Countries and capitals of Central America

Central America is a subregion of the Americas[1] formed by six Latin American countries and one (officially) Anglo-American country, Belize. As an isthmus it connects South America with the remainder of mainland North America, and comprises the following countries (from north to south): Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

The inhabitants of Central America represent a variety of ancestries, ethnic groups, and races, making the region one of the most diverse in the world. Some of the countries have a predominance of mixed Amerindian–European, or mestizo, population, while others are inhabited by those of European or Black African ancestry. Asian and mixed race Afro-Amerindian minorities are also identified regularly. People with mestizo ancestry are the largest single group, and along with people of greater European ancestry, comprise approximately 80% of the population,[2] or even more.[3]

In 2007, Central America had a population of approximately 40 million persons within an area of 523,780 km2, yielding an overall density of 77.3 inhabitants/km2 that is not distributed evenly. For example, Belize is larger than El Salvador in area by 1,924 km2, but El Salvador has 30 times the population of Belize. Similarly, the population of Costa Rica is greater than that of Panama, while Panama is greater in area. Guatemala has the largest population with 13.2 million, followed by Honduras at 7.8 million.

Population and density

Country or
territory with flag
(km2) (per sq mi)
(July 2012 est.)
Population density
per km2
 Guatemala 108,889 km2 (42,042 sq mi) 14,099,032 116.8/km2 (4,913.9/sq mi) Guatemala City
 Belize 22,966 km2 (8,867 sq mi) 307,899 13/km2 (546.9/sq mi) Belmopan
 El Salvador 21,040 km2 (8,120 sq mi) 6,090,646 330.2/km2 (13,891.9/sq mi) San Salvador
 Honduras 112,090 km2 (43,280 sq mi) 8,296,693 66.7/km2 (2,806.1/sq mi) Tegucigalpa
 Nicaragua 129,494 km2 (49,998 sq mi) 5,727,707 43.8/km2 (1,842.7/sq mi) Managua
 Costa Rica 51,100 km2 (19,700 sq mi) 4,636,348 70.8/km2 (2,978.6/sq mi) San José
 Panama 78,200 km2 (30,200 sq mi) 3,360,474 41.4/km2 (1,741.7/sq mi) Panama City
Total 523,780 42,071,038 77.3/km2

See also: Demographics of Latin America


Salvadoran School Children from Metapan

Central American Admixture began with the arrival of the Spaniards to Central America, whose consequences could still be perceived in the present-day Central American Society. Mestizos are the result of the admixture between Spaniards and Native Americans (or Amerindians).

Mestizos are the majority in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.[4] formed by 22,425,257 inhabitants, occupying the majority of the Central American population, and all 7 countries have significant Mestizo populations.

The Mestizaje begins when Europeans arrived in the territory of Central America, due to the shortage of European women, European men intermarried with indigenous women. Mestizos used the third social group of the social pyramid of the Spanish, although in countries like Costa Rica and El Salvador, the mestizos were seen as the same group with the Criollos, for various reasons such as the scarcity of indigenous populations, mainly in Costa Rica, caste systems were implemented, which appeared different terms.[5]

The country with the highest percentage of Mestizo population in the Central American Region is Honduras, with multitudes of Mestizo populations scattered throughout its territory. In El Salvador and Nicaragua the Mestizo population is the majority. In Costa Rica the mestizo population is the first ethnic minority, although according to the surveys it is seen as the same group with the Whites, the majority of the population is made up of whites/mestizos.[6][7]


Young Costa Ricans in San José.

The first contact of Europeans with Central America occurred in 1502, during the fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus, who sailed the Caribbean coasts of present-day Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.[8]

After the conquest of the native population, the Spanish established a caste system in which they and their descendants occupied the upper part of the social pyramid. Being the peninsular who had the right to high political, religious and military positions. It is for this reason that it was the White settler population who started the independence movements at the beginning of the 19th century.[9]

When Central America became independent in El Salvador they were more than 10%. In Costa Rica they were more than 9%, Guatemala and Nicaragua they represented 5%. In Honduras they represented less than 3%.[10][11][12][13][14]

Liberal reforms began in 1870 in Central America, being successful in Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, this attracted thousands of immigrants, mainly Italian, German and Spanish.[15][16]

The construction of large infrastructure works such as the Panama Canal or the Atlantic Railroad in Costa Rica, demanded the entry of thousands of Spanish, Italian and Greek workers.

Germans also arrived in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua to dedicate themselves to agricultural activities,[17][18] In Costa Rica and El Salvador, the entry of hundreds of thousands of Italians in the first decades of the 20th century was one of the most important movements that had demographic weight.[19][20][21]

In the First and Second World War, thousands of Jews, mainly from Germany and Poland, entered the Region Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala were the ones that received the most.[22][23][24][16]

Currently Costa Rica has the highest percentage of people who enter the category of European or white origin, followed by Nicaragua and El Salvador, however there are also significant populations in the other Central American nations.[25]

Costa Rica: As of 2012, most Costa Ricans are primarily of Spanish ancestry. Many also have German, Italian, French, Dutch, British, Swedish, and Greek ancestry. Europeans and mestizos together comprise 83% of the population.[26] Europeans and castizos represent 65.8% of the total population).[27] European migrants used Costa Rica to get across the isthmus of Central America as well to reach the Californian coast in the late-19th and early-20th centuries prior to the opening of the Panama Canal. Other European ethnic groups known to live in Costa Rica include Russians, Danes, Belgians, Portuguese, Croats, and Hungarians.

Nicaragua: Also, in Nicaragua during the mid-19th century and early-20th century immigration was encouraged by the government giving land in areas of Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Managua-El Crucero, Carazo, Nueva Segovia and Madriz, mainly to German, French and Eastern European immigrants who were willing to work the land.

El Salvador 12% of Salvadorans are mostly descendants of the Spaniard colonizers, with others descending from French, Italians, Portuguese, British, Germans and some other Central European ethnic groups.

Panama: Less than 7% of the Panamanian population identifies as white.[28] European immigration to Panama in the 19th and 20th centuries included British people, Irish people, Dutch people, French people, Germans, Italians, Portuguese people, Poles, and Russians.

Guatemala: Five percent of Guatemalans are whites of European descent in their majority Spanish and German.

Belize: In 2010 there were 13,964 White people living in Belize, forming 4.6% of the total population. 10,865 or 3.6% of the population were Mennonites of German/Dutch descend.

Honduras: 1% of the Honduran population is identified as white, in other statistics it appears that whites in honduras made up the 3% of the total population.[28][29] These are people of mainly Spanish, British, Italian, French, and jewish ancestry. However, the term white in Honduras can be a somewhat ambiguous definition, similar to what happens in other Latin American countries. This is because any white-skinned person is called a chele, a word in Honduras used for white skinned pople, whether they are of Euro descent or of another ethnic origin, as in the case of Arabs, who in general in the case of Honduras are mostly of Palestinian descent.


See also: Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Rigoberta Menchú K'iche'-Guatemalan

The only plurality of Amerindian, or indigenous, people in Central America is in Guatemala. Amerindians comprise minorities in the other Central American countries.

Before the arrival of the Spanish Europeans in Central America, there were 2 million indigenous people in Guatemala, 1 million in Honduras, 1,000,000 in Nicaragua, 750 thousand in Panama, less than 500 thousand in El Salvador and less than 400 thousand in Costa Rica. However, the numbers are highly variable, according to Bernardo Augusto Thiel, the indigenous population in Costa Rica was around 27,000, in El Salvador less than 100,000, in Nicaragua, Honduras and Panama 750,000 and more than a million in Guatemala, on the other hand, other historians gave intermediate figures, more than a million in Guatemala and Honduras, 750 thousand in Nicaragua and Panama, 200,000 in El Salvador and 100,000 in Costa Rica.[30][31][32]

The indigenous population had a significant decline due to diseases and hostility of the Spanish towards the indigenous, mainly in Costa Rica and El Salvador, which were almost depopulated.[30]

After independence, the indigenous population was very numerous, in Guatemala it represented 64%,[33] around 30% of the populations of Honduras and Nicaragua, 20% in El Salvador[34] and in Costa Rica 13% were indigenous.[35]


Main article: Ethnic groups in Latin America

The Amerindian populations in Guatemala include the K'iche' 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9% and Q'eqchi 6.3%. 8.6% of the population is "other Mayan," 0.4% is indigenous non-Mayan, making the indigenous community in Guatemala about 40.5% of the population.[36]


Roughly 10% of the population is Amerindian, mostly Maya. Three Maya groups now inhabit the country: The Yucatec (who came from Yucatán, Mexico to escape the Caste War of the 1840s), the Mopan (indigenous to Belize but were forced out by the British; they returned from Guatemala to evade slavery in the 19th century), and Kekchi (also fled from slavery in Guatemala in the 19th century).[37] The later groups are chiefly found in the Toledo District.


According to the 2010 census in Panama, approximately 12.3% of the nation's population are indigenous. The Amerindian population figure stood at 417,500 individuals in 2010.[38]


Berta Caceres, Lencan environmental activist. -Honduran

About 35% of the Honduran population are members of one of the seven recognized indigenous groups, most of them are from Lenca, Chorti, and Tolupan origin.[39]


33% of Nicaraguans are Amerindians, the unmixed descendants of the country's indigenous inhabitants. Nicaragua's pre-Columbian population consisted of many indigenous groups. In the western region the Nicarao people, after whom the country is named, were present along with other groups related by culture and language to the Maya. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were mostly chibcha related groups that had migrated from South America, primarily present day Colombia and Venezuela. These groups include the Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos. In the 19th century, there was a substantial indigenous minority, but this group was also largely assimilated culturally into the mestizo majority.[40]

Costa Rica

Main article: Indigenous peoples of Costa Rica

There are over 104,000 Amerindian inhabitants, comprising 2.4% of the Costa Rican population. Most of them live in secluded reservations, distributed among eight ethnic groups: Quitirrisí (in the Central Valley), Matambú or Chorotega (Guanacaste), Maleku (northern Alajuela), Bribri (southern Atlantic), Cabécar (Cordillera de Talamanca), Guaymí (southern Costa Rica, along the Panamá border), Boruca (southern Costa Rica) and Térraba (southern Costa Rica).[41]

El Salvador

Indigenous Salvadoran women dancing in the traditional "Procession of Palms" a custom celebrated in the town of Panchimalco in El Salvador.

Only 1% of the Salvadoran population is purely indigenous, mostly Pipil, Lenca and Kakawira (Cacaopera). The current low numbers of indigenous people may be partly explained by mass murders by European colonizers.[42] They wanted to exterminate the indigenous race and other tribes in Central America. Today many Pipil and other Indigenous populations live in small towns of El Salvador like Izalco, Panchimalco, Sacacoyo, and Nahuizalco.[43]

Country or
territory with flag
% Local Population % Regional
 Guatemala 40.5 6,976,989
 Belize 10.6 32,495
 El Salvador 1.0 60,906
 Honduras 7.0 545,499
 Nicaragua 5.0 294,559
 Costa Rica 2.4 104,000
 Panama 12.3 417,500
Total 8,431,988 16.24

Afro Central Americans

Nery Brenes Costa Rican Athlete

The Creole, Afro-Caribbean, and Garifuna populations form the majority of the Afro-Latin Americans in Central America, of which the majority is concentrated on the Caribbean coasts of the region. It is important to note that all these groups are distinct, speaking English, English creoles, Garifuna, Miskito, and Spanish. The highest percentage is 31% in Belize, where Kriols and Garifuna were once the majority of the nation that has seen heavy emigration and immigration in the last 30 years.[44][45]

The largest population, however, is in Honduras of Garifuna, English-speaking Creoles, Afro-Hondurans, and to a lesser degree of Miskito descent, of which the majority is concentrated on the Caribbean coast and the Bay Islands Department. An estimated 600,000 Hondurans are of Garífuna descent, and, in addition to the Miskito and Creole population, Honduras has one of the largest African communities in Latin America.[46][47][48] In Costa Rica about 8% of the population is of Black African descent or Mulatto (mix of European and black) who are called Afro-Costa Ricans, English-speaking descendants of 19th century black Jamaican immigrant workers. In Panama people of African descent were already present when the construction of an inter-oceanic channel saw the large arrival of immigrant afro-Caribbeans. Honduras has a small population of creole people, but the overwhelming majority of blacks are Garifuna. Afro-Guatemalans are concentrated in the Caribbean department of Izabal and consist of a mix of Garifunas and other Afro-Caribbeans. Although El Salvador is the only Central American country with no official black percentage, El Salvador has had black African slavery in its history during the colonial era, over time they mixed with both Amerindians and Europeans causing their offspring to join into the general Mestizo population.[49] But Afro-Salvadoran heritage commonly do exist.[50]

Kriols In Belize, Kriols make up roughly 21% of the Belizean population and about 75% of the Diaspora. They are descendants of the Baymen slave owners, and slaves brought to Belize for the purpose of the logging industry.[51] These slaves were mostly Black (many also of Miskito ancestry) from Nicaragua and born Africans who had spent very brief periods in Jamaica.[52] Bay Islanders and more Jamaicans came in the late 19th century, further adding these all ready varied peoples, creating this ethnic group.

For all intents and purposes, Kriol is an ethnic and linguistic denomination, but some natives, even those blonde and blue-eyed, may call themselves Kriols. It is defined as more a cultural attribute and not limited to physical appearance.[52]

Country or
territory with flag
% Local Population % Regional
 Guatemala 2.0 276,489
 Belize 31 95,488
 Honduras 2.0 600,000
 Nicaragua 9.0 500,000
 Costa Rica 8.0* 333,727
 Panama 14.0 470,466
Total 1,862,234 4.43

*(includes mulattoes)


Harry Shum, Jr Asian-Costa Rican – Glee Actor/Dancer
Celebration of the Chinese year in Costa Rica

Panama: Chinese-Panamanian population today presents 4% or 135,000. Ethnic Chinese in Panama, also variously referred to as Chinese-Panamanian, Panamanian-Chinese, Panama Chinese, or in Spanish as Chino-Panameño,[citation needed] are Panamanian citizens and residents of Chinese origin or descent.[53][54][55]

Costa Rica: Today, Asians represent almost 1% of the Costa Rican population. the first Chinese people in Costa Rica migrants arrived in Costa Rica in 1855; they were a group of 77 originally from Guangzhou, who had come to Central America to work on the Panama Railway. Of them, 32 found work on the farm of José María Cañas, while the remaining 45 were hired by Alejandro Von Bulow, an agent sent by the Berlin Colonization Society to prepare suitable sites for German settlement in Costa Rica. During the 1859–1863 administration of José María Montealegre Fernández, laws were promulgated which prohibited the migration of blacks and Asians, in an effort to reserve Costa Rica for European settlers.[56]

Early Chinese migrants typically arrived by sea through the Pacific coast port of Puntarenas; a "Chinese colony" began to form in the area, founded by José Chen Apuy, a migrant from Zhongshan, Guangdong who arrived in 1873.[57] Puntarenas was so widely known among the Chinese community as a destination that some in China mistook it for the name of the whole country.[58]

In the 1970s, Taiwan began to become a major source of Chinese immigration to Costa Rica. However, they formed a transitory group, with many using Costa Rica as a stopover while they waited for permission to settle in the United States or Canada.[59] Those who settled permanently in Costa Rica included many pensioners enjoying their retirement abroad.[57]

Most Chinese immigrants since then have been Cantonese, but in the last decades of the 20th century, a number of immigrants have also come from Taiwan and Japan. Many men came alone to work and married Costa Rican women and speak Cantonese. However the majority of the descendants of the first Chinese immigrants no longer speak Cantonese and feel themselves to be Costa Ricans.[60]

Nicaragua: There are 12,000 Chinese Nicaraguans Chinese people first arrived in Nicaragua's Caribbean coast in the latter part of the 19th century, and most of them settled in cities such as Bluefields, El Bluff, Laguna de Perlas, and Puerto Cabezas.[61] The Chinese immigrants dominated the commerce of the main coastal towns on the Caribbean coast prior to 1879. Then in the late 19th century, they began migrating to the Pacific lowlands of the country.[62]

Country or
territory with flag
% Local Population % Regional
 Nicaragua 0.18% 12,000
 El Salvador 0.09% 6,240
 Guatemala 1.0% 138,000
 Honduras 1.0% 67,120
 Costa Rica 1% 60,000
 Panama 6% 160,000
Total 576,290 1.21%


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