What is Central America?

(Last Updated On: February 23, 2018)

What is Central America?
North and South America are two continents that together, make up most of the land in Earth’s western hemisphere. Collectively, these continents are sometimes referred to as the Americas or the New World.

Within the Americas are many distinct, diverse regions. Regions can be defined by locations, taking into account the physical geography of the area. Or they can be distinguished by similar human features, like language, religion, customs, or history. One of the major regions of the Americas is Central America.

What is Central America? First of all, it is not a continent or country. Central America is a collection of countries, and like most regions, it can be defined by its location, and by shared characteristics amongst the countries that comprise it.

Geographical Context

Central America is the southernmost part of the continent of North America. It is a tropical isthmus that connects with the South American continent. Central America is bordered in the northwest by the country of Mexico, and in the southeast by the country of Colombia. In addition, it is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Central America extends roughly 1,140 miles from the northwest to southeast. It is only about 30 miles wide at the narrowest point of the isthmus. There is no location in Central America that is more than 125 miles from the sea.

Generally speaking, the land in Central America is fertile and rugged. It is a biodiversity hotspot, with a tropical climate. The land is also dominated by volcanic mountain ranges. The presence of many active geologic faults mean there is a great deal of seismic activity in the region, with volcanic eruptions and earthquakes frequently occuring.

Political Context

Central America has long been home to the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica to the north, and the Isthmo-Colombian peoples to the south. However, shortly after Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the New World, the Spanish began to colonize the continent. Much of the territory within Central America came to be governed by the Spanish. Overtime, lands within the region would gain their independence, and today, there are seven countries that make up Central America. These countries include:

  • Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama

In addition to sharing a history of Spanish conquest, Central America is also bound together by shared cultural similarities. The countries of Central America are all part of a larger collection of countries called Latin America. The term ‘Latin America’ was coined by the French government in the mid-19th century, and is used to describe the countries and dependencies in the Western Hemisphere where Spanish, French, and Portuguese are spoken.

In Central America, the majority of people speak Spanish. It is the official language in all countries of the region, except for Belize, where English is the official language. There are various ethnic groups in Central America, but the majority of the population is of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry. In Pre-Columbian times, the region was rich with various religions and beliefs, but following Spanish colonization in the 16th century, Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Central America. Today, 95% of Central America is Christian.

What is Central America?

So, Central America is a part of Latin America that is located on the continent of North America. It connects North and South America and has a tropical climate with a wide range of geographical features. Its rich history, culture, and climate make Central America a fantastic vacation destination, no matter which label you choose when discussing it!

About the Author:

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Mark Heald is the Managing Editor of Sporcle.com. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.