Central America is the isthmus that connects North and South America. It is comprised of 7 countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama with a total population of approximately 42 million people.
Central America is one of the most diverse regions in the world with a plethora of ethnic groups and cultures reflecting its history. Roughly half of the population is Mestizo or Ladino, a mixture between the Spanish who colonized the region in the 16th century and the indigenous people or Spaniards and Africans who were brought to the “New World” as slaves. The other half belongs to some of Latin America’s 600 indigenous groups or immigrants from Europe, Asia or the Americas.
Although Spanish is the prevailing language (except for Belize where the official language is English), there are hundreds of different languages spoken in the region. The majority of the people are Catholics, a religion brought by the Spanish, but typically with original beliefs and rituals incorporated.
Traveling in Central America, you are met by a rich and diverse culture, visible in languages, food, clothing, celebrations, traditions, arts, music and more.
One of the most dramatic geographical characteristics of Central America are the natural disasters that periodically strike the countries. The region is on fault lines between tectonic plates. The majority of the land is mountainous with active volcanoes and earthquakes from time to time. Being a relatively narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Central America is also prone to extreme weather such as hurricanes and droughts. With global climate change, these are becoming more frequent and the lives of one out of every four Central Americans (that’s around 10 million people) is being negatively impacted.
Central America has only 0.1% of the world’s land mass, but 7% of its biodiversity. Many of the endemic Central American species are endangered or near extinction due to deforestation, hunting and the pressure of human population growth on the area.
Historically, Central American trade has been very dependent on two products: coffee and bananas. During the 20th century, the United States was the major trading partner with large economic and strategic interests in the region. In recent decades, Central America has succeeded in diversifying its exports and its trading partners.
Central America is a dynamic and diverse region where people are facing huge challenges as a consequence of global climate changes, environmental damages and decades of conflicts and civil wars.