North America covers an area of about 24,709,000 square kilometers (9,540,000 square miles), about 16.5% of the Earth's land area and about 4.8% of its total surface. North America is the third-largest continent by area, following Asia and Africa, and the fourth by population after Asia, Africa, and Europe.
North America, third largest of the world’s continents, lying for the most part between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer. It extends for more than 5,000 miles (8,000 km) to within 500 miles (800 km) of both the North Pole and the Equator and has an east-west extent of 5,000 miles.
North America, the planet's 3rd largest continent, includes (23) countries and dozens of possessions and territories. It contains all Caribbean and Central America countries, Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, the United States of America, as well as Greenland - the world's largest island.
- John Moen
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- Early history
North America consists of three large nations and one large island territory that covers most of its area. They are Canada, the United States of America (USA), Mexico and Greenland.
Although the Central American and the Caribbean regions are technically part of the North American continent, they are commonly listed separately from their larger neighbours to the north and hence the distinctive region names for both cultural and geographical reasons.
Prior to Christopher Columbus establishing trans-Atlantic contact in 1492, the Americas were inhabited by a vast array of indigenous peoples. While at a lower technology level than Europe, they had large populations and developed trade networks. However, contact brought a vast array of Eurasian diseases to the locals, which proceeded to cause probably the largest mass death in human history (estimates range as high as 200 million). While this was largely unintentional, it shattered the local powers and left the continent open to Europeans. Colonization and conquest quickly followed, as Europe sent adventurous souls across the ocean to the \\"New World\\". Natives were still important military powers until the 19th century, but as Europeans marched west, they rapidly became allies and subjects instead of independent powers. The last independent tribes were conquered in the 1870s, though occasional rebellions happened later.
European conquest was primarily English, French, and Spanish, though the Dutch, Danish, and Russians controlled some territory as well. Originally, it was small outposts to produce valuable crops like gold, cotton, tobacco, fur, and sugar, but over time as the settler population grew, farming and logging grew to become more important, particularly in the English and French areas. The French lost the vast majority of their territory in the Seven Years War (1756-63), but the economic cost of that war, among other causes, led much of the British areas to rebel in 1776 and eventually form the United States of America. Rapid decolonization followed in the 19th century, either by rebellion (as in cases like Haiti and Mexico), or by peaceful agreement (as in cases like Canada). North America has seen relatively few wars in the European period. In addition to various rebellions and civil wars around the continent, the Americans fought the British in 1812, the Mexicans in 1848, and the Spanish in 1898. As such, there is very little of the sort of military ruins that dot Europe and the Mediterranean basin, and North Americans have little of the history of strife that the rest of the world does. Conversely, North America has a much more relevant history of slavery than most other places, with millions of primarily-African slaves being forcibly taken there to work in mines and plantations from the 16th-19th centuries. The legacy of this has faded over time, but is still a relevant political issue, primarily in the United States.
North America is primarily populated today by immigrants and their descendants - indigenous peoples are less than 10% of the population. The United States and Canada in particular are nations of immigrants, with waves of people from all over the world moving there over the last few centuries. As such, they are the most multicultural places in the world, particularly in larger cities like New York and Toronto.
It is also technically possible to enter North America by ship, though very few transoceanic liners still exist in this century, or overland through Panama, though this route is extremely rough and dangerous. European visitors should note that crossing international borders is not as easy in North America as they may be used to in the Schengen area. Borders are not generally difficult to cross, although queues of an hour or two to clear customs at peak hours are not unheard of. Expect a guard to ask you several questions (citizenship, where you're going, how long you'll be there, etc.) - answer clearly and calmly, and you will more often than not be let through without incident. However, guards can ask more questions or do a more thorough search at will, and will do so for travellers who seem suspicious, particularly when crossing from Mexico into the United States.
Because population centre are often widely spaced, most long-range travel is by air, with an extensive network of major hubs and smaller regional airports, usually supplemented with car rental services to cover local travel (see \\"By car\\"). Expect to pay at least $150-200 per flight, even when booked well in advance. There is prolific long range bus service across most of the US, Canada and Mexico, but travel times are excessively long (as much as three to five times as long as a direct trip in a personal vehicle for shorter routes) especially while travelling on the Greyhound Network. However Megabus has been making inroads in North America and now offer a few non-stop options between major cities, with modern double decker buses equipped with Wi-Fi.
In Mexico, most Primera, Plus or Executive buses, are modern, clean and will run non-stop to your final destination. The Executive ones, have airplane business like seats with an almost full flat recline, Wi-Fi, Individual TV and with a small meal and drink provided and recently man and women restrooms.
Although it once held much of the continent together, and remains useful for local travel in many metro areas, intercity train travel now ranges from relatively convenient in the Northeast Corridor, to manageable in California and parts of southeastern Canada, to sparse in other parts of the continent. If you prefer to travel by rail, it's still possible (depending on where you go), but it offers neither speed nor convenience. As noted above, the exception is the Northeast Corridor area, which links Washington, D.C. to Boston with frequent stops in intermediate cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, New Haven, and Providence. It is explained in detail on the Rail travel in North America article. In Mexico the only passenger trains left are for sight seeing, the Chepe (This is the best way to see the Copper Canyon) and the Tequila Express (From Guadalajara to the heart of the Tequila region)
The United States and the majority of Canada are majority English speaking countries and is by far the best language for getting around these vast countries. English is also spoken in many Caribbean nations and the small country of Belize. Mexico, most of Central America, some southern cities of the United States and portions of the Caribbean are majority Spanish speaking, making it the second most spoken language in North America. French plays a substantial role in Canada, (particularly in Quebec, where it is generally dominant and often universal, but it is relevant in parts of Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick), as well as in some parts of the Caribbean. Dutch is spoken in the southern Caribbean. Several indigenous languages are spoken by Native Americans and the Inuit peoples of North America including in Greenland, Alaska and Nunavut, though communities where they are the primary language are extremely rare and remote. Danish is also spoken in Greenland. Other important immigrant languages spoken in many ethnic neighborhoods of North America are Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tagalog. German is still spoken in rural communities of the Amish. Knowledge of English, Spanish, and French will be sufficient for virtually anywhere in North America.
Some of the best Scenic areas include Basically any activity imaginable is possible in North America. Major cities have a wide variety of attractions, including museums, amusement parks, concerts, and sporting events. Smaller cities and towns generally have at least a few things to do, though often with less availability than larger centres, but even smaller towns will often have a bar with occasional live music, a minor-league sports team, and/or a small museum somewhere.
Rural areas span every climate from frozen tundra to scorching desert, and pleasant meadows to the Rocky Mountains. Trails, lakes, rivers, and outright wilderness are all fairly accessible, but the exact sort of landscape will vary immensely across the continent.
Visa and MasterCard are almost universally accepted across the continent, other than at things like street vendors. Automatic banking machines are quite common, and can be used to withdraw cash in local currencies with a credit card, although this may result in significant fees (usually ~$3 per transaction, plus interest for a cash advance). Debit cards often work, though it is less reliable and still charges the per-transaction fee. American Express and Discover are secondary credit cards, available at many retailers(though by no means all).
North America's history of recent and significant immigration has led to an extremely varied set of options in cuisine, especially in the larger and more multicultural cities like New York or Toronto. Virtually every form of ethnic food is available in larger cities, though often in forms that will be somewhat alien to people actually from the country the cuisine is named after - Chinese food and pizza are particular offenders here, being forms of cuisine heavily adapted from the originals by Americans. Authentic cuisine is available in any area that has a large immigrant population of the relevant ancestry, but the American variety is much more commonly found. Many local forms of cuisine exist as well. Tex-mex cuisine is popular in the Southwestern US, and available across the continent(though Taco Bell, the most common such chain, is generally considered an exceptionally poor example of the form). Canada and some parts of the northern US offer poutine, which is fries covered in cheese curd and gravy. The southern US offers a wide range of specialities, though most are only available locally.
It is customary to tip wait staff at certain restaurants. Generally, fast-food places do not require tipping, but it is generally expected at sit-down restaurants and bars. 15% is the usual amount, but it can be adjusted up and down based on to quality of service. Keep in mind that staff in tip-heavy industries usually get paid far less than minimum wage, because the expectation is that patrons will make up the difference with gratuities.
For the more budget-conscious traveller, hostels are reasonable choices in larger cities. Expect many fewer amenities, and frequently communal rooms, but prices are perhaps half of a hotel's.
Canada and the United States are generally safe, as long as you stay away from bad neighbourhoods (most of which will have little appeal to travelers, and will be obvious at a glance). Likewise, many (though not all) Caribbean islands are quite well-run and safe. Conversely, much of Central America has a significant problem with street crime, and you should investigate the local country articles for more details if you are travelling there. Tourist resorts are almost always quite safe, even in dangerous countries, but setting foot outside the resort tends to put you into much more typical parts of the country, so safety can decline quickly if you leave the tourist areas. Common-sense precautions are always wise even in nice areas, of course - don't show of wads of cash, keep an eye on your belongings, and the like.
Most of the continent has high public health standards and relatively few issues with diseases. Medical care is commonly available and of a high standard. However, apart from Cuba, it can be extremely expensive for those who don't have travel insurance - the United States, in particular, has massively expensive medical services, and even a short hospital stay can cost tens of thousands of dollars. In a pinch, most countries require their medical facilities to treat emergencies first and worry about billing later. Some parts of Central America and the Caribbean are less well-provisioned in this regard, however - again, check the local country articles.
Certain areas have issues with natural disasters that travellers should be aware of. Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast happen in roughly June-November, and serious ones are frequently fatal for those caught on the coast, or on small Caribbean islands. The south-central United States is known as \\"tornado alley\\", and gets roughly half the tornadoes in the world. California and the Caribbean basin also get serious earthquakes on occasion. Northern areas, particularly the Northeast, get severe blizzards in roughly December-March, which do not generally cause fatalities, but can easily snarl travel for days. None of these disasters is particularly common or predictable, and as such they shouldn't impact travel plans too badly, but be aware of the possibility and the appropriate responses.
- Flora and fauna
Within these regions are all the major types of biomes in the world. A biome is a community of animals and plants spreading over an extensive area with a relatively uniform climate. Some diverse biomes represented in North America include desert, grassland, tundra, and coral reefs.
The Rocky Mountains are part of a system of parallel mountain ranges known as the Cordilleras. A cordillera is a long series of mountain ranges. Although cordilleras exist all over the world, in North America, the Cordilleras indicate the massive mountain ranges in the western part of the continent. The Cordilleras extend from Canada all the way to the Isthmus of Panama.
The Sierra Madre mountain system is part of the Cordilleras. The Sierra Madre stretch from the southwestern United States to Honduras. The Sierra Madre include many high volcanoes (up to 5,636 meters, or 18,500 feet) that stretch across Mexico south of the cities of Guadalajara and Mexico City. Volcanic mountain ranges in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama are also considered part of the Cordilleras. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur frequently in this region. Volcanic activity can destroy towns and cities. It also contributes to the rich, fertile soils of the region. North Americas older mountain ranges, including the Appalachians, rise near the east coast of the United States and Canada. These areas have been mined for rich deposits of coal and other minerals for hundreds of years. North Americas varied landscape features many natural wonders. It has deep canyons, such as Copper Canyon in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Denali, the continents highest peak, stands at 6,194 meters (20,320 feet) within Denali National Park and Preserve in the U.S. state of Alaska. Yellowstone National Park, in the U.S. states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, has some of the worlds most active geysers. Canadas Bay of Fundy has the greatest tidal range in the world. The Great Lakes form the planets largest area of freshwater. The Mississippi River, at 3,730 kilometers (2,320 miles) long, is one of the longest river systems in the world and drains all or parts of 31 U.S. states.
The temperate rain forest supports a wide variety of life. The Sitka spruce, western red cedar, and Douglas fir are trees native to North Americas temperate rain forest. Some of these trees grow to more than 90 meters (300 feet) tall and 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter. Black bears, Roosevelt elk, and marmots are indigenous animal species. The grassland or prairie regions of the Great Plains make up the largest biome in North America. Extreme weather prevents the growth of large plants but is perfectly suited to the native grasses that dominate the region. Native grasses vary in size from 2 meters (7 feet) in tallgrass prairies to only 20 or 25 centimeters (8 or 10 inches) in shortgrass prairies. Native animal species include bison, prairie dogs, and grasshoppers.
The three major desert regions of North Americathe Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahuanare all in the American southwest and northern Mexico. These large deserts are located in the rain shadows of nearby mountains. The mountains block precipitation and accelerate the movement of hot, dry wind over these regions. The Sonoran is in the rain shadow of the Coast Ranges, the Mojave is in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada, and the Chihuahuan is in the shadow of the Sierra Madre. The Canadian Shield is a raised but relatively flat plateau. It extends over eastern, central, and northwestern Canada. The Canadian Shield is characterized by a rocky landscape pocked by an astounding number of lakes. The Atlantic coastal plain extends from river, marsh, and wetland regions east of the mountains toward the sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast. Wetland areas are a biome of the eastern region and consist of areas of land whose soil is saturated with permanent or seasonal moisture. The Florida Everglades is the largest wetland system in the United States, covering more than 11,137 square kilometers (4,300 square miles) of southern Florida.
The Great Plains lie in the middle of the continent. Deep, rich soil blankets large areas of the plains in Canada and the United States. Grain grown in this region, called the Breadbasket of North America, feeds a large part of the world. The Great Plains are also home to rich deposits of oil and natural gas. Much of the fertile soil was formed from material deposited during the most recent glacial period. This ice age reached its peak about 18,000 years ago. As glaciers retreated, streams of melted ice dropped sediment on the land, building layers of productive soil.
The tundra, stretching along the northern borders of Alaska and Canada to the Hudson Bay area, is a biome common to the Canadian Shield. Tundra is where low temperatures and precipitation levels hinder tree growth. The tundra is characterized by permafrostsoil that is frozen for two or more years. This permafrost keeps moisture near the soils surface, promoting vegetation growth even in the extreme, Arctic conditions of the tundra.
The Everglades is a biologically diverse region and contains several bordering ecosystems. Sawgrass marshes are the most iconic plant community of the Everglades and thrive on the slow-moving water of the wetlands. Alligators nest in the sawgrass, while wading birds such as egrets, herons, spoonbills, and ibises make their breeding grounds in other wetland tree species, such as cypress and mangrove.
The Caribbean Region includes more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. The regions islands and smaller islets are varied in their topography; some have relatively flat and sandy terrain while others are rugged, mountainous, and volcanic.
As a subcontinent of the Americas, North America is located within Western Hemisphere and Northern Hemisphere. Being the third largest continent after Asia and Africa, the North America continent has an area of 24,709,000 km 2, accounting for 16.5% of world’s total land area.
Occupying the northern part of the large supercontinent known as Americas or New World, North America is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean from the north and by the Atlantic Ocean from the east, by the Pacific Ocean from the west and south.
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