The Americas refer to the two continents of North America and South America, which are located in the Western Hemisphere. Together, they make up most of the landmass in the New World and comprise over 16% of the Earth’s total land area. But where exactly are the Americas located on the world map? Let’s take a closer look at these two diverse continents.
North America – The Northern Continent
North America is located in the Northern and Western Hemispheres, situated between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. It includes the countries of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Greenland, along with many islands in the Caribbean Sea.
With an area of over 24 million square kilometers, North America is the third largest continent on Earth. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north and by South America to the south. The continent extends from the easternmost point of Canada to the westernmost point of the United States.
Some key facts about North America:
- It has a population of over 579 million people.
- It contains diverse landscapes including mountains, forests, prairies, and deserts.
- The Mississippi River is one of the world’s major river systems located here.
- It is home to the world’s oldest mountain range – the Appalachians.
South America – The Southern Continent
South America is a continent entirely located in the Western Hemisphere and mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. It includes 12 sovereign countries and 2 non-sovereign areas.
Located below North America, South America is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the northeast and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It encompasses roughly 17.8 million square kilometers of land.
Some key facts about South America:
- It has a population of over 423 million people.
- The Andes Mountains run along the entire western coast.
- The Amazon River Basin contains the world’s largest rainforest.
- It contains many natural resources including copper, silver, oil and natural gas.
- Machu Picchu in Peru is one of its most iconic ancient sites.
Diverse Topography Across the Continents
The topography of the Americas is highly diverse, containing many distinct landforms and geological features.
North America consists of ancient rounded mountains, including the Canadian Shield, as well as younger volcanic mountain ranges like the Cascades. It also contains the Great Plains in its interior and the expansive Mississippi River system.
South America features the towering Andes Mountains along its western margin, as well as lower central highlands, grassy pampas plains, the massive Amazon rainforest basin, and the unique Patagonian steppes. The world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls, is located here.
There are also significant coastal areas, islands, valleys, canyons, plateaus, and other landforms that add to the varied topography.
Diverse Climate Zones
The climates of the Americas range from polar to tropical due to the huge north-south extent of the continents.
North America has mostly cold subarctic and arctic climates in the far north of Canada and Alaska. The northeast U.S. and Canada have a humid continental climate with warm summers and cold, snowy winters. The southeast U.S. is humid subtropical and the southwest U.S. and Mexico are mostly hot deserts.
South America has an equatorial climate near the Amazon. The Andes have alpine climates while Patagonia is mostly cold and windy. Central Argentina is humid subtropical and the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth.
Elevation, latitude, proximity to oceans, wind patterns and other factors lead to this climatic diversity across the continents.
Unique Geographic Features
Some of the most noteworthy geographic features of the Americas include:
- The Appalachian Mountains – Ancient rounded mountains running from Canada to Alabama.
- The Rocky Mountains – A major mountain range extending from Alaska to New Mexico.
- The Andes – The longest continental mountain range in the world, extending 7000 km.
- The Great Lakes – The largest system of freshwater lakes on Earth.
- The Mississippi River – The second-longest river globally after the Nile.
- The Amazon River – The lifeblood of the Amazon rainforest and the longest river in South America.
- The Patagonian Desert – A large, cold desert between the Andes and the Atlantic.
- Angel Falls – The world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall at 979 meters.
- The Grand Canyon – One of the world’s most famous canyons carved by the Colorado River.
Famous Tourist Destinations
The Americas contain some of the world’s most visited tourist attractions. Iconic destinations include:
- Machu Picchu – An ancient Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains of Peru.
- Rio de Janeiro – Famous for its dramatic landscape, Carnival festivals, beaches and landmarks like the giant Christ the Redeemer statue.
- Niagara Falls – A massive waterfall system located on the border between the U.S. state of New York and Canada’s province of Ontario.
- Florida’s Walt Disney World – A massive theme park resort and entertainment complex featuring Cinderella’s Castle and more.
- The Golden Gate Bridge – A landmark suspension bridge spanning San Francisco Bay.
- The Colosseum – An ancient Roman amphitheater located in Mexico City, capable of seating over 50,000 spectators.
Diverse Economies Across the Continents
The economies of North America and South America are quite different overall. However, both continents contain countries with thriving modern economies as well as developing nations.
The United States has the world’s largest economy, while Canada also has a robust advanced economy. Mexico is an emerging economy with rapid development in certain sectors.
Brazil is South America’s largest economy, followed by Argentina, Colombia and Chile which have well-developed economies. Venezuela, Bolivia and Guyana are still developing. Natural resources, manufacturing, services, agriculture and more create economic diversity.
Tourism is a major industry across both continents. Trade partnerships between South, Central and North America continue to increase economic integration in the region.
The Americas cover a vast geographical area and contain many different nations, landscapes, climates and attractions. North America and South America have unique features but also share some broad similarities in terms of climate patterns, biodiversity and types of landforms present. Together, they make up the New World and represent over one eighth of Earth’s total landmass. The Americas continue to be hubs for travel, culture, commerce and more on the global stage.
Q: How many continents are known as the Americas?
A: There are two continents known collectively as the Americas – North America and South America.
Q: Which countries are located in North America?
A: The main countries of North America are Canada, the United States, Mexico and Greenland, along with many islands in the Caribbean Sea.
Q: What are the major languages spoken across the Americas?
A: The most widely spoken languages are English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, along with hundreds of indigenous languages.
Q: Where are the Rocky Mountains located?
A: The Rocky Mountains extend from British Columbia in western Canada through the western U.S. to New Mexico.
Q: What is unique about Patagonia?
A: Patagonia is located at the southern end of South America and contains a cold, dry desert landscape with grasslands and glacially-carved mountains and fjords.