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Central America Google Search

“Why Is Central America So…” (Breaking Down Google’s Autocomplete Results About Central America)

What are the most popular words used for Central America Google searches when entering “why is whatever country so…?” We take a look so you don’t have to.

I was messing around on Twitter and saw something I found rather interesting. A map of the United States with each state labelled by the first Google autocomplete that comes up when you type in why a state is so… whatever.

For example, when you enter “why is California so…”, the first phrase that comes up is “Why is California so expensive?” That means that phrase is the most popular one people ask about California. You get the picture.

Check out the tweet below to get the picture even more:

The data in the above tweet appears to be from 2014, so maybe the search results are different now. I don’t have the time to go through all 50 states in 2022 to make a comparison, although I admit I’ll probably end up doing exactly that, as a perverse form of procrastination someday when I’ve got something far better I should be doing. I know me.

But whatever. The whole thing me thinking about how this would work with Central America. I figured it wouldn’t take too long to find out, seeing as I only had seven countries to work with, as opposed to 50 states.

So I got to it, typing the following seven questions into Google to see what came out. I used a VPN, making out I was in San Francisco, California:

Why is Costa Rica so…
Why is Panama so…
Why is Nicaragua so…
Why is Honduras so…
Why is El Salvador so…
Why is Guatemala so…
Why is Belize so…

… and the map below is what emerged:

Let’s break it down.

The first word associated with Honduras is “poor“. Last year it was “dangerous”, but poor seems to have overtaken it. Ditto with Guatemala. Last year it was “dangerous”, this year “poor“. I guess Covid pandemic policies have a lot to answer for. “Dangerous“, though, is still the main word people associate with El Salvador when they’re asking Google.

As for Belize, it also has “dangerous” as the first word associated with it, when asking “why is Belize so ___?”

Elsewhere in Central America, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama aren’t associated with danger in the minds of Google users. Nicaragua’s association word is also “poor“, while Costa Rica’s is “expensive“, and Panama’s is “rich“.

I’m not surprised at all about Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Their reputations precede them.

Panama, however, does surprise me.

I had no idea the world saw Panama as “rich“. Compared to the rest of Central America, I suppose Panama is rich (it has the highest GDP per capita in the region), although it doesn’t feel that way in many parts of the country.

The above words are the top ones that come out when you type in the “Why is so-and-so so…” question, but there are others.

For example, the next four most popular words associated with Costa Rica after “expensive” are “stable“, “safe“, “poor“, and “white“. Panama’s next four words are “expensive“, “poor“, “cheap“, and “important“. Nicaragua’s are “safe“, “cheap“, “poor country“, and “underdeveloped“.

Heading across from Nicaragua into the Northern Triangle, the words most associated with Honduras by Google users after “poor” are “violent“, “hot“, “populated“, and “bad at soccer“.

El Salvador comes in with “poor“, “small“, “hot“, and “densely populated” while Guatemala has “dangerous“, “violent“, “populated“, and “happy“. Aside from the happy association in Guatemala, the Northern Triangle has some major image problems.

And then there’s Belize. After its “dangerous” association, the next three words typed in by online searchers is “expensive“, “poor“, “popular“, and “small“.

It’s clear there’s a big split between the northern half of Central America and the southern half when it comes to perception and what people ask online.

This is something I find fascinating, and it also gives us a lot of ideas about what to write about in the coming months. Watch this space.

Oh. I almost forgot. What about Central America itself? What are the top four words that pop up when you type “Why is Central America so…” into Google?

Divided” (not sure what they’re referring to?), “unstable” (no surprise there), “geologically unstable” (hmm), and “hot” (well, yeah). Go figure.

James Dyde is the editor of He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.

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