North America: A Diverse Continent You Should Explore

March 3, 2019

Paul Kay


North America is fourth in population among the continents and third largest in area. Within North America are 23 countries. Some of these countries are considered part of Central America or other island groupings. The three most visited countries are the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Here’s how North American countries compare in population:

RankCountriesPopulation
1United States324,314,000
2Mexico112,322,757
3Canada35,851,774
4Guatemala16,176,133
5Cuba11,204,000
6Dominican Republic10,911,819
7Haiti10,033,254
8Honduras8,576,500
9El Salvador6,163,000
10Nicaragua6,071,045
11Costa Rica4,832,234
12Panama3,454,698
13Jamaica2,719,814
14Trinidad and Tobago1,339,002
15Bahamas369,670
16Belize368,310
17Barbados277,821
18Saint Lucia172,746
19Saint Vincent and the Grenadines109,088
20Antigua and Barbuda88,057
21Dominica67,117
22Saint Kitts and Nevis52,249
23Grenada10,437

The countries significantly differ in size, with Canada rising to the top:

RankCountryArea (square miles)
1Canada3,855,101
2United States3,717,811
3Mexico758,449
4Nicaragua50,337
5Honduras43,433
6Cuba42,427
7Guatemala42,042
8Panama29,119
9Costa Rica19,730
10Dominican Republic18,792
11Haiti10,714
12Belize8,867
13El Salvador8,124
14The Bahamas5,383
15Jamaica4,244
16Trinidad and Tobago1,981
17Dominica290
18Saint Lucia208
19Antigua and Barbuda171
20Barbados166
21Saint Vincent and the Grenadines150
22Grenada133
23Saint Kitts and Nevis101

The reasons to visit North America are many, particularly when you look at the diverse nature of countries in the continent.

United States

The United States has a population of 324 million, placing it as the world’s third most populous country after China and India. The United States includes 3.7 million square miles, which is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe.

Night view of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

History

The first inhabitants of the United States came over 15,000 years ago, probably from Siberia using a land bridge that connected Siberia to North America. European adventurers arrived in the 15th century. It’s estimated that 50 million people were already living in North America by the time the adventurers arrived, of which 10 million lived in the United States.

The Spanish came to the United States in 1526. England came in 1578. Sir Walter Raleigh came in 1584 and established Virginia after Queen Elizabeth, also known as the Virgin Queen. The English continued to regularly investigate and returned to England with reports of the new land.

The Virginia Company was founded in 1606. They founded Jamestown in 1607. A group of colonists from England that were seeking religious and political freedom came to the eastern shores in 1620. They were critical of the Church of England and on a ship called the Mayflower landed in Plymouth.

The Dutch arrived in 1624, under the auspices of the Dutch West India Company, and established New Netherland in what is now New York. In 1638, Sweden formed a colony in what is now Delaware. But this colony was captured by the Dutch in 1655.

The British captured New Netherland in 1664 and renamed it New York, in honor of the king’s brother, the Duke of York. Now that England ruled the area, land was divided and renamed. New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania were all ceded lands. Maryland was later formed, along with North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Morning Light at Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

The people living in the Americas were under British rule, and England was a long way away. American colonists rebelled against English laws and particularly what they considered as unfair taxation. The British government decided to make the American colonies pay a large share of the war debt incurred from the French and Indian War. This was a form of protection tax. The armies and navies had huge debt, since Britain was fighting and gaining territory all over the world, but more recently in Canada. The British tried to collect these taxes, and the American people considered them unfair. It was even more upsetting that American colonists had no representation in England. They could not even vote. “Taxation without representation” was the call.

Skirmishes between the Americans and the British eventually led to the Revolutionary War in 1775. France entered the war as an ally of the Americans. They had recently lost the Canada territory to the British and were eager to find a new ally. Spain also entered the conflict in 1779. The American Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed in 1776. The Revolutionary War lasted until 1783. England then recognized the independence of the United States in the Treaty of Paris. At the same time, England signed separate peace treaties with France and Spain.

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

When the United States is compared to so many other countries around the globe, its history is one of the shortest. Americans think an old house is more than 200 years old, whereas there are castles, pagodas and statues worldwide that are thousands of years old!

Why You Should Go

There is so much to see in the United States.

Tourism in the United States is a big business. As of 2018, New York City is the most visited destination in the USA, followed by Los Angeles, Orlando, Las Vegas and Chicago. In 2016, more than 69 million tourists visited the United States. Tourists spend more money in the United States than any other country.

Madeline and I have traveled to all the 50 states. I have worked in some of them, but mainly served as a tourist for the rest. We are constantly reminded of the diverse landscape and cultural changes in these states. We enjoy learning from everyone we meet and try to experience new opportunities. We find that even in our own backyard state, we haven’t been to as many places as we’d like. We frequently fly and rent a car wherever we go. We’ve also taken road trips, so we can experience things a bit slower. Road trips take longer but that’s the main reason for doing it. Some of the more rural or desert landscapes are only accessible by road.

Clearwater Beach, Florida

People come to the United States to visit big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco or New York. Visiting a single city and saying you’ve visited the United States is fine, but you’ve missed out on so many unique opportunities. It’s like saying you know all about the UK after you’ve been to London. You only know a small portion.

In the United States, there are large mountain ranges, desert cacti, acres of rolling plains, vast areas of farmland and plenty of beaches. The United States is very big, and the train infrastructure mainly is for commerce; it’s not suited to tourism like in much of Europe and Asia. To tour America, you can go by car or air or a combination of the two. There are still large tour operators that will bus you around an area for days, but you probably don’t want to be on a bus for weeks or months. A normal cross-country trip can take 10 days by car or bus.

Canada

Canada covers 3.8 million square miles of land and has a population of 36 million. Canada is second to only Russia in the size. It is the largest country in the Western hemisphere, with the United States in second place for size in the West.

The Cascade Mountain Range, Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

History

Scientists believe that the first people of Canada have been there for more than 12,000 years. Bones and other artifacts have been dated. They believe there was a land bridge between Russia and Canada, and the earliest settlers followed game or food. Scientists also know that some came by sea.

These early settlers lived off the land and the sea. Today, we think of these people as Inuits, who inhabit northern Canada, as well as Alaska and Greenland. The Inuits lived on the continent before the arrival of any European colonists.

European colonization began in the 16th century, when both the French and the British explored Canada and established small colonies. The British and French fought over the land until the 18th century, when Britain took control of most of what is Canada today.

Old Buildings, Ottawa, Canada

In 1867, the colonies of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were federated to form the semiautonomous federal Dominion named Canada. In 1931, Canada all but separated from the United Kingdom with the Statute of Westminster, except for the power to amend its constitution. Queen Elizabeth II still is considered the head of state, but all the affairs of state are separate from Britain. Her majesty has a similar role in 15 other countries, including Australia.

Why You Should Go

Tourism is big business in Canada and many people visit for the sheer beauty of the land. Camping, hunting, fishing and hiking is amazing in Canada. Because of its northern climate, so-called snow business is huge with skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. The relatively weak Canadian dollar also attracts tourists, because goods and services are usually less expensive than your home country.

Panorama of Calgary Skyline including Scotiabank Saddledome Arena and Calgary Tower, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Canada is even larger than the United States and offers similar travel experiences. But it is usually a bit colder because of its northern latitude. Canada’s most northern latitude approaches the North Pole! The town of Alert is just 508 miles from the North Pole. Canada has ten provinces and three territories. The ten provinces are Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. The three territories are Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

Columbia Icefield Parkway Along Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Mexico

Mexico has a population more than 112 million people, with 758,000 square miles of land. Mexico is divided into 31 states and Mexico City, the capital, which is a special federal entity.

History

The Mexican people have a long and rich history. Its indigenous people are known to be active more than 13,000 years ago. The Spaniards arrived in 1519, before any other European explorers. Mexico was ruled by Spain for more than three centuries; it was called New Spain at this time.

Prehispanic Art at Rufino Tamayo Museum, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mexican independence was declared in 1810. But it took until 1821, when the Treaty of Cordoba was signed that Mexico was truly independent. The Mexican constitution followed in 1824, and Mexico was officially recognized in 1836.

The Mexican-American War began in 1846 and ended in 1848. Mexico’s territory included over 500,000 square miles of land that is now part of the United States. Before this war, Texas and Mexico were at war from 1835 to 1836, with the result being that Texas became an independent republic and not under the rule of Mexico. The Mexican-American war began when the United States annexed Texas in 1845. The dispute was whether the border of Texas ended at the Nueces River or the Rio Grande River. The United States won the war and Mexico lost approximately one-third of its territory. This included almost all of California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. The United States paid Mexico $15 million dollars for the land, which became known as the Mexican Cession.

Santo Domingo Temple, Oaxaca, Mexico

Shortly after the Mexican-American War, Mexico had a period of unrest where various political groups briefly controlled the government only to lose them. In 1861, Benito Juarez became the president of Mexico. He announced he was going to suspend payment on all foreign debts for a two-year period. This enraged Spain, France and England, who all came back to Mexico to secure their debt. Spain and England left after a few months, but France stayed and decided to take over.

France took over Mexico City in 1863 and put Archduke Maximilian of Austria on the Mexican throne. This rule lasted only until 1867, when a rebellion took over and executed Maximilian. Benito Juarez reassumed power in 1871 until his death in 1872.

From 1876 to 1911, a dictator ruled Mexico. Porfirio Diaz’s 35-year-long dictatorship brought economic growth, but corruption and political repression reached new heights. The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and removed Diaz from power in 1911. After Diaz left power, Mexican leadership regularly changed. It took until 1917 for the revolution to end with the creation of the Mexican constitution, which has not changed significantly since that time.

Why You Should Go

Mexico tourism is a significant contributor to its economy. In 2018, Mexico attracted more than 40 million tourists. The World Bank said that the tourism industry was the third largest source of foreign exchange in Mexico.

Beach and Beachgoers, Acapulco, Mexico

There are so many reasons to visit Mexico. You can learn about the Mayan culture and visit many of its ruins. The beaches are beautiful, and the temperatures stay in the warm, if not slightly hot, year round. Places to stay are plentiful, and the all-inclusive hotels lead the way. Prices for a Mexican vacation are competitive when an all-inclusive resort is involved. Travelers easily can determine their total budget for a trip. Mexican food is delicious, and it ranges from traditional Mexican cuisine by region, Tex-Mex favorites or international staples like hamburgers. Fish is fresh and cooked in myriad styles.

Moles Sauces, Oaxaca, Mexico

We’ve traveled to Mexico frequently and have a regular vacation spot at Hacienda Tres Rios in the Playa del Carmen area of Mexico, just south of Cancun. We’ve been to all the nearby tourist destinations, including a day-long trip to Chichen Itza. We’ve also been to Chihuahua, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tijuana and Huatulco. We keep coming back to Hacienda Tres Rios, though, because it’s such a special place. Check out our review of Hacienda Tres Rios. You’ll love it there.

Island Nations

The North American continent includes many other countries that are within island groupings, like the Bahamas. These island countries have terrific beaches and warm temperatures.

Our Travels

We’ve visited all 50 states. We regularly stay at Hacienda Tres Ríos Resort Spa & Nature Park.

And be sure to check out our other post on North America.


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