So which countries, exactly, make up Central America?

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Central America is made up of 7 different countries and each of them is unique. Here is what you need to know to visit the region.

Central America is a sub-region of North America located between Mexico and Colombia. The region is made up of seven countries – Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. It is a tropical region and has a lot to explore.

Central America is part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot and teems with all kinds of wildlife. Parts of it are also geologically actively part of the Central American volcanic arc. Attractions cover beaches, ecotourism, Mayan ruins and cultural tourism.

What to know about Central America

Overall, the population of Central America exceeds 45 million. All Central American countries are Spanish speaking – except Belize which is English speaking.


  • Population: About 45 million

During the colonial era (from 1609 to 1821), the majority of the region (but not Panama or Belize) was governed by the Viceroyalty of New Spain from Mexico City as the Captaincy General of Guatemala.

In 1821, the Spanish possessions of Mexico separated from Spain, and the Central American states briefly joined the Central American state. This did not last long and most were annexed to the short-lived First Mexican Empire. When that fell apart, they seceded from Mexico and formed the Federal Republic of Central America until 1838.

Today, Salvadorans, Costa Ricans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans can be considered the cultural core of Central America. English-speaking Belizeans often identify more with the West Indies and the Caribbean, while Panamanians identify more broadly with South America.


Related: Visiting the Stunning Mayan Ritual Caves of the Mayan Peninsula

Central American countries

Belize:

Belize has only a very small population and is more culturally associated with that of the Caribbean (much like Suriname and Guyana). It has the smallest population and its colonial history was that of Britain. It is famous for its stunning beaches and Mayan ruins.

  • Region: 23,000 km2
  • Population: 380,000
  • Capital city: Belmopan
  • Official language: English

Costa Rica:

Costa Rica (Spanish for “Rich Coast”) is perhaps every country’s favorite in Central America. It is very popular for ecotourism and has stunning rainforests, sunny beaches, impressive national parks.


  • Region: 51,000 km2
  • Population: 5000000
  • Capital city: San Jose
  • Official language: Spanish

El Salvador:

El Salvador is often an overlooked country in Central America (partly due to high crime and low economic development). It is the only country in the region not bordered by the Caribbean (it only borders the Pacific Ocean). But even visiting here can be very rewarding.

Guatemala:

Guatemala is one of the most stunning emerging tourist destinations, with its central region breathtaking. It is also famous for its rich Mayan heritage in much of the country. It also has a very large indigenous population and one that speaks its own languages.


  • Region: 109,000 km2
  • Population: 17 million
  • Capital city: Guatemala
  • Official language: Spanish

Honduras:

Honduras is another beautiful country (but one whose high crime rate often deters people from visiting). It has a large Caribbean coastline and a much smaller Pacific one. The idyllic self-contained island of Roatan is one of the country’s top attractions for tourists.

  • Region: 112,000 km2
  • Population: 9.5 million
  • Capital city: Tegucigalpa
  • Official language: Spanish

Nicaragua:

Nicaragua is another country that is full of stunning tropical rainforests and beaches. Unfortunately, the country has been deeply scarred by many years of civil war – although these wars have long since ended.


  • Region: 130,000 km2
  • Population: 6.5 million
  • Capital city: Managua
  • Official language: Spanish

Panama:

Of course, Panama is world famous for its Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is considered one of the greatest engineering feats in modern history and there are a number of visitor centers for those wishing to visit and learn more about the Panama Canal. But Panama is much more than the canal. It also has a rich culture, rainforest and beautiful beaches. Even though it is physically connected to South America, there are no roads connecting them.

  • Region: 75,000 km2
  • Population: 4 million
  • Capital city: panama city
  • Official language: Spanish

Related: The Complete Guide to Visiting the Most Impressive Mayan Ruins in 5 Countries

Language and People

The Maya region extended not only over the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, but also over part or all of Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

While Spanish is the official and majority language of all countries (except Belize), many people speak Mayan languages ​​in some countries. The Maya language family is made up of approximately 26 related languages, 21 of which are recognized in Guatemala. Other notable languages ​​include Xinca, Miskito, and Garifuna.

  • Mayan languages: Spoken by 34% of people in Guatemala, 8.9% in Belize and 7.1% in Nicaragua
  • Mayan civilization: The must of northern Central Asia

While the majority of the region’s population identifies as Mestizo (combined European and Indigenous ancestry), there are also significant populations who identify as having Mayan, White, African, and other backgrounds.

Next: 25 Unimaginable Things About The Maya Civilization We’re Still Discovering

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