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Central America
Area 523,780 km²
Population 41,739,000 (2009 est.)
Density 77 per km²
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) Tegucigalpamarker


Guatemala Citymarker

San Salvadormarker

San Pedro Sulamarker

Panama Citymarker

San Josémarker, Costa Ricamarker

Santa Anamarker, El Salvadormarker


San Miguelmarker

Central America ( ) 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. Most of Central America is considered to be part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot.

Physical geography

Physiographically, Central America is the tapering isthmusof southern North America, extending from the Isthmus of Tehuantepecmarker in southern Mexicomarkersoutheastward to the Isthmus of Panama where it connects to the ColombianmarkerPacific 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 Oceanmarker lies to the southwest, the Caribbean Seamarker lies to the northeast,and the Gulf of Mexicomarker 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 Nicaraguamarker, was devastated by earthquakes in 1931 and 1972, the last one killed about 10,000 people; three earthquakes devastated El Salvadormarker, one in 1986 and two in 2001; one earthquakemarker devastated northern and central Costa Rica in 2009 killing at least 34 people; in Hondurasmarker a powerful earthquake killed 7 people in 2009.

Volcanic eruptions are common in the region. In 1968 the Arenal Volcanomarker, in Costa Rica, erupted and killed 87 people. Fertile soils from weathered volcanic lavas have made it possible to sustain dense populationsin the agriculturally productive highland areas.

Central America has many mountain ranges; the longest are the Sierra Madre de Chiapasmarker, the Cordillera Isabeliamarker and the Cordillera de Talamancamarker. Between the mountain ranges lie fertile valleys that are suitable for the people; in fact most of the population of Hondurasmarker, Costa Ricamarker and Guatemalamarker live in valleys. Valleys are also suitable for the production of coffee, beans and other crops.


Central America is part of the Mesoamerican Biodiversity hotspot. It has 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. However the southern countries (Costa Ricamarker and Panamamarker) of the region have more biodiversity than the northern countries (Guatemalamarker and Belizemarker), meanwhile the central countries (Hondurasmarker, Nicaraguamarker and El Salvadormarker) have least biodiversity. The table shows current statistics for the seven countries:

Country Amphibians Birds Mammals Reptiles Wildlife diversity Vascular Plants Biodiversity
46 544 147 140 877 2894 3771
183 838 232 258 1511 12119 13630
30 434 137 106 707 2911 3618
133 684 193 236 1246 8681 9927
101 699 201 213 1214 5680 6894
61 632 181 178 1052 7590 8642
182 904 241 242 1569 9915 11484

Human geography

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

Name of territory,
with flag
(July 2009 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Capital Official

Belmopanmarker English
San Josémarker Spanish
San Salvadormarker Spanish
Guatemala Citymarker Spanish
Tegucigalpamarker Spanish
Managuamarker Spanish
Panama Citymarker Spanish

Many modern definitions of Central America include Belize, and Panama, which did not exist upon the formation of the Federal Republic of Central America, a short-lived union created after most of the region gained independence from Spainmarker in 1821. The territory now occupied by Belize was originally contested by the United Kingdommarker and the Spanish Empire and, later, Guatemalamarker (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 Canalmarker, it is considered part of both North America and South America. For much of its post-Columbian history, Panama was culturally linked 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.


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 Mexicomarker in the north to Costa Ricamarker 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 Panamamarker traded with both Mesoamerica and South America, and can be considered transitional between those two cultural areas.

Map of the Republic of Central America
Following Christopher Columbus's discovery of the Americas for Spainmarker, 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 Mexicomarker to Costa Ricamarker, and thus encompassed most of what is currently known as Central America, with the exception of British Honduras (present-day Belizemarker). 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 Citymarker. 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 Provincemarker which was once part of Nicaraguamarker), 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 50,807,778 hab.

Countries part of the SICA

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 Republicmarker, a state that is part of the Caribbeanmarker.

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.

Foreign relations

Until recently, all Central American countries have maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China marker instead of the People's Republic of Chinamarker. 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 speaking countries, 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. Mexicomarker, in whole or in part, is sometimes included. Some geographers include the five states of Campechemarker, Chiapasmarker, Tabascomarker, Quintana Roomarker, and Yucatánmarker, together representing 12.1% of the country's total area.
  • In Latin America, Iberiamarker, 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 considered part of North America.
  • Occasionally, 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 Statesmarker; conversely, the European Union excludes Belize and Mexico from its definition of the region.

See also


  1. Largest Cities in Central America, Rhett Butler. Accessed on line January 10, 2008.
  2. Central America, MSN Encarta. Accessed on line January 10, 2008. Archived 2009-10-31.
  3. "Central America", vol. 3, Micropædia, The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990, 15th ed. ISBN 0-85229-511-1.
  4. Mesoamerica, Biodiversity Hotspots, Conservation International. Accessed on line January 10, 2008.
  13. Areas and population estimates taken from the 2008 CIA World Factbook, whose population estimates are as of July 2007.
  14. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China
  15. " Central America." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
  16. " Central America". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
  17. Burchfield, R. W. 2004. "America". Fowler's Modern English Usage (ISBN 0-19-861021-1) New York: Oxford University Press, p. 48.
  18. Centroamérica (Mexican version)"/ Centroamérica (Spaniard version). Encarta Online Encyclopedia.. Archived 2009-10-31.
  19. Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49). United Nations Statistics Division.
  20. The EU's relations with Central America, European Commission. Accessed on line October 17, 2007.

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