Over 440 million people reside in the countries of Canada, Mexico, Greenland and the United States of America. The continent of North America is almost completely surrounded by water: the Pacific Ocean lies to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south, with the island of Greenland lying off the coast of Labrador in the northeast. The sole connection between North American and South America is the Isthmus of Panama.
North America contains the only remaining superpower and the world's largest economy in the United States. Due to the immense economic, military and political power of the United States, this region has enjoyed relative tranquility compared to most regions of the globe. Safety concerns have grown since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America, leading to increased security and delay issues for international travel and trade. A free trade agreement exists between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. which has increased economic ties and relations between these three nations. Major tourist destinations include the Statue of Liberty in New York City, the Grand Canyon National Park, Niagara Falls, Mexico's ancient city of Teotihuacán and the Bahía de Banderas resort region, the skiing mountains in British Columbia, and the Northeast Greenland National Park (the largest national park in the world).
Canada and the US began to be colonized by Europeans in the 16th century and their cultures primarily reflect this but also show a growing shift towards an increasingly more diverse population due to immigration from other parts of the world. Native Mesoamerican culture is more widespread in Mexico. English is the primary language spoken with Spanish second and French third. While a self-governed Danish territory, the majority of people in Greenland share Inuit and European roots.
The climate ranges from tropical in southern Mexico to arctic conditions in Canada and Greenland (which is covered 81% by ice). The United States has a great variety of climate zones with sections of arid (southwest), mediterranean (California), arctic (Alaska) and tropical (Hawaii).
Serving as a land bridge connecting two hemispheres, the isthmus of Central America consists of 7 countries united by their shared legacies of Spanish colonialism, rugged physical beauty and by their importance to the North American consumer. Consisting of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, with the Northern Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Ocean to the east, the region is home to nearly 40 million people. Because Central America is situated on the lip of the Caribbean plate the area is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Over eons of time this volcanic activity has produced a lush mountainous landscape rich in animal life and vegetation. The most well-known landmark is undoubtedly the world-famous Panama Canal, a vital shipping link between North and South America.
The majority of people reside in urban areas with three cities numbering about one million. Per capita the average citizen's annual income is low with many employed in agriculture; this has in return served to make Central America a primary exporter of cheap food products to the United States and Canada. Socially there have been bouts of political upheaval and rapid social change within many of the nations, with results being as far ranging as the installation of dictators or the beginnings of democratic government.
The populace of Central America reflects the region's diverse history as an important hub of exploration and colonization during the discovery of New World. Along with people that claim native American descent there are many individuals with African or Spanish lineage including those with mixed heritage called mestizos (Spanish background) or mulattoes (African). Reflecting the centuries of western expansion, Roman Catholicism is the most predominant form of worship while Spanish is the official language of the government.
The eastern portion of Central America generally receives twice as much precipitation as the western side due to its warmer waters. While this also ensures that the eastern region is exposed to more hurricanes and tropical storms, the bulk of the population resides on the western portion of the land mass.
South of the Panama Canal is South America, the fourth largest continent and the most ecologically diverse region in the world. The continent is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Twelve countries are found in South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil (the largest), Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. Over 370 million people live in this region with Brazil's Sao Paulo being the most populous city (and third most densely populated in the world) having an estimated 24 million people. South America is a place where many of the world's most extreme places can be found. The Andes, the world's longest chain of mountains, stretches down the western coastal side of the continent for 7,000 km. East of the Andes and running through Brazil, Columbia and Peru is the world's largest flowing river, the Amazon, the source for one-fifth of the oceans' supply of fresh water. The Amazon Rainforest spreads out over 1.2 billion acres and contains the greatest number of animal, flora and fauna species on the planet.
The spread of human civilization has led to deforestation in parts of the Amazon Rainforest to make the land available for farming and settlement. With increasing concern over global warming the countries that contain the Amazon will have an increasingly more important voice amongst the world community. Indigenous people remain in the non-urban areas and continue to live lives the way their ancestors did hundreds even thousands of years ago. In recent times South American politics has been a mixture of paramilitary dictatorships and socialist movements, with flare-ups of open revolt commonly occurring. Today the nations generally follow left-leaning democratic, free-market principals.
Reflecting the rich heritage of the region and its many cultures, ancient towns and cities constructed by the Mayan, Inca, Huari, Nazca and other native people remain popular tourist destinations. The majority of Brazilians speak Portuguese but Spanish is the most common language elsewhere - these languages reflect the region's colonial past.
In Chile is the Atacama, the world's driest desert. With the moisture coming from the Pacific Ocean blocked by the mountains this desert typically receives less than 1 mm of rainfall each year.
The Caribbean consists of over 7,000 islands spread out across 2.7 million square kilometers. Bordered by North America to the northwest, South America to the south and Central America to the west, the region is home to 22 island nations and territories. The islands of the Caribbean Sea are grouped into two regions: the western Greater Antilles or West Indies (including Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the Lesser Antilles or Caribbees (among them Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Montserrat and the British and Virgin Islands, U.S.), the long chain of islands that serve as an eastern divide between the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. Underneath the waves the aquatic life is stunningly beautiful due to the coral reefs providing shelter and food to support a diverse ecosystem.
The Caribbean is one of the world's most frequented tourist destinations due to its warm temperatures and crystal clear blue waters. Up to 12 million visitors flock to the region each year.
Colonization of the region began in the 15th century shortly after the discovery of America. The islands were claimed and settled by the world's naval powers at the time such as Spain, Britain and France, with some of the smaller islands claimed lesser sea-powers such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Turkey. Over the course of the past four hundred years some colonies were sold as parcels to other nations (such as the Virgin Islands, U.S. from Denmark) or were given independence (the Bahamas, The, a former crown colony of Britain). The rich, tropical climate and fertile soil allowed for the development of lucrative businesses based around food commodities that drove many European governments to forming colonies in the area. By 1750 the Caribbean was the number one producer of sugarcane and its value to European merchants was equal to that of gold; this resulted in fleets of vessels traveling across the Atlantic to satisfy demand.
Unfortunately, the warm tropical waters also mean that hurricanes are more likely to form here, with the potential of creating immense harm to the regional economy with its heavy dependence upon tourism.