Officially known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, this Caribbean archipelago is home to almost four million people. Its main island, Puerto Rico, is 100 miles long by 35 miles wide. Spanish and English are considered the official languages, however, the vast majority of the population are predominately Spanish-speakers. The culturally diverse Puerto Ricans are of European, Amerindian, and African descent. This mixture can be observed in its cocina criolla, or local cuisine, which includes grains, legumes, herbs, spices, tropical tubers, vegetables, and fruits — and, of course, lots of seafood, as well as meat and poultry. Some of its national dishes include the savory pasteles, tostones, and arroz con gandules. Continue reading
Located on the western coast of South America, the Republic of Peru boasts a mixture of historical, cultural, and natural beauty. It once was home to various civilizations, but it is perhaps most widely known for being home of the Inca civilization — considered the largest empire in the Americas, prior to the arrival of Europeans. One of the most iconic representations of the Incas is Machu Picchu, a site located almost 8,000 feet above sea level. It is believed to have been built around 1400 AD, for the Incan emperor, Pachacuti. Machu Picchu is one of the top archeological sites in the world and it has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. In Peru, you can also find the Nazca Lines, giant sketches that can only be seen from the air, by flying over the Nazca Desert. These are believed to have been made by the Nazca Indians from 200 BC to 700 CE. Hundreds of designs include human body shapes, hands, trees, condors, hummingbirds, monkeys, sharks, llamas, and fish.
Paraguay is one of the only two landlocked countries in South America. It is bordered by Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia. The country is home to the Paraguay River, one of the most important waterways in South America, which flows through Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. The river divides the country into two very different geographical regions. Paraguay consists mostly of grassy plains and wooded hills in the eastern region and low, marshy plains in the western region. Because of the absence of mountain ranges to provide a natural barrier, winds can reach speeds as high as 100 mph. This can significantly impact changes in temperature within a short span of time.
The Republic of Panama is the southernmost part of a natural land bridge connecting the continents of North and South America. It is considered one of the most global cities in Latin America, thanks to its international business center, the Panama Canal, and important ports registering a high volume of traffic on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides. Panama is among the three largest economies in Central America. It is a country rich in traditions, with one of the most modern skylines of Latin America, and its canal is a key conduit for international maritime trade.
The core of Panamanian culture rests on three categories: its folklore, which plays a central role in every festivity the country holds; its food, a mix of African, Spanish, and Native American techniques, dishes, and ingredients, reflecting its diverse population; and its love of music, from traditional local cumbia to salsa, merengue, Spanish reggae, and many other Caribbean rhythms. Local folklore can be learned through a multitude of festivals, dances, and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. One of the most visible expressions of Panamanian culture is its national garment, called the “Pollera,” which is a dress made of finely woven fabric on which intricate, brightly colored designs in lace are embroidered. The Pollera has been recognized as one of the world’s most elegant national dresses. Each takes about a year to complete and is adorned with fine replicas of pre-Columbian jewelry. Many traditional Panamanian dishes — such as tortillas, bollos, tamales, and empanadas — are made with corn, but its preparation is different from other Latin American recipes, since the kernel is first cooked in water and then ground in order to obtain a dough (as opposed to using corn flour to obtain the dough). Fresh corn is also used in some dishes.
Panama City is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Central America, yet it combines the historic and the ultra-modern, creating a unique landscape. Some are starting to dub Panama City “the Dubai of Central America” because of its modern skyscrapers — a sign of the city’s prosperous business district — and lively cultural city center. The “Cinta Costera” (Coastal Beltway), one of the newest roadways, beautifies the Bay of Panama City and provides recreational areas that have added to the attractiveness of the city. It received the 2015 Global Best Project in Roads and Highways award from Engineering News-Record in their annual competition.
Often branded as the “Crossroads of the Americas,” Panama is not only the geographical point where North America meets South America but also where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet in the country’s famed canal. Panama has been shaped by various cultures and traditions that come together to create a unique complexity and exotic country. Its ethnic diversity is reflected in the traditional products, as well is in its architecture, cuisine, and festivals. Panama is a place where the old and the new, nature and architecture, and culture and tradition come together, creating a uniqueness like no other.
Did you know…? Panama’s jungles are home to an abundance of tropical plants, animals, and birds — some of which can be found nowhere else on the planet. The Isthmus of Panama is the only place in the world in which one can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set in the Atlantic, due to a bend in the isthmus.
This is the sixteenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.
The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. Within it, you find three different geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands, the North-Central Mountains or Highlands, and the Atlantic Lowland. The Pacific coast is volcanic and very fertile. Nicaragua also enjoys coastlines both in the Caribbean Sea as well as in the Pacific Ocean. Spanish is spoken by 98 percent of its inhabitants, yet Miskito and other indigenous languages are still spoken on the Atlantic coast. Nicaragua has 84 national parks, reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries protecting 20 percent of its total land area, far more than any other country in Central America.
Nicaragua is home to Lake Nicaragua — the largest freshwater lake in Central America — as well as many other lakes, rivers, and lagoons that add to the natural beauty of its scenery. The lake is home to a creature known as the bull shark. Inside Lake Nicaragua you will find the Solentiname Islands, a series of 36 islands of volcanic origin. Most of the Central America Volcanic Arc is found in Nicaragua, featuring more than 50 volcanoes, of which seven are still considered active.
Some of the most influential poets have come from Nicaragua. Rubén Darío, considered the “Prince of Castillian Letters” and the “Father of the Hispanic Modernism,” had the lead role in promoting the poetic movement that combined Romanticism, Symbolism, and Parnassianism and introducing it to the world. Some of his most distinctive work is found in “Azul…” (considered the first book of Modernisim), “Prosas profanas y otros poemas,” and “Cantos de vida y esperanza.” Other famous Nicaraguan writers include Gioconda Belli, Ernesto Cardenal, Claribel Alegría, and Salomón Ibarra Mayorga.
Did you know…?Nicaragua has nine six-crater lakes, more than any country outside Africa. Unlike most Latin American countries, baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua. Out of the 88 modern constellations, 86 can be observed in Nicaragua.
This is the fifthteenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.
Between El Salvador and Nicaragua is Honduras, the second-largest country in Central America. It is said that the country received its name — which means “great depths” in Spanish — once Columbus reached Honduran soil, after he survived a tropical storm off the coast and said, “Thank God we have departed these depths.” Honduras is generally mountainous, and is marked by fertile plateaus, river valleys, and narrow coastal plains. It also enjoys coastlines both in the Caribbean Sea as well as in the Pacific Ocean.
In Honduras, we find the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, an area surrounded by mountainous and lowland tropical rainforest with vast wildlife and plant life that has been a World Heritage site since 1982. The area also includes more than 200 archeological sites and it is home to more than 2,000 indigenous people. The reserve contains part of the largest surviving area of undisturbed tropical rainforest in Honduras and one of the few remaining in Central America, with numerous endangered species — including the giant anteater, jaguar, ocelot, margay, and many others. There are more than 2,000 species of plants, 40 species of mammals, 370 species of birds and 120 species of reptiles and amphibians throughout the reserve.
Food and music are an intrinsic part of Hispanic culture, and Honduras is no exception. Honduran cuisine is a fusion of indigenous Lenca, Spanish, Caribbean, and African influences. Many of the sweet and savory dishes feature coconut or coconut milk, with some of the more regional specialties including fried fish, tamales, carne asada, and baleadas (flour tortillas with refried beans, quesillo, or cheese and sour cream, plus other fillings, such as roasted meat, vegetables, or eggs). Punta is a dance and music style originated in Honduras by the Garifuna people — a cultural group of mixed Amerindian, Caribbean, and African origin — that is performed in various festivities. It involves rapidly moving the hips in a circular motion. Other sounds, such as Caribbean salsa, merengue, reggae, and reggaeton, are widely heard in Honduras as well.
Did you know…? Don’t be confused if you hear both the terms “British Honduras” and “Honduras” being used, as they do not mean the same thing. The former refers to what is known today as Belize, while the latter refers to the country of Honduras. The term “Banana Republic” was first applied to Honduras by the American writer O. Henry, for the influence the U.S. banana companies had at one time.
This is the fourteenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.
Once home to the Mayan civilization, Guatemala — which means “places of many trees” in Nahuatl — is today the third-largest country in Central America. Close to 50 percent of the Guatemalan population is considered descendants of the Mayas, and that is reflected in their vibrant and thriving culture, as well as the traditional dress many woman and children wear. The first concrete traces of the Mayan civilization date back to the Preclassic period around 1,800 BC in the Mirador Basin in Petén, in northern Guatemala. Mayans built awe-inspiring temples, pyramids, and cities and developed the only fully known writing system of the pre-Columbian Americas, the Maya hieroglyphic script.
Because of its Mayan heritage, Guatemala houses a large number of archeological sites, including the Tikal Temple, an ancient city in Guatemala’s rainforest that was once one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. Monte Alto is another site notable for the more than 40 major structures and other interesting sculptures it houses. El Mirador and Cancuén are also noteworthy sites, for having the largest pyramid (La Danta) and palaces in the Mayan world, respectively.
Weaving, baskets, pottery, wood carvings, and many other handmade crafts are very popular in Guatemalan culture. They are also known for their colorful textiles, many of which are woven using the ancient art of backstrap-loom weaving. The art of weaving is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. It can be observed in the traditional dress most indigenous people still wear today.
Did you know…? Guatemala is the main coffee provider for Starbucks. Spanish is the official language in Guatemala, but there are about 21 Mayan dialects still spoken. The Mayans came up with the mathematical concept of zero.
This is the thirteenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.
Spain is a European country occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory includes the archipelagos of the Balearic Islands (in the Mediterranean) and the Canary Islands (in the Atlantic), the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and the Chafarinas Islands located to the north of Africa. It is bordered by France, Andorra, Portugal, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Spain’s official name is the Kingdom of Spain and its official language is Spanish, often referred to as “Castilian Spanish.” Although the country identifies Spanish as its official language, Spain operates as a true multilingual society, protected by the constitution. Basque (mainly spoken in the Basque Country and Navarre,) Catalan (mainly spoken in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and a variation of it, Valencian, in the Valencian Community), and Galician (spoken in Galicia) are its co-official languages. Spain is a democracy organized in the form of a parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy.
Spainhas more than 4,971 miles of beach. It also has one of the most diverse landscapes and climates in Europe. The region of Almeria in the southeast resembles a desert in some areas, while the northwest in winter can expect rain about 20 days of each month. Spain is the 28th most-populous country in the world and the sixth most-populous in Europe (after Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and Ukraine.) Spain is the second-largest country in Western Europe after France and the second most-mountainous after Switzerland.
Food is an important part of Spanish society and a frequent topic of conversation. Lunch is often the largest meal of the day, consisting of several courses, and Spaniards eat it between 2 and 4 p.m. One very well-known food tradition in Spain is “tapas,” which is a wide variety of appetizers or snacks, served hot or cold. These are not your typical snack of chips and dip, but rather, a flavorful array of options such as olives, meatballs, and bread; or potatoes, fish, meats, and vegetables, served with allioli (garlic and oil,) croquettes, Tortilla Española (a thick, egg-and-potato omelette), or a selection of cured meats — including their famous cured hams Ibérico and Serrano. Another item from Spanish cuisine that’s very popular worldwide is paella, which is a mixture of rice, olive oil, peas, peppers, saffron, and any (or a combination of) items, such as chicken, pork, shellfish, and vegetables.
Soccer is a very important part of Spanish culture. The country is home to two of the most international and successful soccer clubs: Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona. Music and dancing is also much embedded in Spanish culture. Flamenco is a genre of music and dance native to the southern regions of Andalusia, Extremadura, and Murcia. Distinctive for its fiery passion and fervor, it is typically performed with voice and guitar, accompanied by graceful arm movements, audible feet-stamping, and hand-clapping, which can be improvised or choreographed.
Did you know…? Spain is the number one producer of olive oil in the world, with 44% of the world’s olive oil production. That is more than twice that of Italy and four times that of Greece. “Don Quixote,” by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, is arguably the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age, and perhaps the entire canon of Spanish literature.
This is the twelfth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.
Named after its proximity to the equator, the Republic of Ecuador is home to more than 2,000 rivers, making it the country with the highest concentration of rivers per square kilometer in the world. Ecuador also boasts the world’s first two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At the first UNESCO World Heritage conference in 1978, 32 sites were in the inaugural list. Each World Heritage Site is assigned a number and site #1 is the Galapagos Islands, while site #2 is the City of Quito for its history and architecture. The Galapagos Islands are where Charles Darwin noticed the diversity of species and began to study evolution.
Ecuador’s closeness to the equator contributes to its rich biodiversity. It is a popular choice for ecotourism and observing nature in its most unspoiled state. The vast range of geography includes volcanoes, rain forests, and beautiful beaches. Ecuador has the world’s highest diversity of hummingbird’s species (131). Mount Chimborazo is an inactive volcano that also is the highest point in Ecuador, at 20,565 feet. Due to its position near the equator, it is known as the closest point on Earth to the sun. Humpback whales migrate from the South Pole to tropical waters off the coast of Ecuador to mate and give birth.
Ecuador has a strong export economy, ranking among the world’s top five producers of bananas. The country exports more than four million metric tons of bananas annually ($2 trillion worth of bananas every year). The crop is mostly grown on private plantations under the control of national and international companies such as Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, and Noboa. The majority of the balsa wood in the world also comes from Ecuador.
Did you know…? One of the funniest cartoon creators, comedy directors, and voice actors is from Ecuador. Mike Judge is the creative genius behind King of the Hill, Office Space, and other films and TV series. Because the equator is closer to space and farther from the center of the Earth than anywhere else, it creates a bulge. The bulge is big enough that Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is actually 1.5 miles “higher” than Mount Everest. Because mountain peaks are measured from sea level, Mount Everest is considered higher because the bulge in the Earth at the equator also means that the seas are higher, too.
This is the eleventh in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.
The smallest country in Central America — officially named Republic of El Salvador — is also the most densely populated in the area and the only country in Central America without a Caribbean coastline. El Salvador houses the third largest economy in Central America (behind Costa Rica and Panama) and it is known as the land of the volcanoes, because it has more than 20 within its boundaries and two of them are currently active.
Spanish is the official language of El Salvador, but Nahua is still spoken in some areas. Most of its nearly seven million inhabitants live in urban areas, and the country’s population is composed of Mestizos, whites, and Amerindians.
El Salvador’s national dish is the “pupusa.” One of the staples of Salvadorian cuisine is plantains, and the most popular drink is coffee. El Salvador has cultivated coffee since the nineteenth century, and Salvadoran coffee makes up precisely half of its total exports revenue.
El Salvador is probably the most popular and famous surfing destination on the Pacific coast. Several surfing competitions take place there during the year. One of the hotspots for wave-lovers is the Town San Sebastian, which is famous for having great waves at the beach and is only 22 miles from the capital, San Salvador.
Did you know…? The country’s cell-phone density is one of the highest in the world (125 phones per 100 people). The name pupusa comes from the Pipil-Nahuatl word, pupushahua.
This is the tenth in a series of articles spotlighting different countries in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. To see a complete list of previous entries, click here.