Central America Overview


According to Countryaah, Central America is a region whose crust is especially unstable, since it is located on the western edge of the Caribbean tectonic plate. The subduction of the oceanic crust of this edge, which began in the Miocene, 25 million years ago, lifted the land from the sea. In a first stage, a peninsula and an archipelago were formed. Later, 3 million years ago, the scattered islands merged to form a true land bridge, or isthmus, linking North and South America. At the same time as the subduction and uplift, volcanic eruptions occurred (there are at least fourteen active volcanoes in Central America) and frequent cataclysms. Only in this century Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, has been destroyed twice by earthquakes. The most recent, in 1972, caused 10,000 victims. Volcanic activity has produced a landscape endowed with majestic cones raised by eruptions of lava and ash, and beautiful lakes formed in calderas or extinct volcanic craters.


The longest rivers in Central America flow into the Caribbean, while the most numerous, small, and mighty rivers drain into the Pacific. Among the longest are the Motagua, in Guatemala; the Ulúa, the Aguán and the Patruca, in Honduras; El Coco, which in one of its sections serves as the demarcation of the border between Honduras and Nicaragua; the Rio Grande and the Escondido, in Nicaragua, and the San Juan, which marks in one of its parts the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Some of the rivers that flow into the Caribbean are navigable by shallow boats, and those that flow into the Pacific are too steep or shallow for navigation.

Central America has three large lakes: Lakes Nicaragua and Managua, in Nicaragua, and Lake Gatún, in Panama. This lake is part of the Panama Canal, the great commercial route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.


In Central America there is a great variety of plants, and the vegetation is similar to that of North and South America. The tropical rainforest lowlands of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts look like jungle or flowers tropical South America. This is especially true below 1,000 m, where palm trees, tree ferns, lianas and epiphytes (aerial plants) are abundant, reflecting the high degree of humidity and rainfall in the region.

The vegetation shows similarities to that of North America at altitudes located between 1,000 and 1,600 m. The highland pine and oak forests resemble those of Mexico.

In the high regions of Guatemala, herbs similar to those that grow in Mexico and the United States grow. And in Costa Rica, at 3,100 m, tall grasses grow that are very similar to those that grow in the three branches of the Andes mountain rangein South America.


Most of the animals of Central America are similar to those that exist in South America and only in some cases to those of North America. Animals such as the opossum, jaguar, margay and ocelot, which are members of the Felidae family, have ties to those of South America. On the contrary, the cougar, the gray fox and the coyote are of North American origin.

The armadillo, anteater and the slub bear survive in the isolated lagoons of eastern Central America. The manatee is hunted for its meat, as are the great green turtle and the iguana. Central America is home to a wide variety of snakes, such as the boa constrictor. The parrots, the quetzal and toucans are common in this region and there are many species of fish; the sharks of Lake Nicaragua are also important.

Economic development

In the early 1990s, the Central American countries had an underdeveloped economy, in which agriculture is the most important economic activity. The manufacturing industry was dedicated to the treatment of raw materials. Annual per capita income was very low.

Cultivation is one of the main economic activities in Central America. The main crops are coffee, bananas, sugar cane, and cotton, they are typically grown on extensive fields, and a substantial proportion is exported. Cattle are raised on large ranches located primarily in the drier regions of western Central America.

Most manufacturing plants process raw materials such as sugar cane, coffee, cotton, wood, and fish. About half of Central America’s foreign trade is with the United States and Canada. Almost all the rest are with Western Europe, Mexico, and the countries of South America.

The main imports are manufactured products such as motor vehicles, agricultural materials, textiles, and processed food. The main exports include bananas, coffee, cocoa, meat, rubber, and groundnuts (groundnuts). These products are grown over large areas of land and constitute a significant proportion of export earnings, mainly to the United States and Europe.. Food for domestic consumption is grown on small farms, the products of which are used for family consumption, and relatively little is used for marketing. These subsistence products are corn, beans (beans), bananas, cassava (manioc) and rice, as well as poultry. In the dry regions of western Central America there are cattle-raising industries on extensive ranches. Modern farming methods are used in large agricultural industries, but in small ones, poorly advanced techniques are still generally used, which impede increased productivity.

The only surface transportation connecting all the countries in the region is a section of the Pan-American highway. Railroads connect the Caribbean and Pacific coasts in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama.

The region has several important ports, including Puerto Cortes in Honduras, Acajutla in El Salvador, Corinto in Nicaragua, Puerto Limón in Costa Rica, and Bahía las Minas in Panama. The Panama Canal, an important commercial channel, is an important shipping connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Mineral resources

The minerals of Central America were the main incentive to attract the Spanish colonizers. There are gold and silver deposits in Honduras and in the highlands of Nicaragua. Honduras also has important deposits of lead, zinc, copper, and low-grade iron ore; Nicaragua has large natural gas reserves in Pacific waters. In the vicinity of Izabal, in Guatemala, there are large deposits of nickel ; Also in this country there are important oil deposits, among them those near Chinajá. Costa Rica has large amounts of bauxite in the surroundings of Boruca. Panama has considerable copper deposits.


Most of the Central American population lives in the area of the isthmus facing the Pacific, where they occupy the surrounding low and highlands. Populations are scattered along the rainy and forested Caribbean foothills and the coast.

Central America Overview