The Tikal Pyramids in Guatemala
North America

Central America Geography

Central America covers as many as seven countries but is smaller in area than France.

Despite its size, the area offers many variations. Nature encompasses everything from the world’s second largest coral reef in Belize to the ever – green fog forests of the Costa Rican highlands. The inhabitants of Central America have their roots in Europe, Africa and the Native American high cultures, and the area can display buildings from the Mayan people’s impressive step pyramids to the huge Panama Canal.

Area: 524,000 km²

Number of inhabitants: 146 million

Largest country (by population)

  • Mexico – 118 million
  • Guatemala – 15 million
  • Honduras – 8.2 million
  • El Salvador – 6.1 million
  • Nicaragua – 6 million

Did you know that…

the Mayan ruins Chichén Itzá in Mexico and Machu Picchu in Peru are two of the world’s seven new wonders?

the ruins of the kingdom of Copán were excavated as late as the 70s? The jungle had taken over the area and it turned out that during the dense vegetation hid some of the most important discoveries of the Mayan culture!

Geography of Central America

Central America consists of the narrow headland that connects North America with South America. The term normally covers the area between the southern border of Mexico and the northwestern border of Colombia. Geographically, Central America belongs to North America, although the area culturally has more in common with Spanish-speaking South America. Central America is a mountainous area and throughout the headland runs a mountain range that connects the main mountain ranges of North and South America. Many of the mountains are volcanoes and between these are large valleys with fertile volcanic soil. Along the two coastal stretches towards the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the landscape is flat with large banana and pineapple plantations.

Central American climate

The climate in Central America is tropical. Temperatures are high (25-35 °) throughout the year in the low-lying areas, while those in the mountains vary between 20 and 25 °. The east side of the Central American mountain strip receives a lot of rain due to the trade winds that blow in from the Caribbean Sea. The Pacific coast receives only half as much rain and actually has a dry period between November and April, while the Caribbean coast has year-round rain. The sun looks out every day, even during the rainy seasons when the rain usually falls as short, heavy showers in the afternoon or evening.

The Sumidero Gorge in Mexico

Animals and plants in Central America

The wildlife of North and South America extends over Central America and provides a very varied nature. The landscape of Central America encompasses everything from tropical, lush rainforests along the Caribbean coast to the misty forests of the mountains, which are always shrouded in low-hanging clouds, and the savannahs and scattered forest plants of the Pacific coast that wither and turn brown during the dry season. Wildlife is as diverse as plant life and typical Central American species include cougar, howler monkey, armadillo, sloths, turtles, iguanas, a plethora of snake species and even more birds.

The population of Central America

A total of 25 million people live in the seven Central American countries. The population is predominantly of Native American origin, although only a few are pure Native Americans without European blood in their veins. In addition, there is an African minority in most countries. These are descendants of slaves who were introduced under Spanish rule and live mainly on the east coast of the Caribbean Sea. Among the African population groups and in Belize, English is spoken, by the way, the main language in the region is Spanish.

History of Central America

The northern part of Central America contributed to the flourishing Native American cultures such as the Maya and Aztecs in Mexico, while the southern part had more in common with the Inca people and other South American cultures. In large parts of the region, however, smaller Native American groups led a relatively isolated and primitive existence. Christopher Columbus reached the Central American mainland on his fourth and final voyage in 1502, exploring the Caribbean coast from present-day Honduras to Panama. After Columbus, other explorers began to flock, and in the early 16th century, all lands became Spanish colonies. The British gained control of a limited area in the form of British Honduras, now Belize. The British retained power in Belize until 1981, while the Spanish heyday ended in 1821 and the former Spanish colonies (except Panama, which belonged to Colombia) merged to create a common Central American republic. The new republic was marked by civil war and political disputes and was dissolved only 17 years after its founding. Thereafter, some of the countries waged war against each other and within the countries there was unrest with civil wars and dictatorships.

The Tikal Pyramids in Guatemala

The Tikal Pyramids in Guatemala

Central America’s relationship with the United States

Ever since the Spaniards returned home, the United States has wanted to have a hand in Central American politics and economics. American trade barons established orchards in many Central American countries, and the presence of the United States contributed to stability and development in many places. However, the fruit lords knew how to charge for their efforts and the term banana republic arose from the great power of the North American plantation owners in the countries. Ever since the end of World War II, Central American countries have sought to limit US power. However, the North American big brother is still very much present in the area and has been involved in both political problems and guerrilla warfare which, together with a lame economy, has kept many of the countries in a vise for many decades.

Traveling to Central America

Central America is of a manageable size and is packed with sights. A trip to Central America is never uneventful. The region is compact and easy to travel in and there is plenty to do. From Guatemala’s never-ending stream of Mayan ruins to Belize’s interesting mix of British orderliness and Caribbean laissez-faire mentality. From El Salvador’s pearl of beautiful, menacing volcanoes to Honduras’ alluring Caribbean sandy beaches. From Nicaragua’s postcard landscapes and cone-shaped volcanoes reflected in the lakes, to Costa Rica’s paradisiacal green nature and Panama’s world – famous canal. Enjoy your vacation in Central America!