The Americas


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North America        Middle America        South America






North AmericaNorthAmerica



Major Geographic Qualities

1. Anglo-American label

2. English language

3. Christian faiths

4. European norms in government, architecture, diet, arts

5. highly urbanized

6. mobile populations

7. high incomes

8. manufacturing output

9. federal states with plural societies



Athabasca Falls, Canada



Physical CharacteristicsLocated in the northwest corner of Greenland, Leidy Glacier is fed by ice from the Academy Glacier. As Leidy approaches the sea, it is diverted around the tip of an island that separates the Olriks Fjord to the south and Academy Cove to the north. The resulting crisscross pattern is simply the result of ice flowing along the path of least resistance.

1. Arctic Coastal Plain: In northern Alaska, this is a complex landscape of lakes, streams and wetlands scattered across low relief tundra that is underlain by permafrost, an eco-region that is an important breeding ground for a great deal of wildlife.


2. Canadian Shield: North America contains some of the oldest rocks on Earth. Its geologic structure is built around a stable platform of Precambrian rock called the Canadian (Laurentian) Shield. This region was once an area of high mountains. Centuries of erosion, or gradual wearing away, reduced the area to low hills and plains rich in minerals.


3. Interior Lowlands: between Rocky Mountains. and Appalachians ... covered by glacial debris laid by melt water and wind of the Pleistocene glaciation


4. Piedmont: A plateau region located in eastern US between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the main Appalachian Mountains, stretching from New Jersey in the north to central Alabama in the south. The Piedmont is a physiographic region of the larger Appalachian region. It consists of the Piedmont Upland and Piedmont Lowlands sections. It consists of the remnant of several ancient mountain chains that have since been eroded away and has historically been a farming area although only moderately fertile.


5. Appalachian Highlands: North America’s older mountain ranges, including the Appalachians, rise near the east coast. These areas have been mined for rich deposits of coal and other minerals for hundreds of years.


6. Gulf Atlantic Coastal Plain: Made up of two sub regions, the Atlantic Plain and the Gulf Plain. Extends along the east and southeast coasts of the US from east Long Island to the Rio Grande. Cape Cod and the islands off southeast Massachusetts are part of this region. Although narrow in the north, the Atlantic Coastal Plain widens in the south, merging with the Gulf Coastal Plain in Florida. The Atlantic and Gulf coasts are essentially coastlines of submergence, with numerous estuaries, embayments, islands, sand spits and barrier beaches backed by lagoons. The northeast coast has many natural harbors but south of the North Carolina coast there are few large bays. A principal feature of the lagoon-lined Gulf Coast is the great delta of the Mississippi River.


7. Interior Highlands: The Ozark Highlands extend across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas and into eastern Kansas. Thick with forests, the region includes mountains that rise more than 2,000 feet. The highest are the Boston Mountains in Arkansas. Important industries in the region include forestry, agriculture and mining.


8. Great Plains: between Rocky Mountains. and Appalachians ... extensive sedimentary surface rising westward toward the Rockies


9. Rocky Mountains: Geologically young and complex system extends into northwest US from Canada and runs south into New Mexico. There are numerous high peaks in the Rockies; the highest is Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft). The Rocky Mountains are divided into four sections: Northern Rockies, Middle Rockies, Wyoming (Great Divide) Basin and Southern Rockies. Along the crest of the Rockies is the Continental Divide, separating Atlantic-bound drainage from that heading for the Pacific Ocean.


10. Intermontane Basins and Plateaus: Called intermontane due to position between the Rockies to the east and the Pacific coast mountain system in the west. Contains 3 physiographic provinces:

a. Colorado plateau in the north forms the watershed of the Colombia River.

b. Colorado plateau in the south has thick sediments and the Grand Canyon.

c. Central Basin-and-Range country of Nevada and Utah (Great Basin) contains several extinct lakes from the glacial period and the Great Salt Lake.rural Canada


11. Pacific Mountains and Valleys: The coast mountain belt from the Alaskan Peninsula to Southern California is dominated by a row of high mountain ranges originating from the contact of North American and Pacific Plates. The major components include California’s Sierra Nevada, Cascades of Oregon and Washington, and the chain of highland massifs lining the British Columbia and southern Alaska coasts. The valleys in this area that contain dense populations are the San Joaquin-Sacramento Valley (central), the Cowlitz-Puget Sound and the Fraser Valley.


12. Canada: second-largest country in the world (after Russia), area of nearly 10 million sq. km makes it slightly larger than the US, terrain mostly plains with mountains in the west and lowlands in the east, climate varies from temperate in the south, along the US-Canadian border, to subarctic in the north, permafrost in north restricts development


13. United States: third-largest country in the world, over 9.6 million sq. km of area, climate ranges from tropical to arctic but most of the US lies in the temperate zone, great variability in terrain and natural hazards, broad central plains with hills and low mountains in east





Cultural Characteristics

1. Indigenous cultures shaped, and were shaped by, the geography of North America. The first North Americans are believed to have migrated from Siberia, in northeast Asia, by crossing a land bridge over the Bering Strait. These populations fanned out southward, to present-day Florida, California, Mexico and Central America. The legacy of European colonization was devastating for Native Americans.


2. Leading North American civilizations included the Iroquois, native to southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States.


3. Many of these early North American cultures were scientifically and agriculturally advanced. Cultures throughout southern North America harvested corn, squash, and beans in regular cycles. This sort of agriculture allowed major civilizations to develop. People were no longer bound to produce food and shelter for their families — some people could work in the food and construction industries while others became engineers, artists, and political leaders.


4. The vastness of the northern part of the continent encouraged other indigenous communities to live nomadic lifestyles. These cultures did not establish urban areas or agricultural centers. Instead, they followed favorable weather patterns, natural agricultural cycles, and animal migrations. The Plains Indians, for example, followed the seasonal grazing and migration of the American bison.


5. The environment also impacted the traditional beliefs and social structure of North American indigenous communities. For instance, the Inuit, native to the Arctic, were deeply influenced by the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. They believed the amazing light displays were images of their family and friends in the afterlife, the souls of animals and spirits, and visual guides for hunting. Inuit also believed that all things have souls, and that spirits existed to protect those souls. By respecting the ecosystem (the living and nonliving things in an environment), Inuit communities aimed to maintain a balanced existence.


6. Northern Frontier: most of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland; Yukon Territory, Nunavut Territory, Northwest Territory, Alaska ... Covers 90% of Canada and all of Alaska consisting of very harsh weather. Contains one of the Earth’s storehouses of mineral and energy resources because of the Canadian Shield covering of the eastern part.


7. French Canada: southern Quebec and northern New Brunswick ... Narrow rectangular farms, long lots, laid out perpendicular to the St. Lawrence allowing each farm access to transportation.


8. Maritime Northeast: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, eastern Newfoundland ... Development has centered on fishing and recreation tourism in the winter.


9. Core: centered around major urban areas: southeast Ontario (Toronto), southern Michigan (Detroit), southeastern Wisconsin (Milwaukee), Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington DC, northern Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts ... Leader during the century between the Civil War and the close of the industrial age. Still the geographic heart in which manufacturing is important.Inuit village in 1800s


10. South: Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, southern Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky ... Many problems surrounded the South after the Civil War but the growth of beef, soybeans, poultry and lumber has helped the growth of this region. There are still poverty and economic problems. One positive aspect is many are retiring to areas of the South.


11. Continental Interior: eastern Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern Wyoming, eastern Montana, southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, most of Wisconsin, and northern Michigan ... Agriculture is predominant, especially wheat and corn.


12. Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas ... A bicultural regional complex sometimes referred to as tri-cultural to include not only Anglo Americans and Hispanic Americans, but also Native Americans. Rapid development is based on a three prong foundation: (a) availability of electricity (b) sufficient water for large numbers in dry environment (c) autos for people to spread out further. The Dallas/Ft Worth - Houston - San Antonio triangle has become one of the most productive post-industrial complexes, specializing in business information, health care services and high tech manufacturing.


13. Western Frontier: Nevada, Utah, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, western Montana, western Colorado, western Wyoming, southeastern British Columbia, and southwestern Alberta ... Stretches east-west between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Cascades, the north-south reaches from Grand Canyon country to the Canadian Rockies. The Las Vegas Valley is the fastest growing area in the western frontier due to advances in technology and communication.


14. Pacific Hinge: California, western Oregon and Washington, and southwestern British Columbia ... consists of the Pacific coastlands of the US and Canada. It has good climate and weather. The land is very productive in California’s Central Valley. Accommodations for large population and economic growth came after the WWII era. Environmental hazards such as droughts, flooding, mudslides, brushfire and earthquakes, occur in this area.





Demographic Characteristics

1. European expansion: Beginning with the Vikings’ brief stint in Newfoundland circa 1000 CE and continuing through England’s colonization of the Atlantic coast in the 17th century, which laid the foundation for the US, European expansion spanned an entire millennium and involved a wide array of European powers, all of which contributed to the demographic history of North America.

Three settlement stages for Europeans:

a. Stage 1 (1600 - 1750): European colonial footholds on East Coast (French, English, Dutch, Spanish, enslaved Africans)

b. Stage 2 (1750 - 1850): Infilling better eastern farmland, including Upper Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, Interior Lowlands, Midwest, Interior South; Canadian settlement slower

c. Stage 3 (1850 - 1910): Westward movement (immigrants and American-born Europeans) heading for gold rushes and other opportunities


2. Canada's population: relatively low compared to size, of European stock with the largest group (40%) of British Isles origin and the next largest (27%) French, two 2020 Population Pyramid for North Americaofficial languages -- English and French, 45% is Roman Catholic and the rest are mostly other Christian denominations with the United Church and Anglican sects as the largest groups, social development is high as evidenced by an average life expectancy of approximately 80 years. The majority of Canadians live in an east/west direction within 200 miles of the border, with the majority living on the Atlantic side of the country. The Canadian population has evolved slower than the US. In 1886, the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway sparked a period of settlement in the far west and the Prairie Provinces.


3. US population: mostly white with a 12.4% black population, over 80% Christian (56% Protestant, 28% Roman Catholic), principal language is English but a sizable minority speaks Spanish. The greatest population density in the US is along the Atlantic coast, especially toward the north. The largest settlement agglomeration is known as the Megalopolis, which reaches from Washington to Boston. The US population is still being shaped by the wide spectrum of immigrant groups. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Eskimos or Aleuts make up about 27% of all Americans. The number of immigrants living in the US has almost tripled since 1970. Most of the Hispanic population is located around New York.

phytoplankton bloom near Alaska’s Pribilof Islands





Economic Characteristics

1. wealth of industrial, fuel and agricultural resources


2. postindustrial

a. 300 days of sunshine per year

b. affordable housing

c. low risk business environment

i. tax breaks

ii. cooperative state and local governments

iii. lenders

iv. businesses

d. economic enterprises

e. government

f. social-services complexes

g. military


3. Canada: a market-oriented economic system ... largely rural prior to WWII but growth in manufacturing, mining and service sectors has transformed the nation into one that is primarily industrial and urban ... most electric power is hydroelectric with significant amounts produced by fossil fuels and nuclear energy ... main exports include motor vehicles and parts, wood and paper products, fossil fuels and machinery ... main imports are machinery and equipment, crude oil, chemicals, motor vehicles and parts and durable consumer goods ... US is major trading partner due in part to NAFTA which also includes Mexico ... has a well-developed infrastructure that includes railways, highways, waterways, pipelines for oil and natural gas, airports and heliports


4. US: most powerful, diverse and technologically advanced economy in the world ... market-oriented economy in which private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions ... government buys needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace ... electricity production is from a variety of sources but over 60% is from fossil fuels and less than 20% from nuclear power ... exports capital goods, automobiles, industrial supplies and raw materials, consumer goods and agricultural products ... imports crude oil and refined petroleum products, machinery, automobiles, consumer goods and industrial raw materials ... over 60% of trade is with Canada, Western Europe, Japan and Mexico ... has a well-developed infrastructure that includes railways, highways, navigable waterways, the Great Lakes, numerous ports and harbors, airports and heliports






Political Characteristics

1. Cooperation and conflict have dramatically affected the relationships between North American countries. The US and Canada have the longest non-militarized border in the world, for instance. This peaceful border reflects a stable, cooperative relationship between the two countries. North America’s history is dotted with conflict, however. The region has become a hotspot for foreign policy and financial assistance. Over the years, the US, for instance, has hoped to protect its economic and political interests by backing various military governments and guerrilla groups.


2. North America’s political geography is deeply influenced by economic and demographic trends. Immigration is perhaps the most sensitive aspect. Most immigration is fueled by poverty.


3. National security at the international, regional and domestic level will continue to be an important issue. Internationally, the developed countries of North America, especially the US, continue to negotiate their diplomatic presence in the world while protecting themselves from terrorist attacks at home.


4. One of the most important aspects of North America’s political and financial future rests largely on its efforts to minimize the effects of climate change.


5. North America

a. Bermuda (UK)

b. Canada

c. Greenland (or Kalaallit Nunaat, Denmark)

d. United States of America




Optional Resources

You may note that for some countries on the Americas, Africa, Europe and Russia, and Asia and the Pacific pages I have provided a link to one or more of that county’s EarthCams. The cameras are live so what you see depends on when you watch it. They also have sound. A few of the views have a brief commercial at the beginning and occasionally a few may be off-line. Just try the latter at a later time. You can click on the Hall of Fame link at the top of each video and see scenes from the past few days. If you are interested in watching cams I haven't listed on these pages, feel free to check out the EarthCam Network. Beware: Watching live EarthCam can be hypnotic!


Political Resources on the Net

Google's Arts & Culture collection virtual world museum tours

Bermuda MagazineBermuda | Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean, off the east shore of North America about 655 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, NC. Bermuda's economy is based on offshore insurance and tourism, its two largest economic sectors. Bermuda had one of the world's highest GDP per capita for most of the 20th century and several years beyond. Recently, its economic status has been affected by the global recession. The island is in the hurricane belt but is somewhat protected by the coral reefs that surround it. Bermuda is the northernmost point of the Bermuda Triangle, a region of sea in which, according to legend, a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared under supposedly unexplained or mysterious circumstances. | Bermuda: The Definitive Guide | Tour the Royal Naval Dockyard (9:10) | B.R.E.A.M. | Bermuda Cam

Roald AmundsenFor centuries, explorers searched in vain for the fabled Northwest Passage, hoping that they could find a navigable route through the Arctic pack ice that would allow merchant ships to quickly sail between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Such a route proved elusive until famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen made the first complete passage through the icy waters north of Canada back in 1906. It took him three years to prove the Passage existed, however, and at the time it was not a commercially viable path. Today, however, climate change has reduced the amount of ice that chokes those waterways, allowing ships to pass through between July and September each year. Thanks to global warming, this once mythical route has become a reality and the Northwest Passage becomes increasingly easier to navigate with each passing summer. In fact, in 2016 it was almost completely free of ice.

Canada | Take a trip to Canada and explore the second-largest national land area in the world, encompassing the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia and Alberta, across the rolling grain fields of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, to the farms and towns of the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland-Labrador. | Take a moment and view sites in Canada from outer space. | Sacred Sites of Canada | Niagara Falls Canada Cam | The Man Who Went to War With Canada

Take a road trip through Prince Edward Island, Canada, and let the highways take you around this often forgotten corner of Canada.  This Atlantic coast community is steep in tradition and offers a look at what old maritime life was once like. | Take a look at life in Canada’s remote and pristine Northwest Territories, home to Indigenous peoples of many cultures and languages. | A Journey through Black Nova Scotia | Canada’s Gaspé Peninsula feels like the edge of the world.

Toronto, Canada is the largest Canadian city and the fifth largest city in North America. Toronto is heralded as one of the most multicultural cities in the world and is ranked as the safest large metropolitan area in North America. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken here, and just over 30% of Toronto residents speak a language other than English or French at home. Toronto is not the political capital of Canada but it is the cultural, entertainment and financial capital of the nation. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late 18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from the Mississaugas. Walking on the streets of Toronto it is almost impossible to believe that there is a second city – PATH – hidden underground. According to Guinness World Records, PATH is the world’s largest underground shopping complex with 17 miles of shopping arcades. It has 4 million square feet of retail space. The 1,200 shops and services found in PATH employ about 5,000 people. Once a year, businesses in PATH host the world's largest underground sidewalk sale. | Toronto Cam

Icebergs of Greenland

Icebergs of Greenland: Greenland is the world's largest non-continental island with a territory of 1,324,017 square miles. The shores are carved by deep long fjords, reaching the edge of the ice sheet. The glaciation of Greenland's territory began during the anthropogenic period (a geological period that started 2,588 million years ago). Today the ice sheet covers 1,139,594 square miles of the island, creating the unique Greenland scenery. The cold East-Greenland current washes over the east coast of Greenland. Floating icebergs block the entire east coast almost all year round. The water off the north coast is constantly covered with ice, and the only relatively warm area is the southwest coast, thanks to the warm West-Greenland current. | Yes, Greenland’s ice is melting but…

Greenland is an autonomous country within the Danish Realm located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for more than a millennium. Greenland has the world's largest island, the world’s lowest population density and one of the smallest capitals in the world (Nuuk 5:51). Three-quarters of Greenland is covered by the only permanent ice sheet (Check out the links at the bottom.) outside of Antarctica (10% of the world's total fresh water reserves). | Petermann Glacier (If you get a subscription screen, just scroll down below it.) | the Arctic Umiaq Line ferry | Greenland is melting away. | Greenland Melting | Greenland’s Disappearing Glaciers—A Tale of Fire and Ice | Greenland Institute of Natural Resources | Greenland: Land of Ice and Ghosts (3:14): amateur video but interesting | Ice News | …and just for fun: Greenland Board Game

About the United States | US National Archives | US Historical Monuments and Landmarks | Nature’s Highlights in the US | US National Park Service | The ONE Thing You Must Do In Each US State | 10 Iconic US Attractions | Most Beautiful Places in America | US National Arboretum | Top 10 Most Interesting States | Biggest and Best Places to Visit in the South | Roadside America | Fort Tilden | USS Recruit | A 600-mile walk to a singing river | History of US Interventions in Latin America | US Place Names You’ve Been Pronouncing Wrong | This Is the Oldest City in the US … and It’s Absolutely Beautiful | A Virtual Road Trip along Route 66

Bat Mania (2:05): Tens of thousands of people from across the country gather in Austin, Texas for a truly amazing sight: Millions of bats taking flight each night. Called by some, "bat-nado," it has become Austin's top attraction in summer and fall months. | Why Do Americans and Brits Drive on Different Sides of the Road? | virtual San Diego Zoo | virtual Yellowstone National Park | The Island that Speaks Elizabethan English | When the Bronx Was a Forest: Stroll through the Centuries | The Ghost Wolves of Galveston Island | Six Days Afloat in the Everglades | The Elusive Future of San Francisco’s Fog | Y’all: the Most Inclusive of All Pronouns | The Grand Canyon, a Cathedral to Time, Is Losing Its River

Los Angeles (Hollywood Boulevard) Cam | UC Davis falcons Cam | New London CT Cam | Washington DC Cam | Florida eagles Cam | Florida manatees Cam | Illinois bison Cam | Chicago IL Cam | Notre Dame Cam | New Orleans (Bourbon Street) Cam | Baltimore Harbor Cam | Baltimore jellyfish Cam | Baltimore Aquarium Cam | Boston MA Cam | Essex MA osprey Cam | Minnesota falcons Cam | St Paul MN Cam | Omaha NE falcons Cam | New York Harbor Cam | New York (Fifth Avenue) Cam | NC wildlife Cam | San Antonio TX Cam | Jackson Hole WY Cam

US | Census tracks 20 years of sweeping change | How we see immigration and why we're wrong | Official American | Compare your income | If you thought income inequality was bad, get a load of wealth inequality. | What's next for the Supreme Court?


Comparing Countries

Comparing Countries: Canada, The US and Mexico





Middle America (Central America and the Caribbean Basin)






Guanajuato Mexico




Middle America (Central America and the Caribbean Basin)


Major Geographic Qualities

1. Mexico, Central America, Caribbean Islands

2. physically and politically fragmented

3. culturally diverse

4. endemic poverty



The Caribbean Basin

Physical Characteristics

1. Central America is a land bridge with a chain of rugged mountains extending through the center. These towering mountains rise as high as 14,000 feet, with the highest in Guatemala. On each side of these highlands exist lowlands along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts (with the exceptions of El Salvador, which does not border the Atlantic, and Belize, which does not border the Pacific). The lowlands are generally hot, humid and often plagued by disease, while the highlands are cooler and drier.


2. Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the Caribbean Basin region is comprised of more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays. (See map thumbnail above for this discussion.) These islands generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean islands, consisting of the Greater Antilles on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), are part of the somewhat larger West Indies grouping, which also includes the Lucayan Archipelago (comprising The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands) north of the Greater Antilles and Caribbean Sea. In a wider sense, the mainland countries of Belize, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are also sometimes included.

The Caribbean is divided into two main subdivisions: the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola [Haiti and the Dominican Republic] and Puerto Rico) and the Lesser Antilles. Within the Lesser Antilles, there are three sub-groupings: the Leeward Islands, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Antilles. Early sailing ships crossing the Atlantic took advantage of the trade winds and ocean currents. These often delivered them to the edge of the Caribbean Sea near Dominica. The Windward (direction upwind from the point of reference) Islands were so named because they were more windward at this location than the Leeward (direction downwind or downward from the point of reference) Islands.


3. natural hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, droughts, flooding, mud slides


Street in Havana Cuba, 2012




Cultural Characteristics

1. Two of the most important civilizations to have flourished were the Mayan and Aztec Empires. Both possessed complex societies and high levels of technology. The Mayan Empire first rose more than 3,000 years ago and occupied the low-lying tropical plains of what is now Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and southern Mexico. The Aztec Empire, which came much later, is thought to have originated in the early 14th century. This empire stretched from Honduras to the highland areas of central Mexico, its core being in the great city of Tenochtitlan in the Valley of Mexico, the area that is today Mexico City. The Aztec civilization lasted approximately 100 years until Hernán Cortés, the Spanish Conquistadors and an epidemic of smallpox, effectively destroyed the Aztec Empire in the 1520s.

a. Maya cultural hearth

i. classical period 200-900 CE

ii. Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Yucatan peninsula

iii. theocratic structure

b. Aztec cultural hearth

i. 1300 CE

ii. Valley of Mexico

iii. Tenochtitlan (>100,000 people)


2. Multiple influences have overprinted the indigenous cultures. Four main colonial influences:

a. Spanish: dominant on the inland portions of the mainland and large islands

b. British: coastal areas of the mainland and islands

c. French: islands

d. Dutch: islands



3. legacy of colonialism

a. land appropriation

i. Land was appropriated for colonial commercial interests, resulting in a very unequal distribution of land ownership and income.

ii. Lands devoted to food crops for local consumption were converted to cash crops for export.

b. forced urbanization: relocation of the population to nucleated towns and villages, favored control and conversion to Catholicism

c. land alienation: characterized by famine (loss of 90% of population), poverty, migration, little agricultural diversity

i. implementation of the encomienda: replicate of the European feudal system that mandated the payment of tributes to the Crown, forced indigenous groups into the cash economy

ii. formation of large haciendas (estates): Crown rewarded conquistadores with huge land grants (including much land already used by the indigenous peoples) with natives tied to land, most provided protection and the teachings of Christianity … system ensured the presence of a large labor force that essentially was a slave labor force, with workers deriving little benefit from their labors beyond the ability to pay the encomienda … not efficient but brought social prestige to land holders

iii. ejidos system: hacienda system was broken up and most hacienda-land was given back to the people, often in the form of an ejidos system (land system in which the community owns the land but individuals can gain profit from it by sharing resources) … system has created its own set of problems and many communally-owned lands are being transferred to private owners

comparison of the colonial plantation and hacienda systems

d. Presence of the Catholic Church is felt virtually everywhere in Latin America today. In most of these countries, the Catholic population ranges from 80 to 90%. Forcing the indigenous population to accept Catholicism was not an easy task for the Spaniards. One thing that made conversion easier was that Catholicism has many saints and the indigenous religions have many gods. For many indigenous peoples, Catholicism has been mixed with indigenous religions to form a combination of the two (religious syncretism).

Cuba’s massive Carnival celebrations have been held in some form or another since the 17th century. As a series of winter events tied to the Catholic Church’s calendar, Carnival was largely reserved for Cubans of mostly Spanish ancestry, while its summer counterpart, the Mamarrachos, allowed laborers and the lower classes (mostly enslaved Africans and their descendants) a period of riotous release after the sugar cane harvest. Many other Carnivals across the Caribbean are still observed in February, before Lent, but Cuba’s Carnival has evolved into an exuberant summer event that is celebrated across the country. The most famous parties, held in Havana in August and in Santiago de Cuba at the end of July, have preserved the vibrant spirit and Afro-Caribbean influences of the original Mamarrachos. Spangled and feathered groups of dancers called comparsas perform in the streets between giant effigies of religious figures and celebrities, decorated floats and conga performers. The mainstreaming of festivals that originated from marginalized communities hasn’t been entirely seamless, with periodic attempts by conservative Cubans to sanitize them, but the omnipresent rhythm of the Carnival drums is a permanent reminder of their roots in resilience, triumph and pure joy.

altitudinal zonation

e. Mainland and Rimland characteristics of Middle America based on colonial-era economic activities … Both the hacienda and the plantation structures of agriculture altered the ethnic makeup of their respective regions.

mainland and rimland in Middle America

i. mainland: the interior of Central America and Mexico … Euro-Indian influence, mestizo, greater isolation from European activity, mountains, altitudinal zonation climate (natural layering of ecosystems that occurs at distinct altitudes due to varying environmental conditions), hacienda landholding pattern

ii. rimland: Caribbean islands and the Caribbean coastal areas of Central America … Euro-African influence, mulatto, greater accessibility to European ships, islands, tropical climate, plantation landholding pattern … For example, sugar production had large economies of scale (large plantations with hundreds of slaves, large capital requirements) and resulted in high concentration of wealth and land ownership.


4. Caribbean Indians: A number of indigenous groups inhabited the Antilles before the arrival of Europeans, including the Arawaks, Caribs and the Tainos (the latter thought to have been descended from the Arawak tribe). Beginning with the Columbus expedition of 1492, European presence has had a dramatic effect on the demographic character of the Caribbean. Spanish brutality, enslavement, warfare and disease all contributed to the rapid decline of the indigenous Amerindian population. This left a critical labor shortage for the fledging sugarcane industry, thus prompting Europeans to actively seek and obtain slaves and indentured labor from Africa and Asia respectively. No less than five million Africans were brought to the Caribbean alone.


5. African Slave Trade: African slaves primarily came from West Africa where they were forcibly removed from their native lands and taken to the Americas by European slave traders. Tribal groups were rarely, if ever, left intact upon reaching their new home. Instead they were intentionally mixed to dilute ethnic identities. As a result, intact transfer of religion and languages into the Caribbean did not occur, which consequently provided conditions for new dialects and cultures to arise.2020 Population Pyramids for Central America and the Caribbean





Demographic Characteristics

1. social stratification    

a. development of a socially stratified society along racial lines

b. miscegenation: mixed race resulting between Caucasians and the indigenous population … began very early on during the colonial period since early migrations from Europe were primarily male

c. in most cases continued into contemporary times … one of the overriding realities of Latin America … one of the region's greatest problems


2. diversity: European and African influence, less Latin than South America, importance of pre-Columbian and African cultures, many European dominions (English, French, Dutch), sizeable Asian minorities in some countries … Caribbean changes: entirely Amerindian, dominated by European colonizers, an African majority population … Central America/Mexico changes: mixing of European culture with Amerindian culture to form various types of mestizo (people of mixed ethnicity) groups with Hispanic, Latino or Chicano identities


3. Euro-Indian vs. Euro-African: mestizos (métis) (European / Indian), mulattos (European / Black) … tend to follow a mainland-rimland pattern


4. Middle America’s climates and landscapes have a large impact on settlement patterns in the region. (In Latin America as a whole, most of the population lives on only one-third of the land.)

a. Mexico: largest concentrations in Mexico City area, with sizeable indigenous concentrations in southern Mexico

b. Central America: most in middle altitudes and along Pacific coast … Atlantic coast less settled due to lowlands, tropical rainforest, infertile soils, tropical storms

c. Caribbean: most concentrated populations generally along coasts … because of these countries’ small sizes, tend to have high population densitiespoverty in Honduras


5. Middle America has faced problems in past decades with soaring population growth and economies and infrastructures that struggled to keep up with the rising population. However, in recent years, population growth rates have dropped dramatically. Yet aggregate numbers do not reflect the variation in birthrates between various countries. The most extreme variation can be found in Cuba and Guatemala which respectively have the lowest (1.47) and highest (3.98) fertility rates in Middle America. Cuba faces a rapidly aging population, while Guatemala has seen an increase in younger working-age adults. Look at the regional population pyramids (above right). Population pyramids are used by demographers as a tool for understanding the make-up of a given population. They are graphs that show the age-sex distributions of different populations. Sex is shown on the left/right sides, age on the y-axis, and the percentage of population on the x-axis. Each grouping (ex: males aged 0-4) is called a cohort. A population pyramid does not tell you the actual population in numbers. Rather, it displays percentages and shows what portion of a population fall into each cohort. In general, the more rectangular the graph is shaped, the slower a population is growing (a more uniform population size across age groups with older generations being replaced by new generations of approximately the same size). The more a graph looks like a pyramid, the faster that population is growing (older generations are producing larger new generations).Poverty in Latin Anerica and the Caribbean


Poverty rate in Central America

6. Internal migration (especially rural-to-urban) and regional migration (predominately for economic reasons) are increasing.


7. Poverty: Share of the region's population in extreme poverty is falling. Middle class is growing. Still an awful lot of people in extreme poverty … largest single group of people in the region is the “vulnerable” and at risk of slipping back into poverty if their fortunes change. Income disparities have improved but remain high. (All countries in Latin America are more unequal than Turkey, the most unequal OECD country from outside the region.) Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to poverty. Natural disasters have aggravated poverty in the region.





GDP per capita in Latin America and Caribbean MapEconomic Characteristics

1. NAFTA (1994) trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the US: reduced and regulated trade tariffs, barriers and quotas … standardized finance and service exchanges … advantages: Mexico gained jobs, foreign owners benefitted from cheaper labor costs … effects: regional development, development of an international growth corridor between Monterrey and Dallas - Fort Worth … future: model came to a standstill in 21st century due to labor competition from China ($0.35 to $1 per hour), loss of 300,000 jobs


2. Mexico and NAFTA: promised a higher standard of living. NAFTA created more jobs for Mexicans as US companies began to invest more heavily in the Mexican market. Mexican exporters increased their sales to the US and Canada. Canada remained the United States’ largest export market. Since 1977, Mexico moved into second place (displacing Japan). 85% of all Mexican exports now went to the US. 75% of Mexico’s imports originated in the US.


3. USMCA: In early 2020, Congress approved the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) as a replacement for NAFTA. Some critics have complained that the new agreement amounts to government-managed trade. However, the USMCA is very similar to NAFTA, carrying over many of the same provisions and making only modest, mostly cosmetic changes and is expected to make only a minor economic impact. Labor has criticized the labor standards in the USMCA as unenforceable and toothless. It is feared that a measure that expands the patent length for biological substances to 10 years, thus limiting access for new generic drugs to enter the market, will make it harder to bring down drug prices. It is also feared that the data and IP provisions of the USMCA run the risk of turning Canadian firms into "data cows" of foreign big data.


4. CAFTA: The goal of the Dominican Republic-Central America-US Free Trade Agreement (2005) or CAFTA-DR is to eliminate tariffs and promote market access for the participants, which include Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the US.


5. tropical deforestation in Central America: 3 million acres of woodland in Central America disappear each year ... causes: clearing of rural lands to accommodate meat production and export, rapid logging of tropical woodlands to meet global demands (new housing, paper and furniture), population explosion (cut to provide crop-raising space and firewood)The Caicos Islands (pronounced KAY-kohss) in the northern Caribbean are known for their beautiful beaches and clear waters. The islands lie primarily along the northern perimeter of the submerged Caicos Bank, a shallow limestone platform formed of sand, algae, and coral reefs covering 2,370 square miles. [NASA satellite photo]


6. tourism: Caribbean countries are small with limited agricultural potential and economic opportunities. Yet the increased cost of acquiring goods for purchase keeps the costs of living high ... advantages of tourism: state and regional economic options, a clean industry, educational ... disadvantages: disjunctive development, degrades fragile environmental resources, inauthentic representations of native cultures

How biodiversity conservation can unlock opportunities for Latin America and the Caribbean





Mexican buildings

Political Characteristics

1. In general, the struggle for power between Liberals and Conservatives has dominated politics during most of post-independence history. As their name suggests, conservatives are generally resistant to change that would threaten their favored position in society. They favor monarchies and strong central governments. Liberals, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of reason and favor republics with greater democracy. Liberals have sought to reduce the importance, wealth and political power of the Catholic Church, and support greater freedom of religion. Conservatives have sought to maintain the church’s privileged position. They also favor economies dominated by a few large monopolies (power and status quo), while liberals favor a more competitive marketplace and free trade.


2. The Cold War complicated matters in Middle America as the Soviet Union and the US competed for influence throughout the region. The US did not want Middle American countries governed by rulers it perceived to be friendly to the Soviets. The US feared that if Middle American governments became communist, the rest of Latin America would become communist (the domino theory), including Mexico, which borders the US. Because of this, the US has consistently supported (politically, economically and militarily) conservative authoritarian leaders throughout the region. The result has been a region dominated by powerful dictators and the relative absence of democracy.The recently-built San Buenaventura housing complex located in Ixtapaluca on the eastern outskirts of Mexico City


3. Middle America

a. United Mexican States

b. Central America

i. Belize

ii. Republic of Costa Rica

iii. Republic of El Salvador

iv. Republic of Guatemala

v. Republic of Honduras

vi. Republic of Nicaragua

vii. Republic of Panama

Havanah, Cuba

c. Caribbean Basin

i. Greater Antilles: Republic of CubaHispaniola (Republic of Haiti and Dominican Republic), JamaicaCommonwealth of Puerto Rico (US)

ii. Lesser Antilles: Anguilla (UK), Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba (Netherlands), Commonwealth of the BahamasBarbadosBritish Virgin Islands (UK), Cayman Islands (UK), Commonwealth of DominicaGrenadaMontserrat (UK), Overseas Collectivity of Saint Barthélemy (France), Federation of Saint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaOverseas Collectivity of Saint Martin (France), Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesRepublic of Trinidad and TobagoTurks and Caicos Islands (UK), Virgin Islands (US)

iii. The Netherlands Antilles dissolved on October 10, 2010. Curaçao and Sint Maarten (the Dutch two-fifths of the island of Saint Martin) became autonomous territories of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. BonaireSaint Eustatius and Saba (BES) now fall under the direct administration of the Netherlands.





Optional Resources


Political Resources on the Net

Google's Arts & Culture collection virtual world museum tours

Central America Regional Headlines

Aging in Latin America and the Caribbean

Mexico | The Aztecs founded Mexico City in 1325 A.D. Spanish conquistadors led by the legendary Hernán Cortés conquered it two centuries later. In fact, the combination of ancient Indian traditions and young European ambitions is what makes the modern capital of Mexico unique. All of Mexico City's contrasts – high crime rates vs. local hospitality, ultra modern skyscrapers vs. Aztec pyramids, slums vs. magnificent palaces, hills vs. plains — provide the city with a special unforgettable atmosphere. | The Oldest Surviving Book in the Americas | Ocomtún: A long-lost Maya city that was just discovered

Chichen Itza, El Castillo

The ancient city of Chichen Itza, located in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, was founded in the 7th century CE during the golden age of Mayan culture. One of the key structures in Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulkan, a 79-foot-high pyramid built for the Supreme God of the Wind and Rain, and the founder of royal dynasties and large cities. The Maya depicted Kukulkan as a feathered serpent with a human head. This is why a feathered serpent appears in the Temple of Kukulkan on every spring and autumn equinox. At about 3 pm on those days, the sunlight casts a series of shadows against the western balustrade of the main stairway, creating an optical illusion of a 121-foot-long snake that follows the sun wriggling down to its own head carved at the base of the staircase … a unique collaboration of nature and architecture. | Sacred Sites of Mexico | Swimming with the sea lions of Los Islotes | Intimate Portraits of Mexico’s Third-Gender Muxes | An Intimate Look at Mexico’s Indigenous Seri People

Belize  | Garífuna life in Belize | Journey into the Maya underworld | Belize Picture Gallery | Take a tour of Belize and explore its national parks, Mayan ruins and its six political districts.

Costa Rica | Costa Rica (5:09) | The Real Costa Rica is an amateur site but it covers a lot of ground and is surprisingly accurate. It’s also quite interesting. The Tico Times is a daily English-language online newspaper based in San José, Costa Rica, and the leading source of English-language news in the region, first as a weekly print newspaper and later as a Web-only publication. Monteverde, Costa Rica, a small community in Puntarenas, is considered a major ecotourism destination in Costa Rica. The area is host to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and numerous other reserves. | Top things to do in Costa Rica | Places to Visit in Costa Rica (a travel site but lots of good pictures and descriptions) | Sacred Sites of Costa Rica

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central and South America, has traditionally been one of the top ten countries of origin (4:34) of foreign–born persons in the US. About half the population lives below the national poverty line, able to buy food but not clothing and medicine. Over half of these families live in a situation of extreme poverty. Forty-seven percent of the population does not have access to clean water. The capital, San Salvador, is a mix of modern amenities and extreme poverty. | El Salvador Guide | An Introduction to the Culture of El Salvador for Providers of Disability Services in the US | Costa Rica Cam

Guatemala  | Maya Pyramids, Tikal, Guatemala: The first Mayan settlements were established on the continent of North America around 2000 BCE. This ancient civilization greatly influenced history with its writing, art, architecture, mathematics and astronomical systems. Tikal was originally known as Yax Mutul; that is how it's referred to in hieroglyphic inscriptions. From the 1st to the 9th century, Yax Mutul was the capital of the Mutul Kingdom. The city reached its apogee in 600 to 800 CE with a population of perhaps 90,000 people. Then, at the end of the 10th century and for unknown reasons, it suddenly went into decline and was engulfed by the surrounding jungle. The city – an area greater than 6  square miles – has been completely mapped. It contains about 3000 structures, including various palaces, the Acropolis, funeral ritual grounds and even a prison. Many of the ancient structures have not yet been excavated. | Sacred Sites of Guatemala

Honduras was home to several important Mesoamerican cultures, most notably the Maya, before the Spanish invaded in the Honduras Netsixteenth century. The Spanish introduced Roman Catholicism and the now predominant Spanish language, along with numerous customs that have blended with the indigenous culture. Honduras became independent in 1821 and has since been a republic, although it has consistently endured social strife and political instability, and remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate. | Honduras News | Sacred Sites of Honduras | Tegucigalpa | The Mystery of the Healthy Coral Reef

The name Nicaragua was coined by Spanish colonists based on the name of the chief of the most populous indigenous tribe in the 1500s. Those colonists settled along Lake Nicaragua, the largest of several freshwater lakes in southwestern Nicaragua and the dominant physical feature of the country. It is also the largest lake in Central America. It is believed that Lake Nicaragua, together with Lake Managua to the northwest, originally formed part of an ocean bay that, as a result of volcanic eruption, became an inland basin containing the two lakes, which are linked by the Tipitapa River. The ocean fish thus trapped adapted themselves as the salt water gradually turned fresh. Lake Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake containing oceanic animal life, including sharks, swordfish, and tarpon. | LANIC Nicaragua | Culture | Nicaragua Canal | Nicaragua Canal 2 | A Guide to Lake Nicaragua's Islands | Sacred Sites of Nicaragua

Panama Canal: 100th Anniversary, from | Panama | The earthbound bite back | History and geography | Panama Canal | Through the new Panama Canal | Economy | Open All Night | EIU: Panama | Rural poverty in Panama | Panama trade | What It’s Like Crossing the World's Deadliest Jungle

Some of the most interesting environments in the Caribbean are not apparent to a terrestrial explorer. The coral reefs and animal life of the islands are of great interest to recreational divers from all over the world. The importance of this natural resource to tourism is immeasurable. | Coral Reef Fishes - Coral Reef Life on Sea and Sky (Check out the links on this page.) | What Are Coral Reefs And What's Their Purpose? (4:42) | Ecological and socioeconomic strategies to sustain Caribbean coral reefs in a high-CO2 world | Caribbean coral reefs ‘will be lost within 20 years’ without protection

Squall line approaching one of the Caribbean islands during the Caribbean hurricane season.

Hurricanes represent one of the most important weather-related threats to the environment of this region. The islands of the Caribbean, with their low elevation, are particularly vulnerable to these impressive super-storms. The sheer power exerted in only a matter of hours by a hurricane can reshape the environment of an island for many years after the event. Strong winds, high volumes of precipitation and tremendous coastal surges all contribute to the destructive power that these storms are known to produce.

Whether it is the Dominican Republic, Jamaica or the US Virgin Islands, a trip to the beaches and ecosystems of the Caribbean makes it clear why the Caribbean has become a popular vacation destination for millions each year.

Take a virtual field trip around the islands of the Caribbean from Bermuda to Trinidad.

Havana Cuba

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. Culturally, it is considered part of Latin America. It is a multiethnic country whose people, culture and customs derive from diverse origins, including the aboriginal Taíno and Ciboney peoples, the long period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slaves, and a close relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. | Cuban Missile Crisis | Russia and Cuba | US-Cuba Relations | Cuba’s New Now | Cuba Today in pictures | Life in Cuba Today: 53 Years of Castro | Sacred Sites of Cuba | Cuba

Travel to the Dominican Republic and learn more about sustainable eco-tourism in one of the two countries found on the isle of Hispaniola. | Sacred Sites of the Dominican Republic | Dominican Republic | USAID online courses on Sustainable Tourism | Focus on Globalization: the Dominican Republic

Haiti, in the West Indies, occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti is two-thirds mountainous, with the rest of the country marked by great valleys, extensive plateaus and small plains. Its history as a French colony based on sugarcane plantations worked by slaves brought from Africa, has given it a unique culture. France agreed to Haiti’s independence in exchange for 150 million francs. The enforced payments to France reduced Haiti's economy for years and began a post-colonial history of poverty and instability, punctuated every few years by devastating storms, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, earthquakes, revolts, coups d’état, outbreaks of cholera, etc. | Haitian Embassy | 88 Little Known Facts about Haiti | In Haiti: A Road Trip Documentary (1:13:53) | Haiti and the Dominican Republic |  Revolutionary Haiti and the US | Sacred Sites of Haiti | Reparations to slavers are the root of Haiti’s misery. | ‘This Is It. This Is Our Chance.’ It’s Time for Everyone to Get Out of Haiti’s Way. | The Root of Haiti’s Misery

Puerto Rico is located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea and is the largest insular territory of the US. It is an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands such as Mona, Culebra and Vieques. The capital and most populous city is San Juan. Puerto Rico’s aging population constitutes a major health challenge for the future. | The Tanks of Flamenco Beach

West End Cliffs, AnguillaAnguilla (4:59), a British overseas territory in the Eastern Caribbean, includes a small main island and several offshore islets … the first in the chain of the Leeward Islands. Protected areas include Big Spring Cave, known for its prehistoric petroglyphs, and East End Pond (3:13), a wildlife conservation site. Fountain Cavern is the Eastern Caribbean’s most intact ceremonial site from ancient times and features petroglyphs, offering bowls and a stalagmite carved in the likeness of Jocahu, the Supreme Deity of the Arawak people. The Caribs, a tribe of cannibals, captured the island from the peaceful Arawak tribe and completely eradicated them. The earliest Amerindian artifacts found on Anguilla have been dated to around 1300 BCE, and the remains of some settlements date from 600 CE. Those influences and the influences of the colonial era have made Anguilla a melting pot of cultures. Today, tourism is the major industry. | Nature Explorers Anguilla | Anguilla Cam

Antigua and Barbuda is a twin-island country lying between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It consists of two major inhabited islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and a number of smaller islands. The capital and largest port and city is St. John's, on Antigua. | Redonda (an uninhabited Caribbean island which is politically part of Antigua and Barbuda) | A Weekend in Antigua | Economy | Politics | LANIC: Antigua and Barbuda | The Daily Observer | Culture | Take a trip to Antigua and Barbuda and experience more than just their spectacular beaches. | Antigua and Barbuda

Aruba is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the southern Caribbean Sea, located about 990 miles west of the main part of the Lesser Antilles and 18 miles north of the coast of Venezuela. It measures 20 miles long from its northwestern to its southeastern end and 6 miles across at its widest point. Aruba is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Unlike much of the Caribbean region, Aruba has a dry climate and an arid, cactus-strewn landscape. It is a generally flat, river-less island with white sandy beaches on the western and southern coasts of the island, relatively sheltered from ocean currents.satellite image of sands and seaweed in the Bahamas | Aruba Cam

The Bahamas is a group of about 700 atolls and cays that is part of the Lucayan Archipelago in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, of which only between 30 and 40 are inhabited. Nassau is the capital and largest city, located on New Providence. The islands have a tropical climate, moderated by the Gulf Stream (4:01). The Bahamas became an independent Commonwealth realm in 1973, retaining Queen Elizabeth II as monarch. In terms of GDP per capita, the Bahamas is one of the richest countries in the Americas (following the US and Canada). Its economy is based on tourism and finance. | Bahamas Out Island Culture | Blue holes of the Bahamas | Development: The Bahamas

Bridegetown Barbados

A former British colony, Barbados became independent in 1966. In the 1990s, tourism and manufacturing surpassed the sugar industry in economic importance, and today this beautiful and highly-developed island is mostly about tourism. Barbados is a flat coral island pushed out of the sea by volcanic activity, but there are rolling hills and many deep ridges and gullies, with an interesting distribution of flora and fauna. Coral reefs fringe the Barbados shoreline and the constant breezes of the trade winds give Barbados a mild and pleasant tropical climate. Within the Barbados coral core there is a vast array of caves and underground lakes which provide an excellent supply of drinking water that is among the purest in the world. Geologically, Barbados is unique, being actually two land masses that merged together over the millennia. Historic Bridgetown, the Barbados capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. | Bajan Culture | Barbados country fact sheet | The Barbados Rebellion

Unlike Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten (each of which have separate country status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands), Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba voted for direct ties with the Netherlands and now constitute “the Caribbean part of the Netherlands.” Each island is now legally akin to Dutch municipalities, with adjustments for their small size, their distance from the Netherlands and their geographic situation in the Caribbean region. Every resident of the three islands who has Dutch nationality now has the right to vote in elections for the Dutch House of Representatives and the right to vote in European Parliament elections. They are not, however, allowed to vote in Provincial Council elections because they are not part of any Dutch province. | Bonaire Marine Park | Kralendijk, Bonaire (3:47) | Rincón, Bonaire | Washington-Slagbaai National Park, Bonaire | Pekelmeer, Bonaire | Oranjestad, Sint Eustatius | Sint Eustatius: The Golden Rock | St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR) | Statia National Marine Park | St. Eustatius Parks | The Bottom, Saba | Mount Scenery, Saba | Saba Photo Gallery | Saba, the Unspoiled Queen | Exploring the Dutch Island of Saba (9:45) | Salt Works

Welcome Guide to the British Virgin Islands | Four large islands (of 36): Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda | BVI History | BVI Geography | UK and the BVI | BVI Newbie | British Virgin Islands

Cayman Islands | History | Geography | UK and the Cayman Islands | Includes: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, Little Cayman | Culture

Curaçao, along with the Netherlands, Aruba and Sint Maarten, is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It includes the main island and the uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao. Its capital is Willemstad. | Environmental Pollution | History | CURINDE | True Nature (9:31) | Christoffel Park | Curaçao’s Coral Challenge: Reviving the Rain Forests of the Sea | Curaçao | Papiamentu

Much of volcanic Dominica the nature island – is blanketed by untamed rainforest (6:42). Roseau (2:53) is Dominica’s compact, noisy, chaotic capital, situated on the coast and the Roseau River. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, with its lakes, fumaroles, volcanoes, hot springs and dense tropical forest, stretches across 17,000 acres of Dominica’s mountainous volcanic interior. Named for Dominica’s tallest peak, the park was established to protect the habitat of the Sisserou parrot (the national bird) and the Jaco parrot. Dominica, the youngest island of the Lesser Antilles, is still forming. | This is Dominica (12:35) | Soufriere Scott’s Head Marine Reserve | Soufriere Sulfur Springs | Dominica News Online

Petit Martinique Grenada

Grenada consists of the main island and smaller surrounding islands, including Carriacou and Petit Martinique. Most of the population lives on Grenada, which is also home to the capital, St. George's, whose colorful homes and Georgian buildings overlook narrow Carenage Harbor. The islands are of volcanic origin with extremely rich soil. Grenada's interior is very mountainous and several small rivers with beautiful waterfalls flow into the sea from these mountains. The national bird of Grenada, the Grenada dove, is found only on Grenada and is one of the most critically endangered doves in the world. Grenada is known as the Island of Spice because of the production of nutmeg and mace crops, of which it is one of the world's largest exporters. Grenada's modern focus, however, is tourism. | Grenada Marine Protected Areas

Guadeloupe is an overseas region of France located in the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Columbus was the first European to land on Guadeloupe, while seeking fresh water, and is credited with discovering the pineapple on the island. The main territory of Guadeloupe consists of the twin islands of Basse-Terre to the west and Grande-Terre to the east, the two being separated by a narrow channel, the Salée River. | Marie-Galante (a dependency of Guadeloupe) | Les Saintes (a small archipelago and dependency of Guadeloupe) | 10 Reasons to Love the Guadeloupe Islands | History | Britons flee French island of Guadeloupe as rioters turn on white families | Pointe-A-Pitre | Official Site

Jamaica | Come back to Jamaica and visit the largest English-speaking country in the Caribbean. | As Cost of Importing Food Soars, Jamaica Turns to the Earth | Jamaica Cam

Martinique, one of the Windward Islands, is an overseas region of France located in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Volcanic in origin, Martinique is a mountainous island crowned by the still-smoldering Mont Pelée, which wiped out its former capital of St-Pierre in 1902. | Photos | Time lapsed Discover Martinique (0:58) | Pointe-A-Pitre | History and Geography | Culture

Montserrat is nicknamed The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of many of its inhabitants. It is a British overseas territory. In recent decades, hurricanes and active volcanoes (3:40) have battered the 40 square mile island. | Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat (6:17) | The Caribbean Island That's Half Paradise, Half Mud-Drowned Wasteland | Montserrat: a modern-day Pompeii in the Caribbean | Montserrat’s Unexpected Life | Montserrat

The Soufriere Hills, Montserrat, West Indies site is maintained by the Michigan Technological University as part of their volcano monitoring activity around the world. The Soufriere Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat has been very active in recent years. This site contains links to information about the volcano itself, as well as many images of the volcano in various stages of eruption. Additionally, there are links to the Montserrat Tourist Information Board, a good site that illustrates the impact of geography on people since much of the island has been evacuated due to the volcanic activity.

Saint-Barthélemy (St. Barts) is an overseas collectivity of France in the northern Leeward Islands. This arid, volcanic rock of just eight square miles is home to an eclectic mix of iguanas and night-blooming cactus. | History | St. Barts webcam | Picture Gallery  

The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, also known as the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, is a two-island country located in the Leeward Islands chain of the Lesser Antilles. It is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, in both area and population. The country is a Commonwealth realm, with the British monarch as head of state. St. Kitts and Nevis were among the first islands to be occupied by Europeans. Today, the economy is dependent on tourism, agriculture and small manufacturing industries. The islands also provide fantastic diving sites due to abundant marine life. A major sugar exporter for centuries, the large plantations are now beautiful estates that have been converted into hotels and resorts. | St Kitts and Nevis

St LuciaSt. Lucia | Although many thousands of St. Lucians have emigrated to various parts of the Americas and Europe, especially during the 20th century, their identification as St. Lucians remains strong, even among those born in the diaspora. The question of a shared culture is contentious, for Saint Lucians are divided along many lines, yet there is a strong sense of belonging to a place, a locality, of which they have a sense of possession. | History | Local Citizens Leading Coral Restoration Effort in St. Lucia | Economy | St Lucia

Saint-Martin, encompassing the northern 60% of the island of Saint Martin, is a French overseas collectivity. Its capital is Marigot. Tourism is the main economic activity. | History | Photo Gallery | Culture

St. Vincent and the Grenadines consist of the island of St. Vincent – mountainous, well forested and dominated by the volcano Mount Soufrière – and the Grenadines – a chain of nearly 600 islets with a total area of only 17 square miles that extend for 60 miles between St. Vincent and Grenada. | Photo Galleries | Young Caribbean Team Braces for Daunting Task in World Cup Qualifier | History | Bank of SVG | Reefs in SVG | St Vincent and the Grenadines | Island Hopping in the Grenadines

Saint Martin

Sint Maarten, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao and Aruba, is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It encompasses the southern 40% of the divided island of Saint Martin. Its capital is Philipsburg (25:05). | The Daily Herald | History | St Maarten government MPs support call for a referendum on independence | Culture

With a GNI per capita of $14,400, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest and well-developed nations in the Caribbean … although it still has problems. In November 2011, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development removed Trinidad and Tobago from its list of developing countries. Trinidad’s economy is strongly influenced by the petroleum industry. Tourism and manufacturing are also important to the local economy. Tourism is a growing sector, although not proportionately as important as in many other Caribbean islands. Agricultural products include citrus, cocoa and others. | Breathless in Trinidad and Tobago (25:25) and The Black Diamond: Lake Asphalt (7:16) are two excellent videos on Trinidad and Tobago.

The Turks and Caicos Islands, or TCI for short, are a British overseas territory consisting of the larger Caicos Islands and smaller Turks Islands, two groups of tropical islands in the Lucayan Archipelago of the northern Caribbean region. | History | Geography | Economy | the islands | Environmental Protection | Turks and Caicos Islands

The US Virgin Islands includes three main islands (St Thomas, St Croix and St John), the small and historically fascinating Water Island just off St Thomas, and roughly 50 other islands and cays. The islands are geographically part of the Virgin Islands archipelago, located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, and are an organized, unincorporated United States territory. Covered with red-roofed buildings and houses, capital city Charlotte Amalie sits amid lush green hills and is widely considered the most beautiful port in the Caribbean. | Governor Kenneth E. Mapp | Virgin Islands National Park | Virgin Islands Daily News | Energy Snapshot | USVI webcams | USVI Lighthouses | US Virgin Islands' Economy, from | St Thomas Virgin Islands Cam | St Croix Virgin Islands Cam








Political Map of South America








South America        PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY


Major Geographic Qualities

1. population concentrated along periphery

2. cultural pluralism

3. minimal regional economic interaction

The Amazon River





Growth by Altitude

Physical Characteristics

1. South America can be divided into three physical regions: mountains and highlands, river basins, and coastal plains. Mountains and coastal plains generally run in a north-south direction, while highlands and river basins generally run in an east-west direction.

a. mountains and highlands: primary mountain system situated on the far western edge of the continent, the Andes, is also the world’s longest (5,500 miles) … highest peak (22,841 feet), Aconcagua, is tallest mountain outside Asia … altiplano of Peru and Bolivia … Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile consists of lower-elevation plateaus and rugged glaciers … Brazilian Highlands, south of the Amazon River in Brazil, are made up of low mountains and plateaus … heavily forested plateau of the Guiana Highlands located between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers

b. Parana River floodplain in Argentinariver basins: Amazon basin (2.7 million square miles) in the central north fed by tributaries from the glaciers of the Andes (The glaciers are melting so quickly, it's hard to find a good current photo.) and defined by dense, tropical rain forest (Every second, the Amazon River empties 7,381,000 cubic feet of freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean.) … Paraguay/Paraná basin covers over 1 million square miles and is made up of vast grasslands, supplies water to the Pampas (plains biome, most important grazing and cropland areas on the continent) of South America, includes Iguazu Falls (a massive series of waterfalls) … Orinoco basin a giant arc north of Amazon for more than 1,700 miles and covers an area of about 366,000 square miles, the Llanos (a vast savanna or grassland region) is primary biome of the Orinoco River basin

c. coastal plains: areas of low, flat land next to a seacoast … found on the northeastern Atlantic coast of Brazil and the western Pacific coast of Peru and Chile … both extremely dry, western coastal plain includes Atacama Desert (driest region in the world with average rainfall of 0.04 inches a year, some parts have never had rain in recorded history), a rich source of copper

d. The Darién Gap: a sliver of jungle that is the only land route between Central America and South America, a roadless and lawless crossing on the border The Darién Gapbetween Colombia and Panama consisting of more than sixty miles of dense rain forest, steep mountains and vast swamps. Thick, hot and prone to intense rain and landslides, sliced by raging rivers and steep mountains, the Darién jungle has acted as a vast natural barrier between North and South America for generations. Guerrillas and other armed groups have long used the dense forest for cover and drug smuggling, sometimes attacking those who dare to pass. Diseases like malaria and dengue are common. Deep in the jungle, travelers are faced with high heat and humidity, robbery, rape, human trafficking, wild animals, insects and the absolute lack of safe drinking water.


2. South America’s extreme geographic variation contributes to the continent’s large number of biomes (a community of animals and plants that spreads over an area with a relatively uniform climate). With an unparalleled number of plant and animal species, South America’s rich biodiversity is unique among the world’s continents.





Cultural Characteristicsdeforestation in the Amazon

1. Of the civilizations of South America, one of the most important was that of the Incan Empire. The empire, which originated around the 13th century and lasted nearly 350 years, occupied the highland areas of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The ancient Incan language of Quechua is still in use in parts of South America today. Agriculture was extremely important to the native peoples of the region. Their advancements in farming and crop domestication, which were quickly brought back to the old world by European explorers, ultimately helped transform modern Europe.

a. cultural hearth: intermontane basin around Cuzco (1200-1535 CE)

b. altiplano (high plain) key to settlement patterns

c. 12 million population at high point

d. impressive transportation networks and integration efforts: built an expansive network of roads including forts, inns, food storage facilities, signal towers

e. highly centralized


2. There are other indigenous groups in South America: Aymara, Guna, Huaorani, Guaraní, Mapuche, Quechuas and many others.


3. The importation of African slaves represented a major shift in the cultural landscape of South America. Most slaves were brought to Brazil. Their unique cultural practices were integrated with indigenous Indian beliefs as well as European rituals.


4. South America’s cultural spheres:

South America’s cultural spheres

a. tropical plantation

i. resembles Middle America rimland

ii. location, soil, climate favor plantation crops, especially sugar

iii. initially relied on African slave labor

b. European commercial

i. most “Latin” part of South America

ii. includes the Pampas (temperate grasslands)

iii. economically most advanced

iv. excellent transportation networks and quality of life

c. rural Amerindian

i. correlates with former Inca Empire

ii. feudal socioeconomic structure persists

iii. includes some of the poorest areas

iv. subsistence agriculture must contend with difficult environmental challenges

d. mixed Mestizo

i. surrounds Amerindian subsistence region

ii. culturally and agriculturally mixed zone

iii. transitional economies

e. undifferentiated / Amazon

i. characteristics difficult to classify

ii. sparsely populatedThe Columbian Exchange

iii. notable features: isolation and lack of change

iv. Amazonia development may prompt significant changes.


5. Columbian Exchange: (Use the thumbnail above right.) contact between the people, plants and animals of the old and new worlds … Both sides were forever changed by the introduction of different species … The Spanish and Portuguese brought a number of crops with them: wheat (flourished in upland areas), grapes and olives (produced commercially in temperate zones of South America), sugar cane (became the dominant cash crop of Caribbean and Brazilian tropical lowlands), coffee (emerged as a large export crop that was cultivated in the upland areas of Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil) … a number of crops were transported to Europe: corn, potatoes, manioc, hot peppers, tomatoes, pineapple, cacao, avocados … diseases: smallpox, measles, whooping cough, bubonic plague, diphtheria, influenza … Europeans brought: horses, pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, rats



Population Density in South America



São Paulo BrazilDemographic Characteristics

1. urbanization: movement to and clustering of people in towns and cities (79%)

a. Latin America is the most urbanized of the world’s developing regions. It is the only developing region with more poor people in cities than in rural areas.

b. Increase based on rate of natural increase and internal migration (consolidation of lands, mechanization of agriculture, more opportunities in cities).

c. A number of cities are classified as megacities (more than 10 million people): Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires.

d. Urbanization will define the human geography of South America in years to come. Individuals and families face increasing job insecurity, lower wages and a reduction in social services such as electricity and water.


2. diversity: largest number of indigenous groups in the world, largest concentration of Africans outside Africa and of Japanese outside Japan, creole (African descent who emigrated from British and French colonies in the Caribbean), large populations of mixed races: mestizo (European/Indigenous), mulatto (European/African), zambo (African/Indigenous)


3. population distribution: interior sparsely populated, most live in upland coastal regions and in cites … During colonial era, preferential treatment was given to city dwellers, providing a motivation to move to the cities.



4. Latin American City Model (Griffin-Ford Model): Latin American cities are built around a core central business district (CBD). Out of that district comes a commercial spine surrounded by elite housing. These areas are then surrounded by three concentric zones of housing that decrease in quality as one moves away from the CBD. (Look at the illustration of the model by using the thumbnail to the left.)

a. commercial / CBD: focus of employment, entertainment and economic activity … Roads, trains and buses are fairly reliable here.

b. spine: connects CBD to retail areas, a corridor of retail that leads to the mall (formal retail economy, taxed and licensed by the government) on one end and the market (informal economy, traditional area beyond control/taxation of government, unlicensed people sell homemade goods and services, may or may not be legal) on the other

c. industrial park: jobs of those in the middle and lower class, in a convenient place for those who are without transportation

d. zone of maturity: residential area in which a stable population has gradually transformed the district into one that is fully serviced, best residential areas outside the spine area and attracting most of the middle-class

e. zone of in situ accretion: mix of middle and low income housing, generally thought of as a transitional area (moving either up or down), homes vary widely in size, type and quality of materialsA shanty town in Lima, Peru clings to a bare hillside with houses made of reed mats.

f. zone of peripheral squatter settlements: new residents / impoverished / unskilled, virtually no infrastructure, many homes are built by residents using whatever materials they can find, older settlements better developed as residents often continually work to improve the areas, contrasts with affluent and comfortable suburbs that ring North American cities

g. disamenity/periferico: relatively unchanging slums (barrios or favelas) that may not be connected to regular city services and are mostly overrun by gangs and drug lords … periferico: on the ends of the disamenity sectors, home to the poorest of the poor of the city, normally overpopulated, not serviced by the city

h. elite residential sector: forms on either side of the spine that contains amenities attractive to wealthy (water and electricity, as well as offices, shops, restaurants, etc), where nearly all of city's professionally built houses are located, large tree lined boulevards

i. gentrification: process of converting an urban neighborhood from a predominantly low income renter-occupied area to a predominantly middle to upper-middle class owner-occupied area

j. middle class residential tract: outer semi ring on either side of elite residential sector, middle-class housing clustered around an agglomeration such as a mall


Look at city maps for some South American cities by using the links below (or find others online). See how they fit the Latin American city model. Some of the maps are older, some newer, but they were all drawn long after the cities were founded … Keep in mind that the maps reflect changes made to the cities over the years so none of them will fit the model perfectly.



Mexico City




If your Spanish is rusty, the following might be helpful in reading the maps or go to SpanishDict for translations.










post office


























parish church


house, business


farmers market


plaza, square


cathedral, center














bigger, older



ciudad vieja

old city






















zone, area







Colombian landscape

Economic Characteristics

1. An early obstacle to industrial growth in South America was the scarcity of coal. South Americans have gradually developed their natural-gas reserves and hydroelectric plants produce most of the continent's electricity.


2. The bi-polar distribution of land established during three centuries of colonial rule is still, after nearly two centuries of independence, one of the crucial underpinnings of persistent high levels of income inequality in South America.


3. Economic integration has been difficult because individual countries have traditionally been oriented toward Europe and the US, not toward each other. Since World War II, South America has sought greater economic independence. An increasing number of South American industrial centers have developed heavy industries to supplement the light industries on which they had previously concentrated.


4. There have been some efforts at economic integration with varying degrees of success.


b. Andean Community

c. Group of 3 (G3)

d. NAFTA (expand into South America to include Chile)


Rio de Janeiro




Political Characteristics

1. South America’s political geography is defined by a desire to reduce foreign influence. This desire plus the nationalization or privatization of industry (both with mixed results), as well as the influence of indigenous groups, are the primary forces affecting politics in South America.


2. Mestizos were at the heart of South America’s revolutionary movements but freedom did not end in stability. Colonialism left most of the continent with strong militaries, weak economies and class divisions. South America has suffered violent political transitions, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, decades defined by the Cold War’s global struggle between the US and the Soviets. More recent struggles have generally been between populist-oriented movements and more traditional elites.


3. South America’s physical geography keeps these countries from unifying. It leads to limited interaction resulting in underdevelopment and instability.


4. South America

a. Caribbean NorthRepublic of ColombiaTerritorial Collectivity of Guyane (or French Guiana, France), Cooperative Republic of GuyanaRepublic of SurinameBolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Coastal locations, early European plantation development, forced migration of black laborers

b. Andean WestPlurinational State of BoliviaRepublic of EcuadorRepublic of Peru

Amerindian populations, subsistence agriculture, mountainous environments, poverty

c. Southern ConeArgentine RepublicRepublic of ChileEaster Island (or Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua, Chile), Falkland Islands (UK), Republic of ParaguaySouth Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (UK), Oriental Republic of Uruguay

Heart of European commercial culture

d. Federative Republic of Brazil

Half of continent’s land and people, federal republic, ethnic diversity, Portuguese, Catholic, substantial mineral resources


Huacachina, Peru, located on a desert oasis in the Ica district, has some of the largest sand dunes in the world.



Optional Resources


Political Resources on the Net

Google's Arts & Culture collection virtual world museum tours

Latin American Revolutions: Crash Course (13:42)

Among the many major geophysical regions in Latin America, the Andes are one of the more dominant landforms.  Beginning in northwestern Venezuela and ending in Tierra del Fuego, the Andes are relatively young mountains that extend nearly 5,000 miles.  Aconcagua in Argentina, at 23,000 feet in altitude, is considered the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. While the physical geography is obviously quite different from other areas in Latin America, the culture of the Andes is equally distinctive.

Argentina  | Take a tour of Argentina and learn about Argentine culture through video!  Learn about the gaucho, the tango and many more cultural icons of Argentina through sound, music and pictures!  Take a virtual tour through Buenos Aires, the pampas and Patagonia, and see first-hand the great waterfall at Iguazú.

Approximately 0.5 to 1 million gallons per second of water flow down Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil depending on the season. The waterfalls are unbelievably cool! A true endless flow of water! The entire canyon is covered with a thin mist created by the falling water.

Bueno Aires

Down the rabbit hole | Argentina’s ancient mummy children (4:09) | A graphic past, emblazoned on walls | Meet Argentina’s frozen mummies.

Buenos Aires, Argentina. Part IBuenos Aires, Argentina. Part II: The first tour includes Recoleta Cemetery, the main street with great lights, the palace of the Argentine National Congress and, of course, the most recognizable slum of Buenos Aires with the romantic name Villa 31. The second tour includes panoramas of the town of La Plata in the Province of Buenos Aires.

Lake Titicaca

Bolivia  | The western part of landlocked Bolivia (If you don’t read Spanish, use Chrome and tell Google to translate.), enclosed by two chains of the Andes, is a great plateau — the Altiplano, with an average altitude of 12,000 feet. Almost half the population lives on the plateau, which contains Oruro, Potosí and La Paz. At an altitude of 11,910 feet, La Paz is the highest administrative capital city in the world. The Oriente (final home of Che Guevara), a lowland region ranging from rain forests to grasslands, comprises the northern and eastern two-thirds of the country. Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 12,507 feet, is the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world. Culturally, more than 60% of Bolivia's citizens are Indian, predominantly Quechua and Aymara. | Culture | Sacred Sites of Bolivia | Bolivia ended its drug war by kicking out the DEA and legalizing coca | Bolivia’s Results in Economic Field | President Evo Morales (Bolivia’s first Indian president) | Bolivia Bella (The entire site is worth exploring. Use the links to the left of the page.)

Brazil  | Take a virtual trip to Brazil and see what life is like in South America’s largest country. | The road transforming the Amazon | Development: Brazil | Snake Island: Ilha da Queimada Grande | Moving to the City | The Lost City of Z: A quest to uncover the secrets of the Amazon | Under the Jungle | Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) Cam | Vivid Street Scenes from Salvador, Brazil | A visual story on how human development is wreaking havoc on the Amazon rainforest and on Earth’s climate | The War for the Amazon Rainforest | One Man Dies, and an Entire Uncontacted Tribe Vanishes in Brazil | This radio program (NTS) offers an hour of the classic sounds of Brazil. | What if You Were Stranded on Snake Island? (8:27) | A severe drought pushes an imperiled Amazon to the brink.

Chile  | Sacred Sites of Chile | South America’s Powerful Women Are Embattled. Is Gender a Factor? | Patagonia’s ice-carved waterways | Chile volcano erupts with ash and lightning

Easter Island, Chile is often called the most remote inhabited piece of land in the world. Too, this small island of 102 square miles holds the greatest number of unsolved mysteries. There is much more to this island than meets the eye. There are phenomena, which are absolutely atypical not only of this region but also of the natives. The Rapa Nui, Easter Island's native population of 4,000 people, have a rich and unique mythology. Furthermore, this is the only island in the entire Polynesian region that developed a written language. And of course, there is the main attraction of Easter Island: the famous moai statues. These monoliths are made of solidified volcanic ash. They are up to 66 feet tall, and each of them weights over 20 tons. There are a total of 997 moai statues on the island. On the slopes of Rano Raraku volcano the statues give the most authentic impression. Giant figures are in different stages of completeness: they are shoulder deep in the ground or even merged with the walls of the dead volcano. Complete or not, the elongated heads don't look human and researchers remain unable to identify their origin. There is another unsolved question: Why did one of the emperors of the ancient Inca visit such a remote island? And he was not just a common emperor, he ruled during the Golden Age of the Inca Empire and his father built Machu Picchu, the famous Peruvian landmark. Throw in a unique — still un-translated by scientists — ancient written language, along with a cult of a mystical Bird Man, and you can see why there is such interest in Easter Island.

The name Patagonia usually sparks thoughts of virgin landscape located in the most remote part of the world. Patagonia is a sparsely populated region located at the southern end of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. The region comprises the southern section of the Andes mountains as well as the deserts, steppes and grasslands east of this southern portion of the Andes. Patagonia Patagoniahas two coasts; a western one toward the Pacific Ocean and an eastern one toward the Atlantic. Patagonia is divided into three distinctive environments: a stormbound Pacific coast with deep fjords, an enormous icecap (actually two icecaps separated by a few fjords), and the endless golden plains of the Argentine pampas. The border between southern Chile and Argentina is probably one of the most irregular and peculiar in the world. Originally a Spanish dominion, the first attempt to divide Patagonia between Chile and Argentina took place in 1881 and defined the border as "the highest peaks which divide the waters," but this appeared to be easier said than done. There's an area of the ice field just northwest of Fitzroy that is still currently in dispute, and tensions are still high around the issue ... In Argentina, you often see bumper stickers saying Los hielos son Argentinos! (The Ice is Argentine!) and, at times, Chile puts land mines along a section of the border. Patagonia by #TimestormFilms (4:31) | A Visit to 5 of Patagonia’s Most Remote Schoolhouses

Colombia  | Colombia's equatorial position affords it a diversity of landscapes, climates, vegetation, soils and crops matched by few countries. In addition, a wealth of ancient civilizations left behind a fascinating spread of archaeological and cultural sites throughout Colombia. The one-time Tayrona capital, Ciudad Perdida, built between the 11th and 14th centuries, is one of the continent's most mysterious ancient cities, arguably second only to Machu Picchu. Even more shrouded in mystery is San Agustín, where more than 500 life-sized ancient sculpted statues of enigmatic origin dot the surrounding countryside. And then there's Tierradentro, where elaborate underground tombs scooped out by an unknown people add even more mystique to Colombia's past. | Colombia is Magical Realism (a travel site but some wonderful videos) | Culture | Radio Colombia (If you don’t read Spanish, use Chrome and tell Google to translate.) | Bogotá | Colombian Government and FARC Agree to Peace Pact | Sacred Sites of Colombia | In Search of Colombia’s ‘Lost City’ | What It’s Like Crossing the World's Deadliest Jungle | Politicians charge millions to send migrants to the US.

Ecuador  | Ecuador is four worlds in one: the Andes (La Sierra), the Amazon (El Oriente), the Pacific coast (La Costa) and the Galápagos islands (Isabela). The historic centers of Quito and Cuenca are lined with plazas, 17th-century churches and monasteries, beautifully restored mansions and Spanish colonial architecture. Beyond the cities, there are Andean villages with colorful textiles and sprawling markets, Afro-Ecuadorian towns (Afro-Ecuadorian Culture 19:13) and remote settlements in the Amazon (Auca tribe, the Huaoranis) where shamans still harvest traditional rainforest medicines. | Amazon Watch | Sacred Sites of Ecuador | Culture | How the Galápagos inspired Darwin (5:00) | Development: Ecuador | Quito Ecuador virtual tour | The Galápagos got back its giant tortoises - and a whole lot more.

The Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) are a remote South Atlantic archipelago. With rugged terrain and cliff-lined coasts, its hundreds of islands and islets are home to sheep farms and abundant birdlife. The capital, Stanley (10:28), sits on East Falkland, the largest island. The town's Falkland Islands Museum has themed galleries devoted to maritime exploration, natural history, the 1982 Falklands War, etc. As a British overseas territory, the Falklands have internal self-governance, while the United Kingdom takes responsibility for their defense and foreign affairs. | Wildlife | Culture | Falkland Islands Television | Falkland Islands War | Address by Gavin Short regarding the future of the Falklands | Whose Oil Is It?

Guiana Space Center at Kourou

French Guiana  | French Guiana is an overseas region of France located on the north Atlantic coast of South America. The capital is Cayenne (see especially the pictures at link). Heavily-forested French Guiana was originally inhabited by indigenous people: Kalina, Arawak, Emerillon, Galibi, Palikur, Wayampi and Wayana. However, by 1852 the French had begun using the territory as a penal colony where, until 1939, deported convicts were imprisoned in dreadful conditions. Part of France since 1946, Guiana joined the European Union and its official currency is the euro. A large part of Guiana's economy comes from the presence of the Guiana Space Center at Kourou, now the European Space Agency's primary launch site near the equator.

Guyana  | On expedition to the borderlands between Guyana and Brazil, Denis Katzer lived with Guyana’s last remaining Wai-Wai Indians tribe at a river bend of the Essequibo River and recorded their way of life on photo and film, thus preserving it for posterity.

Visit Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America. Despite its mainland location, Guyana has strong cultural ties to the Caribbean.

La Santisima Trinidad de ParanaParaguay  | Paraguay, a landlocked country in South America, is rich in natural resources: the world's largest drinking water reservoir (Guarani Aquifer) is beneath its soil, the biggest hydroelectric producer -- the Itaipú Dam -- is on its border with Brazil. It's also the world's fifth largest exporter of soya beans, as well as a renowned producer of beef. Despite this, it is one of the poorest countries in South America. Mestizos (Spanish + Amerindian) account for more than 80% of the population and Guarani is, side by side with Spanish, the country's official language. Franciscan and Jesuit missions mingled with the Guaranis' dream of Yvy maraë´y, a land without evil, and produced singular societies. The ruins of the Jesuit missions of La Santisima Trinidad de Parana and Jesus de Tavarangue are witnesses to that peaceful past. Modern Paraguay is largely based on political uncertainty and economic hardship, and corruption is ubiquitous. | Sacred Sites of Paraguay | Culture | Geography | El Niño Upsets Seasons and Upends Lives Worldwide

Peru  | Sacred Sites of Peru | A lake that hides a 500-year-old secret | Peru’s other lost city | Visit a snow festival in the Peruvian Andes that marks the start of the harvest season.

Nazca Lines in Peru

No one knows exactly what Nazca Lines are. The only indisputable fact is that they are located in South America, at the Nazca Desert plateau in the southern part of Peru. However this is where the indisputable facts end, leaving scientists with numerous unsolved mysteries. Scattered around the plateau, the lines are gigantic geoglyphs representing geometrical and natural objects. They are carved about 4.5 feet wide and 1-1.5 feet deep in the ground. It is impossible to recognize an actual image from the ground level as one can only see the big picture from the distance. This is why the Nazca Lines were discovered only in 1939 when airplane flights became possible. Ever since that time, scientists have searched for answers. The majority of them share the opinion that the lines were created by the Nazca Civilization that flourished on the plateau from 100 BCE to 800 CE, long before the Inca Civilization. But what purpose did the lines serve? The themes of Nazca Lines include flowers, geometric shapes, animals, birds and even insects. The smallest figure is a 151-foot spider and the largest is a 935-foot pelican. You might also be interested in The Geoglyphs in Palpa Valley, South America, Peru. | The Ancient Peruvian Mystery Solved from Space

Hiram Bingham IIIThe American explorer Hiram Bingham III spent a great deal of time exploring South America in the early 20th century and writing about his journey from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Lima, Peru. He is best known for his discovery of Machu Picchu — even though we has wrong about it. Bingham thought it was the lost city of Vilcabamba, another site he'd been searching for. In fact, Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century as a summer home for an Incan emperor named Pachacuti. Despite the explorer's error, Machu Picchu is considered one of the greatest archaeological finds ever. Bingham also served as a history professor at both Harvard and Yale, and he is listed as one of the inspirations for the movie character Indiana Jones.

Machu Picchu, the ancient city of the Inca Empire, is a 15th-century Inca site located 7,970 ft above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley which is 50 miles northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often mistakenly referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas" (a title more accurately applied to Vilcabamba), it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization. The Incas built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.

What is life like in the Andes Mountains?  Living as an American archaeology student in Peru | Cultures of the Andes in pictures, music and stories provided by Ada and Russ Gibbons | Learn about the Incan language of Quechua.

South Georgia Island

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are sub-Antarctic islands. They are governed together as a British overseas territory. South Georgia is one of the most visited locations in Antarctica. It is spectacularly picturesque and is frequently described as being "The Alps in the mid-ocean." Over half the island is permanently glaciated, wildlife is abundant, approaches by sea usually straightforward and it is steeped in the history of Antarctic exploration and of Antarctic whalers and sealers. The only permanent population is a manned British Antarctic survey base of up to 18 people at Grytviken. The South Sandwich Islands on the other hand are isolated and are not often visited other than by survey ships on scientific excursions. The prevailing weather conditions usually make the approach difficult since the islands rise very steeply out of the sea and are subject to active volcanism. The only access to South Georgia or the South Sandwich Islands is by sea. The UK has claimed and exercised de facto control over the islands since 1775. Argentina claimed sovereignty in 1927 and, although its 1982 military incursion was unsuccessful, continues to push its claims. | Global Ocean Legacy | Pictures | Resurrection Island

Suriname lies on the northeast coast of South America and gets its name from its earliest inhabitants, the Surinen Indians. Dutch colonization was confined to a narrow coastal strip, while escaped African slaves fled into the interior and reconstituted their western African culture. Suriname is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the Americas. Most of its people are descended from African slaves, and Indian and Indonesian indentured servants brought over by the Dutch to work as agricultural laborers. However, there is little assimilation between the different ethnic groups, which confine their contacts to the economic sphere. Similarly, most political parties are ethnically based. Since gaining its independence from the Netherlands in 1975, the small country has been plagued by military dictators, coups d’état, armed rebellion, civil war, inflation, unemployment, border disputes and natural disasters. Suriname’s capital is Paramaribo. The country depends heavily on mining and processing its declining reserves of bauxite.

lighthouse in Cabo Polonio, Rocha, Uruguay

Uruguay  | Uruguay is a food-exporting country known for its verdant interior and beach-lined coast. The capital, Montevideo, revolves around Plaza Independencia, once home to a Spanish citadel. The plaza leads to Ciudad Vieja (2:32), with art deco buildings, colonial homes and Mercado del Puerto, an old port market. Uruguay has always been something of an underdog. Yet after two centuries living in the shadow of its neighbors, South America’s smallest country is finally getting recognition for its political, economic and social stability. It has less economic disparity, the best overall road system, the most reliable electrical grid and one of the fastest overall internet speeds than anyplace else in Latin America, quality medical care, safe drinking water and good public transportation, and is noted for tolerance and inclusiveness. | LANIC: Uruguay | Uruguay Timeline | Traditions and Folklore | Uruguay Media | What does sustainable living look like? Maybe like Uruguay

Venezuela | Sacred Sites of Venezuela | How Bad Off Is Oil-Rich Venezuela? It’s Buying US Oil | The Guardian: Venezuela | Expedition to the headwaters of the Orinoco, looking for the Yanomami Indians

Imagine high mountains with steep vertical walls and flat tops in the middle of dense jungles. On the tops, water accumulates after even a slight amount of rainfall, eventually coming down in numerous waterfalls. One of these, Angel Falls, Venezuela, is the highest waterfall in the world. The highest point of the falls reaches 3,200 feet, with water falling from a height of 2,600 feet. The height of the falls is so great that by the time the water reaches the ground it has become tiny particles that turn into fog. Venezuela is also home to tepui mountain formations. A tepui (or tepuy) is a strange-looking mountain with a flat top called a "table-top" (because it is flat like a table). These unique geological formations are found mostly in the Venezuelan Guiana Highland. The word tepui comes from the language of the Pemon Indians and means ‘house of the gods.' The tepui formations are completely isolated from each other. Each tepui towers over the jungle making it a home to unique plants and animals.





Joe Simon took his Canon 5D Mark III to Rio and what he captured is beyond lovely.

He rode cable cars and filmed at popular locations to get all the footage and

he made Rio De Janeiro look like another level beyond paradise.





Copyright © 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   11/12/2023 1930

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