Central America is the narrow piece of land that links North and South America, south of the Rocky Mountains yet still north of the South American Andes. Some might call it the “southern tip of North America”! It covers an area of 523,780 sq. km. and has a combined population of 42,688,190 (2012). Definitions vary a little, but generally, we use the term Central America to cover the seven countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. It is very rich in ethnic groups but the majority of the population are Mestizo (of combined European and native Indian descent), followed by a large number of White and Mayan inhabitants. Not surprisingly perhaps, given the colonization of the region by the Spanish in the 16th century, the main religion is Catholicism, but since the 1960´s, Protestantism has been growing. The largest economy in Guatemala which exports coffee, sugar, bananas, petroleum, and cardamom – the world´s 3rd most expensive spice after vanilla and saffron.
In places, in this fascinating geographical area, only a narrow isthmus (the Greek word for “neck”) or small strip of land separates the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. On one side is the Mexican Gulf and on the other to the south, the Caribbean Sea. Only 30 miles separate one coast from the other in Panama, so you can visit both in one day if you choose. Or overnight in everything from chic resorts to humble pensions.
This is an area of considerable seismic activity as it lies on several active geological faults including the Central American Volcanic Arc, so volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are not infrequent here. The trade winds have a significant effect on the climate of Central America in general, and there are two main seasons – the summer wet season or monsoon (with over 60 mm. of precipitation in a month), also known as the “green season”, and the winter dry season.
It is a mountainous region with large areas of evergreen, laurel forests at around 1,000 m. above sea level, which is also known rather poetically as “cloud forests” because of the low-level cloud that hangs just above the treetops at canopy level. Unfortunately, deforestation has been widespread. Over 80% of the land has already been converted to agriculture. This has, of course, also had a negative effect on the flora and fauna, 300 species of which are threatened with extinction. On a more positive note, Central America is also a major “flyway” or route for migratory birds migrating from Alaska all the way to Tiera del Fuego and back in the spring and autumn. And you can still see plenty of exotic wildlife with wonderful names such as capuchin frogs, poison dart frogs, keel-billed toucans as well as many species of butterflies. The tropical/sub-tropical climate makes it possible to grow crops such as coffee, tobacco, and beans in the fertile valleys where most of the population live.
The history of the region is turbulent and somewhat confusing. In the pre-Columbian era, the native Mesoamericans were the original inhabitants. They were followed by the Spanish conquistadors, led by Christopher Columbus in the 1600s, who governed the area as a whole from 1609 to 1821 from the regional capital in Mexico City. After a great deal of conflict and continual disagreement about who should rule what and from where, finally each of the seven states became independent countries, one after the other from 1838 – 1981.
Today, tourism is an increasingly important source of revenue. This is where your adventure begins! In 2016, foreign tourist arrivals were ranked as follows: Costa Rica 2.9 million, Panama – 2.0 million, Guatemala – 1.5 million, Nicaragua – 1.5 million, El Salvador – 1.4 million, Honduras – 0.9 million, and Belize- 0.38 million. But you can still find deserted islands and pristine beaches, steaming volcanoes and emerald forests where you can enjoy the amazing sights in solitude. Naturally, as with anywhere, there are places you probably shouldn´t venture into, such as the poorest sections of town in the larger cities but if you use a bit of common sense, you can explore this fascinating Central American region safely. The Mesoamerican Great Barrier Reef stretches from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico all the way down to Honduras and is the second largest reef system in the world. It is most accessible from Belize which, together with Honduras has some of the clearest waters in the Americas, where you can enjoy some fantastic reef dives for very little money.
Or you could join a guided excursion into the jungle and see some of those exotic species up close. Or if you would rather explore it on your own, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails. You might even get the chance to try one of the newest sports around – volcano surfing! Or just “do Central America” in luxury and take your golf clubs along to play on some of the top golf courses in Costa Rica, chilling out afterwards over a colorful cocktail and relaxing dinner. You might like to try the traditional dish of “Casado (“Spanish for “married man”!), chicken, beef, pork or fish accompanied by rice, black beans, plantains, salad and a tortilla.
As we mentioned, the definition of which countries constitute”Central America” can vary, but the menu below shows you what we define it as. All part of the service! We include: