Central America (Spanish: América Central or Centroamérica ) is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. Central America is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The combined population of Central America is between 41,739,000 (2009 estimate) and 42,688,190 (2012 estimate).
Central America is a part of the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot, which extends from northern Guatemala through to central Panama. Due to the presence of several active geologic faults and the Central America Volcanic Arc, there is a great deal of seismic activity in the region. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur frequently; these natural disasters have resulted in the loss of many lives and much property.
In the Pre-Columbian era, Central America was inhabited by the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica to the north and west and the Isthmo-Colombian peoples to the south and east. Soon after Christopher Columbus's voyages to the Americas, the Spanish began to colonize the Americas. From 1609 until 1821, most of the territory within Central America—except for the lands that would become Belize and Panama—was governed by the Viceroyalty of New Spain from Mexico City as the Captaincy General of Guatemala. After New Spain achieved independence from Spain in 1821, some of its provinces were annexed to the First Mexican Empire, but soon seceded from Mexico to form the Federal Republic of Central America, which lasted from 1823 to 1838. The seven states finally became independent autonomous states: beginning with Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala (1838); followed by El Salvador (1841); then Panama (1903); and finally Belize (1981).
"Central America" may mean different things to various people, based upon different contexts:
In the Pre-Columbian era, the northern areas of Central America were inhabited by the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Most notable among these were the Mayans, who had built numerous cities throughout the region, and the Aztecs, who had created a vast empire. The pre-Columbian cultures of eastern El Salvador, eastern Honduras, Caribbean Nicaragua, most of Costa Rica and Panama were predominantly speakers of the Chibchan languages at the time of European contact and are considered by some culturally different and grouped in the Isthmo-Colombian Area.
Following Christopher Columbus's voyages to the Americas, the Spanish sent many expeditions to the region, and they began their conquest of Maya territory in 1523. Soon after the conquest of the Aztec Empire, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado commenced the conquest of northern Central America for the Spanish Empire. Beginning with his arrival in Soconusco in 1523, Alvarado's forces systematically conquered and subjugated most of the major Maya kingdoms, including the K'iche', Tz'utujil, Pipil, and the Kaqchikel. By 1528, the conquest of Guatemala was nearly complete, with only the Petén Basin remaining outside the Spanish sphere of influence. The last independent Maya kingdoms – the Kowoj and the Itza people – were finally defeated in 1697, as part of the Spanish conquest of Petén.
In 1538, Spain established the Real Audiencia of Panama, which had jurisdiction over all land from the Strait of Magellan to the Gulf of Fonseca. This entity was dissolved in 1543, and most of the territory within Central America then fell under the jurisdiction of the Audiencia Real de Guatemala. This area included the current territories of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Mexican state of Chiapas, but excluded the lands that would become Belize and Panama. The president of the Audiencia, which had its seat in Antigua Guatemala, was the governor of the entire area. In 1609 the area became a captaincy general and the governor was also granted the title of captain general. The Captaincy General of Guatemala encompassed most of Central America, with the exception of present-day Belize and Panama.
The Captaincy General of Guatemala lasted for more than two centuries, but began to fray after a rebellion in 1811 which began in the intendancy of San Salvador. The Captaincy General formally ended on 15 September 1821, with the signing of the Act of Independence of Central America. Mexican independence was achieved at virtually the same time with the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba and the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire, and the entire region was finally independent from Spanish authority by 28 September 1821.
From its independence from Spain in 1821 until 1823, the former Captaincy General remained intact as part of the short-lived First Mexican Empire. When the Emperor of Mexico ab