Countries of Central America
Seven Countries on One Peninsula
The sub-continent of Central America, a peninsula between North America and South America, is comprised of seven countries.
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
The official language of one of the countries in English. One of the countries does not have any army.
Read about all seven countries, and then take the Test Your Knowledge of Central America quiz which follows. Not all quiz answers appear in the text. If you don't know the answer to a question...guess. After you've taken the quiz, please post your score in the Comments section at the end of the article. It's fun to compare the score you received with the scores my other readers have gotten in the quiz.
Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize is the only country in Central America in which English is the official language.
El Castillo, pictured below, is part of the Xunantunich Mayan archeological site. Xunantunich served as a ceremonial center in the Belize Valley area from 600 to 1000 AD—the Late and Terminal Classic periods in Mayan history. The ghost of a woman with glowing fire red eyes who is dressed all in white has been seen at El Castillo several times. The woman walks up the steps of El Castillo and then disappears through a wall in the pyramid-shaped castle.
There are several active volcanoes in Costa Rica, among them Arenal, Irazu, and Poás—pictured below. Poás is located in Poás Volcano National Park. The volcano’s main crater is 950 feet (290 meters) deep. There are frequent small eruptions, either water (geysers) or lava. The last major eruptions occurred during the period between 1952 and 1954.
Costa Rica is one of the world’s 22 oldest democracies. It is a peace-loving country which abolished its army in 1949.
El Salvador, which is the smallest country in Central America and the most densely populated one, has 300 rivers, 14 lakes, and 25 volcanoes, two of which— San Miguel and Izalco— are still active. The US Dollar has been the official currency in El Salvador since 2001.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe—pictured below—in San Salvador, El Salvador took 40 years to build. The feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, held on December 12, is one of the three most important religious celebrations in Central America. In December 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to the Aztec Indian Juan Diego. This apparition caused the Aztec conversion to Catholicism in Central America, South America, and Mexico.
Santo Tomás Church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala was built circa 1545 on the platform of a temple which pre-dates Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. The steps of the church—pictured below—originally lead to a Mayan temple. A market takes place in the town square which borders the church and frequently extends to the church’s steps, which are considered sacred Mayan ground.
The La Moskitia area of Honduras, home to the Miskito Indians ethnic group, was popularized in the novel "The Mosquito Coast" by Paul Theroux. The novel was made into a movie starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, the trailer for which appears below.
Honduras, unfortunately, has the world’s highest murder rate, according to studies published in September 2012 by the United Nations. The reason for this is drug trafficking and the country being used as a transit point for cocaine being transported to the United States. Soldiers ride on all buses traveling in Tegucigalpa, the capital city, in an attempt to prevent gangs from boarding the buses and robbing passengers.
The largest and most sparsely populated country in Central America, Nicaragua’s first Spanish settlement was the town of Granada, founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba. (A typical Nicaraguan street in Granada is pictured below.)
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and is second to Haiti in being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Traces of villages dating from 2500 to 1700 BC have been discovered in Panama, the southernmost country in Central America. The first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama was not Christopher Columbus. Rodrigo de Bastidas, a Spanish explorer who sailed with Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas, discovered Panama in 1500 on a voyage which he organized, and founded the city of Santa Marta a year before Columbus reached Panama.
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