The idea of Latin America might inspire images of salsa dancers, warm beaches, or Mexican food, but just as relevant are snow-capped mountains, oil-rich nations, and the remnants of ancient civilizations. So what is Latin America, exactly?
There are several different ways to define the Latin American region. Geographic, linguistic, and historical aspects all play a role in the identity of Latin America, and we will explore all of these in this post.
Which countries are in Latin America?
Generally speaking, Latin American countries are those that share a colonial history, speak a Romance language, share certain cultural elements, and are in the Americas.
Some definitions of Latin America include the entire content of South America, and some only include countries where Spanish or Portuguese are spoken, excluding French. Others include the French territories in the Americas such as French Guiana and Guadeloupe.
For this post, we include all countries and territories in the Americas that primarily speak a Romance language.
It’s worth acknowledging that the French territories in the Americas are often considered to be more closely associated with Europe than their Latin American neighbors, but they are included on our map because of their use of a Romance language.
We also include the US territory of Puerto Rico because of its especially strong cultural and linguistic ties to the rest of Latin America.
Map of Latin American Countries
Below is a map of Latin America with countries belonging to the region highlighted. For more information on specific parts of Latin America, refer to our South America Map, Central America Map, and Caribbean Map.
North and Central America
Costa Rica, often hailed as the jewel of Central America, is renowned for its remarkable biodiversity and commitment to environmental preservation. This small Latin American nation, bordered by Nicaragua and Panama, has a population of about 5 million.
Unlike many of its neighbors, Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949, redirecting military funds towards education and healthcare, resulting in one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America.
The country’s economy is diversified, with strong sectors in ecotourism, agriculture, and technology. Notably, Costa Rica is a global leader in environmental policy, aiming to become carbon-neutral by 2050.
El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country, is known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and dense population. It’s located between Honduras and Guatemala, and it has a population of approximately 6.5 million. The official language in El Salvador is Spanish.
Despite its size, El Salvador has a dynamic economy, with a strong focus on agriculture, manufacturing, and services. Coffee, sugar, and textiles are among its main exports.
El Salvador was deeply impacted by a brutal civil war from 1980 to 1992, which significantly influenced its social and political landscape. Today, it is making strides in democratic governance and economic development.
The country also boasts significant natural beauty, with volcanic landscapes, Pacific coast beaches, and a warm, tropical climate, making it an emerging destination for tourists seeking authentic cultural experiences and natural adventures.
Guatemala, known for its rich indigenous culture and historical significance, is the most populous country in Central America, with a population exceeding 17 million. It shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Guatemala’s history is deeply intertwined with the ancient Maya civilization, evident in its numerous archaeological sites like Tikal. This cultural heritage places Guatemala in a unique position within Latin America, showcasing a blend of indigenous and Spanish influences.
The country’s natural landscapes, from volcanoes to rainforests, coupled with its rich cultural tapestry, make it a significant destination for tourism in the region.
Despite experiencing periods of turmoil, including poverty, crime, and a long civil war that ended in 1996, Guatemala is a key presence in regional affairs and an important part of Latin America’s socio-political scene.
Honduras, situated in the heart of Central America, is bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Pacific Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea. It has a population of about 9.9 million, making it one of the larger countries in the region.
Economically, a majority of Hondurans rely on agriculture, with key exports including coffee, bananas, and palm oil. Honduras also has a growing textiles industry, which contributes significantly to its economy.
Historically, Honduras was part of the great Mayan civilization, and it houses important archaeological sites like Copán. Its history is marked by Spanish colonization and subsequent struggles for independence, mirroring broader Latin American historical trajectories.
Honduras faces significant challenges such as political instability and one of the highest crime rates in Latin America, but it also benefits from natural wonders like the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, lush rainforests, and incredible wildlife.
Mexico, the third-largest country in Latin America, is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, vibrant history, and significant economic and political influence in the region. With a population exceeding 126 million, Mexico is located in North America and borders the United States, Belize, and Guatemala.
Culturally, Mexico is a cradle of ancient civilizations, including the Maya and the Aztecs, whose influence is still evident in the nation’s art, architecture, and festivals. Mexican cuisine, known for its diversity and flavor, is celebrated worldwide.
Politically, Mexico plays a crucial role in regional affairs, often acting as a bridge between North and Latin America. It faces challenges such as drug-related violence and economic disparities, and some parts of the country are considered dangerous.
Nicaragua, often referred to as the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” is the largest country in Central America but one of the least densely populated, with a population of around 6.5 million. It is bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.
Economically, Nicaragua is primarily agricultural, with coffee, beef, and gold among its key exports. It also has a growing tourism industry, thanks to its rich cultural history and stunning natural landscapes.
Nicaragua’s history is marked by periods of political unrest, including a significant revolution in the late 20th century and a current reputation for corruption. This history reflects broader Latin American themes of colonial legacies and struggles for social and political change.
Nicaragua’s vibrant culture, influenced by indigenous, European, and African heritage, is expressed through music, dance, and festivals, contributing to its unique identity within Latin America.
Panama, strategically located as the southernmost country in Central America, connects the continent to South America and is bordered by Costa Rica and Colombia. It has a population of around 4.3 million.
Panama is globally renowned for the Panama Canal, a monumental feat of engineering that significantly impacts global trade by connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal’s economic contribution is a cornerstone of Panama’s economy, along with finance, banking, and tourism.
The country boasts a vibrant and diverse culture, a blend of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences, reflected in its music, dance, and festivals such as Carnaval.
The country’s natural landscapes are incredibly diverse, featuring rainforests, mountains, and beaches. Its biodiversity is among the richest in the world, attracting nature enthusiasts and adventure travelers.
Argentina, the second-largest country in South America, is known for its diverse geography and rich cultural heritage. It is bordered by Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, with an extensive Atlantic Ocean coastline. Argentina’s population is over 45 million, making it one of the most populous nations in Latin America.
Economically, Argentina is a regional power with a strong agricultural sector, renowned for its beef and wine production. It also has significant industries in manufacturing and technology, making it one of the richest countries in South America.
Tango music and dance originated in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and are famous cultural exports of the country. The nation has also produced notable literary figures and has a rich cinematic history.
Bolivia, known for its dramatic Andean landscapes and rich indigenous heritage, is a landlocked country located in South America. It borders Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru. With a population of about 11.5 million, Bolivia is distinguished by its cultural diversity, including a significant proportion of indigenous people.
The Bolivian economy is mainly driven by mining, agriculture, and natural gas exports. Bolivia is also known for its vast salt flats, particularly the Salar de Uyuni, the largest in the world.
Politically, Bolivia has experienced periods of instability but stands out for its progressive policies under indigenous leadership, reflecting a broader trend in Latin American politics towards inclusivity.
Brazil, the fifth-largest country in the world and the largest in Latin America, is renowned for its vast rainforests, including the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. It shares borders with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. With a population of over 211 million, Brazil is the most populous nation in the region.
Brazil’s economy is the largest in Latin America, with diverse sectors including agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and services. It is a major producer of coffee, soybeans, and beef.
Chile, a long, narrow country stretching along the western edge of South America, is known for its remarkable geographical diversity. It borders Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and the Pacific Ocean. With a population of around 19 million, Chile stands out in Latin America for its relatively stable democracy and robust economy.
Geographically, Chile is notable for encompassing a wide range of environments, from the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, to the glacier-filled fjords of Patagonia. The Andes Mountains run along its eastern border.
Chile’s culture reflects a blend of indigenous and European influences, evident in its literature, music, and cuisine. The country’s political history includes a significant period of military dictatorship, with a return to democracy in the late 20th century.
Colombia, located in the northwest corner of South America, is known for its diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage. It borders Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, and the Caribbean Sea. With a population of nearly 50 million, it is among the most populous countries in Latin America.
Colombia’s economy is one of the largest in the region, driven by major exports like coffee, flowers, emeralds, coal, and oil. It has a growing tourism sector, thanks to its cultural and natural attractions.
The country’s cultural landscape is as diverse as its geography, which ranges from the Andes Mountains to the Amazon rainforest and Caribbean beaches. Colombia is famous for its vibrant music, dance, and arts, deeply influenced by a mix of indigenous, African, and Spanish traditions.
Ecuador, situated on the west coast of South America, is a country of immense natural and cultural diversity. Bordered by Colombia, Peru, and the Pacific Ocean, the country gets its name for its location along the equator.
Ecuador’s economy is primarily driven by oil exports, but agriculture and tourism are also significant contributors. Bananas, flowers, and coffee are key agricultural products.
Geographically, Ecuador is unique for encompassing the Galápagos Islands, famous for their endemic wildlife and pivotal role in Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. The country also features the Andes mountain range and a portion of the Amazon rainforest.
The cultural landscape of Ecuador includes a blend of indigenous, Spanish, and African influences, evident in its music, art, and festivals.
Paraguay is a landlocked country in the heart of South America, bordered by Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. With a population of about 7 million, it’s among the smaller countries in Latin America.
The Paraguayan economy is largely based on agriculture and livestock, but it is also a significant producer of renewable energy. The Itaipu Dam, which Paraguay shares with Brazil, is one of the world’s largest hydroelectric facilities.
Culturally, Paraguay is unique for its bilingual population, with most Paraguayans fluent in both Spanish and Guarani, an indigenous language. This bilingualism reflects the country’s rich indigenous heritage.
Paraguay’s history includes the devastating Triple Alliance War in the 19th century, which had a long-lasting impact on its development. Despite challenges like poverty and political instability, Paraguay maintains a significant role in regional trade and politics within Latin America.
Peru, located along South America’s western coast, is a country with a rich blend of history, culture, and geography. It is bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and the Pacific Ocean. With a population of over 32 million, Peru is known for its diverse indigenous populations and vibrant cultural traditions.
The Peruvian economy is diverse, with key sectors including mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. It is a major producer of gold, silver, and copper. The country also has a strong tourism industry, driven by its archaeological heritage and natural beauty.
Peru is home to Machu Picchu, the renowned Incan city and UNESCO World Heritage site, symbolizing the country’s deep historical roots in the Inca civilization. This rich history is integral to Peru’s identity within Latin America.
Its varied landscapes, from the Amazon rainforest to the Andes mountains, add to its allure as a destination for travelers seeking both history and natural wonders.
Uruguay, nestled between Argentina and Brazil on the southeastern coast of South America, stands out for its stable democracy and high standard of living. With a population of approximately 3.5 million, it’s one of the smallest countries in Latin America by population.
Politically stable and socially progressive, Uruguay is often seen as a model of good governance in Latin America. Its picturesque beaches, rolling plains, and charming cities like Montevideo make it an attractive destination for tourists seeking a tranquil and culturally rich experience.
Culturally, Uruguay shares many similarities with its larger neighbors but maintains a distinct identity, celebrated in its tango and candombe music and traditions.
Venezuela, located on the northern coast of South America, is known for its significant oil reserves, diverse landscapes, and recent political and economic turbulence.
One of the 12 members of OPEC, Venezuela’s economy has been heavily reliant on oil, which accounts for most of its export earnings. This dependence has contributed to economic instability, especially in times of fluctuating oil prices.
The country boasts an incredible range of natural beauty, from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Amazon Basin rainforest in the south, and the idyllic Caribbean coastline. Venezuela is also home to Angel Falls, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, in its UNESCO-recognized Canaima National Park.
Cuba, an island nation in the Caribbean, is known for its significant influence on Latin American history, politics, and culture. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 brought a socialist government to power and was a pivotal event in regional affairs. It has a population of over 11 million and is located at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico.
Cuba’s economy is largely state controlled, with key sectors including tourism, sugar, tobacco, and nickel. The country is famous for its cigars, a symbol of its colonial agricultural history.
Culturally, Cuba is renowned for its vibrant music and dance, particularly salsa, which reflects a blend of African, Spanish, and Caribbean influences. Havana, the capital of Cuba, is celebrated for its colorful architecture and historic cars, embodying the nation’s rich history.
The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, which it shares with Haiti. It’s known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and beautiful beaches, and it has a population of about 10.7 million.
The Dominican economy is the largest in the Caribbean and Central American region, driven by services, particularly tourism, as well as agriculture and mining. It’s a leading exporter of sugar, coffee, and tobacco.
The country’s history is marked by Spanish colonization, African heritage due to the transatlantic slave trade, and a long-standing relationship with its neighbor, Haiti. These influences have shaped its diverse society.
Known for its picturesque landscapes, from mountainous regions to colonial architecture in Santo Domingo, the capital, the Dominican Republic is a popular tourist destination, celebrated for its natural beauty and cultural richness.
Haiti is located on the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. A country with a rich history and vibrant culture, it shares the island with the Dominican Republic and has a population of about 11.4 million.
Haiti’s economy is primarily based on agriculture, textiles, and remittances from its diaspora. It faces significant challenges, including political instability and natural disasters, notably the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Culturally, Haiti is known for its distinctive art, music, and literature, deeply influenced by its African roots and French colonial past. It’s celebrated for its unique traditions, such as Vodou, a religion and cultural practice with African origins.
Haiti holds a significant place in history as the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the world’s first black-led republic, having gained independence from France in 1804 after a successful slave revolt.
Overseas Departments of France
The overseas departments of France in the Americas include French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, and Saint-Martin. These unique regions blend Caribbean culture with European (French) influence.
While geographically located in South America and the Caribbean, and sharing certain cultural and linguistic traits common to Latin America, these territories are often not classified as part of Latin America.
Their primary political, cultural, and administrative ties are with France, and they are integrated into the European Union as French territories. Each of these regions boasts a distinct identity, characterized by a fusion of African, French, and Caribbean influences in their music, cuisine, and traditions.
Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean, is often considered a part of Latin America due to its historical, cultural, and linguistic ties to the region. It is an unincorporated territory of the United States, with a population of approximately 3.2 million.
Culturally, Puerto Rico has a rich heritage that blends indigenous Taíno, Spanish, and African influences. It’s renowned for its music, particularly genres like salsa and reggaeton, and its vibrant festivals. Puerto Rican cuisine, or cocina criolla, is also a significant aspect of its culture.
Despite its status as a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico maintains strong cultural and linguistic connections to Latin America. Its Spanish-speaking population and shared history of Spanish colonialism align it closely with Latin American countries.