The climates of Central America are essentially tropical, tempered by proximity to the sea, by elevation, by latitude, and by local topography; in consequence, they may vary substantially over short distances.

Elevation mitigates the climatic effects of Central America’s tropical latitude so that average temperatures in the highlands are much lower than those in the coastal lowlands.

At its narrowest point the isthmus is only about 30 miles (50 km) wide, and there is no location in Central America that is more distant than 125 miles (200 km) from the sea.

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Corn (maize), beans, and squash traditionally have been grown as staple foods.

Vigorous economic growth during the 1960s and ’70s was followed by national indebtedness and low or negative economic growth rates in the 1980s.

Many Indian languages are also spoken throughout the region.

Roman Catholicism is the professed religion of four out of five Central Americans; almost all others adhere to various Protestant faiths.

The region’s rate of population increase is one of the highest in the world, though infant mortality is high and life expectancy is generally low (less so in Costa Rica and Panama).

Spanish is the dominant language of Central America and the official language in six of the countries; English is the lingua franca of much of the Caribbean coast and the official language of Belize.Three-fifths of the people of Central America are of mixed European and Indian descent (called Ladinos in Guatemala and mestizos elsewhere), and one-fifth are Indian.Smaller communities of mulattoes (people of mixed European and African descent), zambos (mixed Indian and African descent), descendants of Europeans, and descendants of Chinese, South Asian, and African indentured labourers make up the remainder.At least two-thirds of Central Americans are of mixed ancestry.Until the beginning of the 19th century, immigration was officially limited to citizens of Spain, and the Spanish were thus the only significant European contributors to the ethnic mixture of the area.Rainfall occurs primarily during the summer and is heaviest between May and November. In general, the Caribbean side receives about twice as much rain as the Pacific region. Tropical rainforests occupy the eastern lowlands, while evergreen forests clothe the lower slopes along the Pacific coast, and pine and oak forests grow at somewhat higher elevations.