World Facts

Major Cities of Central America

Seven cities in Central America are regarded as the most significant for their roles in the economy, culture, and politics in the region.

Central America includes seven nations: Nicaragua, Belize, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The region sits on an area of 196,127 square miles and has an estimated population of 46,761,485. Seven cities in the region have been identified as being most significant in the politics, economy, and culture of the region. Cities of Central America experience multiple issues related to urbanization, and these cities are struggling to cope with urban migration as rural immigrants seek better economic opportunities. For example, Tegucigalpa’s infrastructure is struggling to keep up with its population growth and the result is dense urbanization and poverty. Crime is another concern in Central America. San Pedro Sula held the title of the “murder capital of the world,” until Caracas assumed the title in early 2016. The city had a total of 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013.

7. San José

San José is the capital and the largest city in Costa Rica. The city is located in the central valley of the western province of Costa Rica, and the name San José translates to Saint Joseph, in honor of Joseph of Nazareth. The city is the seat of the national government of Costa Rica and the focal point of economic and political activity in the country. The city is also the country's major transportation hub.

According to 2013 figures, the city had a population of 1, 275,000 inhabitants, which is 30% of Costa Rica's total population. The metropolitan area of San José covers an area of 17.2 square miles. San José is one of the safest and least violent cities in Central America. In 2016 the was named the Ibero-American culture capital. According to the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index 2012, San José was named the 6th most important destination in Latin America, and was also ranked as the 15th fastest growing city by cross-border spending. The city of San José is made up of 11 districts, also known locally as distritos, and they include Zapote, San Sebastian, San Francisco de Dos Rios, Pavas, Merced, Redonda, Uruca, Mata, Hospital, Hatillo, Carmen, and Catedral. These districts are further subdivided into smaller neighborhoods that are locally known as barrios.

6. Panama City

Panama City is the largest and the capital city of the Republic of Panama, and has a population of 1,400,000, which represents about 37% of the country’s total population. The city was founded in the 16th century by Pedro Arias Davilla, a Spanish conquistador, and served as the starting point for subsequent expeditions that conquered the Inca Empire in Peru. The city also served as a stopover point in one of the most significant trade routes in the history of the American continent. Currently, the city is the administrative and political center in the country, and is located at the entrance of Panama Canal, on the Pacific Ocean. Panama City is also an international hub for commerce and banking, and is widely known as one of three "Beta level cities" in Central America. Tocumen International Airport in Panama City is the busiest and largest in the whole of Central America, which offers daily schedules to major cities around the world. International Living Magazine listed the city among the top five places to retire. The city was also selected as the American capital of culture in 2003, alongside Curitiba in Brazil.

5. San Pedro Sula

San Pedro Sula has a population of 1,600,000, which represents approximately 21% of the total population of Honduras. The city was founded in 1536, but did not experience high population growth until the 19th century. The city was responsible for two-thirds of Honduras' GDP in 2011. San Pedro Sula, along with the rest of the nation, is yet to fully recover from the severe devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

4. Tegucigalpa

Tegucigalpa has a population of 1,819,000, which represents about 24% of the total population of Honduras. The city's history began in 1578, when it was claimed by Spanish explorers. It was adopted as the capital on October 30, 1880. Tegucigalpa's economy features commerce, tobacco, sugar, construction, textiles, and services. The industrial products produced in the region include plastics, ceramics, tires, plywood, farm machinery, metalwork, glass, paper, and lumber. The city hosts both local and international financial institutions.

3. Managua

A total of 1,918,000 residents lived in Managua in 2012. That population represents 34% of Nicaragua's total population. Managua's history dates back to 1819, when it was established as a Pre-Columbian fishing settlement. After adopted as Nicaragua's capital in 1852, the city experienced extensive urbanization and developed into a hub for services, governance, and infrastructure. After it was damaged by floods, an earthquake, and a massive fire in the 1936, the city was rebuilt. Today, Managua has governmental stations, apartments, galleries, museums, monuments, and squares.

2. San Salvador

San Salvador has a population of 2,415,217, which makes up 39% of El Salvador's total population. The city's metropolitan area attracts 70% of the country's public and private investment. The economy of San Salvador is primarily dependent on the retail and service sectors. Since the U.S. dollar circulates in the El Salvadorian economy, the city receives significant foreign investment. The city operates as the financial, political, educational, and cultural hub of El Salvador.

1. Guatemala City

Guatemala City has a population of 5,700,000, making it Guatemala's largest city. Its population accounts for 26% of Guatemala's total population, and ranks as the most populous Central American city. The origins of the Guatemala City region can be traced back to when the Mayans established a city at Kaminaljuyu, while Spanish colonizers built a small town, which was named the capital city in 1775. After Central America's independence from Spain, the city was made the capital of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821. Presently, the city's thriving economy facilitates the immigration of populations from rural areas of Guatemala. In addition to the home of the country's central bank, Guatemala City has headquarters of banks such as CitiBank, Banrural, Banco Promerica, and Banco Internacional. The city boasts of the largest market for goods and services in the country, and thus attracts large public and private investments.

The Major Cities Of Central America

RankCityCountryPopulationCensus YearPercentage of National population
1Guatemala City Guatemala5,700,000201026%
2San Salvador El Salvador2,415,217200939%
3Managua Nicaragua1,918,000201234%
4Tegucigalpa Honduras1,819,000201024%
5San Pedro Sula Honduras1,600,000201021%+4
6Panama City Panama1,400,000201037%
7San José Costa Rica1,275,000201330%

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