Maps of Cental America. Fact file about geography of Central America
Detailed maps of Central America. The region includes countries Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama. Physical maps of Central America with cities.
Central America facts file
Regions of the World - Central America
Central America, lying in the tropical zone between North and South America, consists of two distinct parts: a mainland area and a number of islands in the Caribbean Sea.
Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama form the mainland. The two largest islands in the Caribbean Sea are Cuba and Hispaniola. The latter is divided into the Dominican Republic and Haiti. There are also several small island nations: Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Bahamas.
Dependencies include Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Navassa (USA), Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles (Netherlands), Anguilla, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands (UK), and Martinique and Guadeloupe (France).
Physical features Central America
Central America is a region of rugged mountains and volcanic peaks that were produced through the collision of several crustal plates. The Central American isthmus was formed by the interaction of the Caribbean and the Cocos Plates, while the Caribbean islands were the result of the Caribbean Plate moving against the North American Plate. Further north, in Mexico, the Pacific and North American Plates collided.
Volcanic activity is found in several sectors of these ranges, particularly in the area south of Mexico City, which contains volcanoes ranging in height from 3,000 to 4,000 m (10,000 to 14,000 ft). Volcanic eruptions have caused considerable damage through lava flows and ash deposits. Numerous islands in the Caribbean Sea, such as
Nelson's Harbour in Caribbean Antigua (below) contrasts with Mexican scenes, old and new: an ancient pyramid (right) and a woman washing radishes at the market (top).
Martinique, with the famous active volcano Mt Pelee, and Antigua are volcanic. In contrast, the Bahamas are an example of coral islands.
Climate and vegetation Central America
Central America lies within the tropics but because of its mountainous relief, climatic conditions vary with altitude. Such changes are notable in the narrow isthmus where variations in elevation are reflected in differences in vegetation. Low-lying areas, which are limited in extent, may have a hot, humid tropical climate with rainforest vegetation, while in elevated areas such as in the central Mexican Plateau the climate approaches temperate conditions. Mountain slopes facing rain-bearing winds are densely vegetated while, in contrast, northeastern Mexico is semiarid.
In areas of high rainfall there are large tropical evergreen forests, which provide cover for a dense undergrowth made up of smaller plants such as ferns and lianas. Animal life is abundant in these areas, but loss of habitat due to deforestation and hunting have caused several animal species to become endangered.
In drier areas, such as in the Yucatan region of Mexico, shrub vegetation dominates in areas previously farmed during the Mayan civilization.
The region lies within a belt which is affected almost every year by hurricanes. In November 1998 a hurricane devastated the countries lying on the isthmus, particularly Honduras and Nicaragua.
Population Central America
The population of the mainland is 135.2 million people while the Caribbean has 37.7 million inhabitants (2000). Life expectancies for the mainland are 69.5 years for males and 75.4 years for females, while in the Caribbean they are 64.9 years for males and 69 years for females. The mainland's annual population growth rate is 1.7 percent annually; that of the Caribbean is 0.9 percent. Urbanization is high—68.2 percent for the mainland and 63.1 percent for the Caribbean. Increasesin urban population, mainly as a result of rural to urban drift, have resulted in overcrowding and slum areas in many places. Mexico City is one of the world's largest cities.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing Central America
The economies of Central America are mainly agricultural. Maize, wheat, and rice are the principal cereals. The main livestock on the mainland are cattle, particularly where there are stretches of grassland; in the Caribbean, the main livestock are pigs. Extensive cattle ranches provide beef for export to North America.
Tropical plantation products such as sugarcane, coffee, cocoa, and bananas and other fruit are major export commodities, particularly to North America. Sugar is important in Cuba and Jamaica. Bananas are grown in several countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize for export. Coffee is grown in some areas, including Honduras and Nicaragua.
Many of the countries are economically dependent on the USA, which is the principal buyer of their exports. Cuba is the sole exception; since the communist revolution of 1958, Cuba has been selling its sugar to the former Soviet Union (now to Russia). Citrus fruit are also grown in several areas. Coconuts are an important product of the coastal areas around the Caribbean Sea.
Coniferous and broad-leaf forests occur on mountain slopes; these have been exploited for timber and firewood. Tropical forests have been logged for valuable hardwoods such as mahogany. Mexico, Cuba, and Guatemala all have forest industries.
Marine resources are abundant around the Caribbean islands, and for many of these nations fishing is a key activity. Belize, for example, relies on lobster and shrimp fishing.
Industrialization Central America
Several countries have been shifting their economies from agriculture to manufacturing. Mexico is the most industrialized of the Central American countries, producing iron and steel, transport equipment, chemicals, and clothing. Its main export market is the USA. In most countries, manufacturing is either based on locally produced raw materials, such as rum made from sugar or cigars and cigarettes from tobacco in Jamaica, or on other light industry.
Several countries have become tourist destinations, and for some Caribbean countries, with their attractive tropical environments, tourism is a mainstay.
Languages Central America
Central America was carved up by colonial powers, resulting in the presence of four official languages: Spanish, English, French and Dutch. All the mainland countries, except for Belize, where English is important, are Spanish-speaking.
Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are Spanish-speaking, although English is also spoken in Puerto Rico. There are several English-speaking Caribbean islands, the largest of which is Jamaica; others are Antigua, the Bahamas, and Barbuda. Martinique is French-speaking, and the tiny Antilles islands are Dutch-speaking.
A beautifully symmetrical Volcan Conception appears in the background of this view of Moyogalpa in Nicaragua (above). A stone carving at Tegucigalpa, Honduras (below left), and a lush tropical rainforest in Grenada (below right).
Boundary disputes and wars Central America
There have been no major boundary disputes in Central America, except for the Guatemalan claim to the former British Honduras, which is now the independent country of Belize. However, the region has been beset with a variety of insurgencies, often helped by external sources. The USA has several times intervened in the region, invading Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989, supporting right-wing opponents of leftist governments in Guatemala and Nicaragua, and imposing economic sanctions on Cuba. The communist revolution in Cuba, and its policy of exporting revolution, had a considerable effect on the region. Cuba received substantial support from the Soviet Union. A leftist guerilla movement succeeded in taking over Nicaragua in 1979 but its government lost office in the 1990 elections. An American Indian revolt took place in 1994 the Chiapas region of Mexico.