Culture and traditions

Ethnic groups of Central America and their characteristics

The culture of the ethnic groups of Central America is highly influenced by the Maya, a primitive group that inhabited these lands thousands of years ago and whose well-defined archeological sites and traditions are preserved.

Below you have an index with all the points that we are going to deal with in this article.


The state of Belize acquired the status of an independent country of the United Kingdom in 1981 and its official language is English. Apart from this language, the languages ​​that are also spoken in Belize (although not officially) are Spanish, Mayan and Creole.

Located in eastern Guatemala and southern Mexico, its inhabitants reach 372,000 people, of which it is estimated that more than 30,000 are indigenous populations. Organizations in favor of indigenous groups focus on the Belize National Indigenous Council.

Mayan ruins in Belize, Central America

The population as a whole responds to a very diverse ethnic mosaic, among which there are inhabitants who descend from Africans, Europeans, English speakers, etc., as well as Garifuna, whose origins are African and their language is that of the Caribbean. Other natives residing in Belize are: the Maya, the Maya q’eqchí and the mopán.

Apart from the indigenous languages ​​mentioned above, Belizean Creole, Quekchi Maya, Maya Mopan, Garifuna and Plautdietsch are also spoken, as well as Chinese, Yucatecan Maya and Hindi at the minority level.

Costa Rica

The indigenous culture of Costa Rica goes back to pre-Columbian or pre-Hispanic times, when up to eight ethnic tribes lived in Costa Rica, a country located north of Nicaragua and southeast of Panama.

These native populations have reached our days and are known as the Cabécares, Bribris, Ngäbe, Huetares, Borucas, Térrabas, Malekus and Chorotegas.

All these tribal groups are dispersed among a total of 24 territories throughout the country and it is estimated that there are up to six indigenous languages ​​of Costa Rica. In the census of the year 2011 the result was that there were more than 100,000 indigenous inhabitants in the country.

Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica

The influence of Central American ethnic groups throughout the country is palpable anywhere, including in the vocabulary used by its inhabitants, who have incorporated words from indigenous dialects, such as Poas which refers to a yellow flower that grows near the top of the Arenal volcano.

The Savior

El Salvador is a country that borders north and east with Honduras and west with Guatemala. Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 6 million inhabitants in the country, among which three ethnic groups of Central America coexist: Nahuat-Pipil, the Lencas and the kakawiras.

Although they still do not have official constitutional recognition, they are immersed in such a process. The Lencas have great influences from their ancestors: the Maya and the Nahuas. As for the Pipiles, they also descend greatly from the Nahua, a fact that can be seen reflected in their language, Nahuatl, a language already spoken by the Aztec people.

The presence of the Pipiles is so important that they gave name to several lands in the center of the country, such as Cuzcatlán. The indigenous population of El Salvador is considered to retain its strongly rooted original identity.

Atecozol Park, Izalco, El Salvador


Guatemala is located in the extreme north of Central America and, in its origins, this country was the main focus in which the old people lived. mayan, especially between the 4th and 10th centuries. Thus, today a large part of the Guatemalan population has indigenous roots, which are manifested primarily in their features, as well as in their cultural and social traditions.

The estimated total number of indigenous inhabitants of Guatemala exceeds the figure of 6 millions, which means that 60% of the total population of the country is indigenous. This makes it the second country in Latin America with the highest density of tribal population, a list headed by Bolivia.

Indigenous woman from Guatemala with traditional ethnic dress

However, this does not mean that they enjoy greater inclusion in State structures. The main ethnic groups in Guatemala are the ones mentioned below: Achi ’, Akateko, Awakateco, Chalchiteco, Ch’orti’, Chuj, Itza ’, Ixil, Jacalteco, Mopan, Garífuna, etc.


Honduras is considered a multicultural, multilingual and multiethnic country. The more than 8 million inhabitants living in the country include a large number of indigenous cultures, many of them afro descendants.

Similarly, the primitive Indians of Honduras come from Asia, who arrived in America through the Behring Strait more than 20 thousand years ago.

Typical farm of a family of the Pech tribe, in Honduras

By number of inhabitants, it is estimated that nine main indigenous groups reside in Honduras, namely: Lencas, Pech, Tawahkas, Maya-Chortis, Garifunas, Islanders, Misquitos and Nahuas, although information on the latter group has not been possible to collect information detailed. Creoles also live in the country and their native language is English.


Nicaragua borders on the north with Honduras and on the south with Costa Rica. The Nicaraguan people are multiethnic in nature and their official language is Spanish. Of the total population of the country, 8.6% self-identify as indigenous or as members of some indigenous community.

The native inhabitants of Nicaragua are the result of a mixture between Spaniards, English, Africans and Aboriginal people from America from the pre-Columbian period. His current culture is characterized by the possession of a series of traditional dances and a native music, as well as specific culinary and religious habits.

Creoles of the municipality of Bluefields, Nicaragua

They are distributed between the Pacific coast, the center of the country, the north and the Caribbean area. Thus, the most prominent tribes are, among others, the Creoles and the GarĂ­funas, of Afro-Caribbean descent.

In the Department of Masaya there are also the indigenous peoples of MonimnĂł, San Juan de Oriente and NindirĂ­, all of Chorotega descent. A great diversity of aboriginal groups is also located in Rivas, such as the San Jorge, NancimĂ­, Ostional, etc.


Panama is located in the southeastern corner of Central America and is currently a country made up of about 3 million inhabitants, of which 5% belong to some indigenous group.

Children of the Wounaan indigenous group

Although these populations are spread throughout the country, they stand out especially in the territories of Chiriquí, Bocas del Toro and the forests of the Province of Darién.

In short, Panama currently has a total of seven ethnic groups in Central America: Emberá, who are also among the indigenous people of South America; the Wounaan, who are culturally very similar to the Emberá; the Guna, who live mostly in the Kuna Yala Region; the Bugle, the Naso, the Bribri and the Ngäbe.

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