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  5. Central America Timeline

Central America History Timeline

  • 1500 BC Maya civilation dominates much of Central America
  • 600 BC Maya migrate from Central America into South America
  • 50 BC Maya introduce a calendar known as the Calendar Round
  • 500 Tikal, Guatemala developes into a major Mayan temple city
  • 1123 Yucatec Maya overthrew the Itza Maya
  • 1487 Aztec send spies to Belize to gain trade information
  • 1492 Columbus expores islands along the Caribbean Sea coastline
  • 1501 Columbus visted and named Costa Rica (Rich Coast)
  • 1502 Spanish explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas visits Panama
  • 1502 Columbus reaches the coastline of Honduras
  • 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa reaches the Pacific coast, claims ocean for Spain
  • 1519 Panama City founded by the Spanish
  • 1523 Indigenous Mayan defeated, Guatemala becomes a Spanish colony
  • 1524 Spanish established settlement at Puntarenas, Costa Rica
  • 1525 Spanish begin their conquest of Honduras
  • 1530 Francisco Pizarro sails from Panama to attempt the conquest of Peru
  • 1540 El Salvador becomes a Spanish colony
  • 1561 Juan de Cavallon of Spain established colony in Costa Rica


  • 1624 Spanish silver fleet sailed to Panama
  • 1628 Locust devastated Mayan crops across Belize
  • 1671 Pirate Henry Morgan captures Panama
  • 1677 Spanish fail to control southern Belize
  • 1698 Scotland attempts to establish colony in Panama


  • 1720-90 British extend their influence over Nicaragua's Caribbean coastline inhabitants
  • 1723 Irazu volcano erupts in Costa Rica, thousands die
  • 1739 British capture Spanish city of Portobello, Panama
  • 1763 Britain and Spain reach agreement for woodcutting rights in Belize


  • 1821 Guatemala declared its independence from Spain
  • 1823 Congress of Central America declared independence from Spain and Mexico
  • 1838 Central American Federation splits into Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica; all are now independent from Spain
  • 1844-65 Dictator Rafael Carrera ruled Guatemala
  • 1854 Earthquake destroyed San Salvador, El Salvador
  • 1855 US built the Panama railroad
  • 1856 American adventurer, William Walker becomes president of Nicaragua
  • 1860 William Walker is executed in Honduras
  • 1860 British government returns control of Caribbean coastline to Nicaragua
  • 1862 Belize declared British crown colony, consequently named British Honduras
  • 1874 Banana cultivation begins in Costa Rica; later bananas become a significant export
  • 1893 General Jose Santos Zelaya seizes power and establishes dictatorship in Nicaragua


  • 1903 The USA is granted exclusive control in perpetuity of a ten-mile corridor across Panama, one suitable for the construction of a canal
  • 1904 US takes over control of Panama Canal construction
  • 1909 US troops help to depose Zelaya in Nicaragua
  • 1910 Earthquake detroys Cartago, Costa Rica, 700 killed
  • 1911 US helps to overthrow an unpopular Honduras president, Miguel Devila
  • 1912-25 US established military bases in Nicaragua
  • 1914 Panama Canal completed
  • 1931 Jorge Ubico elected president of Guatemala
  • 1931 Hurricane struck Belize City, thousands died
  • 1932 30,000 killed during peasant uprising in El Salvador
  • 1937 General Somoza elected president of Nicaragua
  • 1951 Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman elected the new president of Guatemala
  • 1956 Nicaragua's General Somoza assassinated
  • 1968 Arenal volcano erupts in Costa Rica, hundreds killed
  • 1970 Belize capital moved to Belmopan
  • 1973 British Honduras name changed to Belize
  • 1972 Managua, Nicaragua devastated by earthquake, thousands died
  • 1974 Hurrican Fifi strikes Honduras, over 5,000 killed
  • 1976 Guatemala earthquake left millions homeless, 27,000 dead
  • 1979-81 Over 30,000 killed in El Salvador by government-sponsored death squads
  • 1981 Belize gains it independence from Britain
  • 1982 US sponsored attacks by Contra rebels (based in Honduras) begin in Nicaragua
  • 1984 Daniel Ortega elected president of Nicaragua
  • 1985 Manuel Antonio Noriega ousted Nicolas Ardito Barletta, the elected president of Panama
  • 1988 US charges Manuel Noriega with drug smuggling; one year later US invades Panama and ousts Noriega
  • 1903 The USA is granted exclusive control of a ten-mile corridor across Panama, one suitable for a canal
  • 1992 Severe earthquake rattles Nicaragua, thousands rendered homeless
  • 1998 Hurricane Mitch caauses massive damage. Thousands killed, and hundreds of thousands left homeless across Honduras and Nicaragua
  • 1998 Human rights activist, Bishop Juan Gerardi, murdered in Guatemala
  • 1999 Over one million tourist visited Costa Rica
  • 1999 Control of the Panama Canal returned to Panama


  • 2001 El Salvador earthquake kills 1,200, an estimated one million are homeless
  • 2002 Guatemala and Belize settle long-standing border
  • 2004 Panama Canal earns a record $1 billion in revenue
  • 2008 El Salvador is rated the country with the highest murder rate
  • 2008 Laura Chinchilla elected president of Costa Rica
  • 2010 Porfirio Lobo sworn in as president of Honduras

About the Author

John Moen is a cartographer who along with his wife are the orignal founders of worldatlas.com. He and his wife, Chris Woolwine-Moen, produced thousands of award-winning maps that are used all over the world and content that aids students, teachers, travelers and parents with their geography and map questions. Today, it's one of the most popular educational sites on the web.

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This page was last updated on September 19, 2016.