considered to consist of the seven republics (1990 est. pop. 29,000,000) of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The mountains of N Central America are an extension of the mountain system of W North America and are related to the islands of the West Indies. The middle portion of Central America is an active zone of volcanoes and earthquakes; it contains the Nicaragua Depression, which includes the huge lakes Nicaragua and Managua. The ranges of S Central America are outliers of the Andes Mts. of South America. Tajumulco (13,846 ft/4,210 m high), a volcano in Guatemala, is the region's highest peak. Central America's climate varies with altitude from tropical to cool. The eastern side of the region receives heavy rainfall. Bananas, coffee, and cacao are the chief crops of Central America, and gold and silver are mined there. The economies of the countries in the region are becoming increasingly diversified. Though agriculture is still the largest employer, more technical positions are being produced as the industrial and service sectors develop. The Inter-American Highway traverses W Central America.

See R. C. West and J. P. Augelli, Middle America (2d ed. 1976); J. L. Flora and E. Torres-Rivas, Central America (1989); H. P. Brignoli, A Brief History of Central America (1989).

Central America

Area 523,780 km²
Population 40,545,745 (2007 est.)
Density 77 per km²
Countries 7
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, Garifuna, Kriol, Mayan languages, European languages, and many others
Time Zones UTC - 6:00, UTC - 5:00
Largest cities (2002) Tegucigalpa
Guatemala City
San Salvador
San Pedro Sula
Panama City
San José, Costa Rica
Santa Ana, El Salvador
San Miguel

Central America (Spanish: Centroamérica or América Central) is a central geographic region of the Americas. It is technically the narrow and extreme most southern portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast; but it is largely defined as a region of the Americas in its own right. Most of Central America is considered to be part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot.

Physical geography

Physiographically, Central America is a very narrow isthmus of southern North America extending from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico southeastward to the Isthmus of Panama where it connects to the Colombian Pacific Lowlands in northwestern South America. Alternatively, the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt delimits the region on the north. Central America has an area of some 592,000 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 from time to time. Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, was devastated by earthquakes in 1931 and 1972, and three earthquakes devastated El Salvador, one in 1986 and two in 2001. Fertile soils from weathered volcanic lavas have made it possible to sustain dense populations in the agriculturally productive highland areas..

Human geography

Geopolitically, Central America has traditionally consisted of the following countries:

Name of territory,
with flag
(July 2007 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Capital Official
Belmopan English
San José Spanish
San Salvador Spanish
Guatemala City Spanish
Tegucigalpa Spanish
Managua Spanish
Panama City Spanish

Many modern definitions of Central America include Belize and Panama, neither of which existed upon the formation of the Federal Republic of Central America, a short-lived union created after most of the region gained independence from Spain in the 19th century. The territory now occupied by Belize was originally contested by the United Kingdom and the Spanish Empire and, later, Guatemala (which has considered it, wholly or partially, an eastern department); it became a British colony (British Honduras) in 1871 and gained independence in 1981.

Panama, situated on the Isthmus of Panama, is sometimes regarded as a transcontinental territory. Because of the Panama Canal, it is considered part of both North America and South America. For much of its post-Columbian history, Panama has been connected to South America. Panama was a possession of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, and then, following independence, became a part of la Gran Colombia (Greater Colombia). Only after independence from Colombia in 1903 did some begin to regard Panama as a North or Central American entity.


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, then turned into the Federal Republic of Central America, which was 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), Honduras, El Salvador, 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.

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 41,753,000 hab.

Central America is going through 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 that created the ODECA, the Organization of Central American States. Unfortunately, the ODECA was not completely successful due to internal conflicts between several states of the region.

It was until 1991 that the integration agenda was completed with the creation of the SICA, Sistema para la Integración Centroamericana or System for the Central American Integration. The SICA provided a clear legal base to avoid discrepancies between the member states. The SICA membership includes the 7 nations of Central America plus the Dominican Republic, a state that is part of the Caribbean.

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.

Foreign relations

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


"Central America" may mean different things to different people in the world according to the context:

  • In English, Central America is 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 occasionally included. 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, and Central America is considered a region of this continent. 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 not considered part of the region.
  • The UN geoscheme defines the region as all states of North America south of the United States; conversely, the European Union excludes Belize and Mexico from its definition of the region.
  • In Central America, the concept is divided in "Centroamérica" and "América Central". "Centro América" is used as a historical term to define the countries that formed part of the Federal Republic of Central America, while "América Central" is a contemporary concept of Central America as a region, now including Panama and Belize. This means, "Centroamérica" is a political term and "América Central" a geographical term.

See also


External links

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