A Look at the Differences Between South and Central America

Learn the difference between the countries found in Latin America

The sunset with Ch
••• Photo by Leonardo Martins / Getty Images

Sometimes people aren't sure what the difference is between South and Central America — in other words, which countries are in South America and which countries are in Central America. It's a common geographical mistake considering both regions are in Latin America. However, South and Central America are located on entirely different continents. Central America is actually part of North America, along with Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean island countries.

South America is a continent of its own. If you're planning a trip south of the border, study a map carefully before planning your itinerary. 

Countries in Central America


This English-speaking country located on the Caribbean coast is known for its large barrier reef and Mayan ruins.

Costa Rica

Located between both the Pacific and Caribbean oceans, Costa Rica's main draw are its beaches, volcanoes and rainforested jungles.

El Salvador

The smallest and most densely populated Central American country exports coffee dishes up tasty pupusa and has more than 20 volcanoes, some of them active.  


The ancient city of Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the largest Mayan sites in Central America and features more than 3,000 temples, pyramids, and other structures.


The coral reefs in Honduras belong to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is second in size only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.


Central America's largest country is home to Granada, the oldest Spanish city in Central America.


This country connects Central and South America and the impressive Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Countries in South America


Argentina, the world's eighth largest country, is where you'll find the Andes mountains, tango music and dance and the sophisticated capital of Buenos Aires.


Bolivia contains the Amazon Rainforest, Andes mountains and Lake Titicaca, which at 12,536 feet is the world's highest navigable lake.


This Portuguese-speaking country, South and Central America's largest country and the world's fifth largest, is home to Rio de Janeiro's lively Carnaval festival, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and the statue of Jesus Christ on Mount Corcovado.


In Chile, you'll find a long Pacific coastline, the Andes and Chilean Coast Range mountains, Easter Island, great wines and the Atacama Desert, which is the world's driest place.


Columbia, bordered by the Amazon River, the Caribbean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean, is home country of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the city of Medellín, known as the “City of Eternal Spring.”


Ecuador, located on the equator, is where you'll see Spanish colonial architecture, the Amazon jungle, Andes mountains and the abundant wildlife of the Galapagos Islands.

French Guiana

The French- and Creole-speaking country of French Guiana, a region of France, is home to rainforests, giant leatherback turtles, a space center and museum and the now-closed penal colony of Devil's Island, which served as the inspiration for the book and film "Papillion."


English-speaking Guyana shares a cultural heritage with the Caribbean is covered by rainforest and its capital city of Georgetown has beautiful Dutch colonial and British architecture.


Paraguay often called the "Heart of South America," is home to well-preserved Jesuit ruins, the vast and uninhabited Chaco plain region and Iguacu Falls, which is taller and twice as wide as Niagra Falls.


Peru is most famous for Machu Picchu and the Incan Trail, but it's also known for ceviche, a tasty dish of raw fish in a marinade of lime juice and chili peppers. 


Once known as Dutch Guiana, Suriname is South America's smallest country and home to the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral Basilica, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world.


Located on the Atlantic Ocean, Uruguay has beautiful beaches including one where you'll find La Mano, a sculpture of a hand emerging from sand in the popular resort town of Punta del Este.


Located on the Caribbean coast, Venezuela is home to many diverse national parks, including Canaima National Park where you'll see Angel Falls, which at 3,208 feet high is the world's tallest uninterrupted waterfall.