Q TRAVEL / The term ‘Americas’ refers to the continents of North and South America and all of the countries and territories that lie within them. However, there are other words used to describe geographic and cultural subsections of this large land mass and it can be quite confusing.
What is the difference between North, South and Central America?
This is a very good question and the answers are not as clear cut as one might think. It’s probably best to list each region with its commonly accepted definition.
What is North America?
North America is a continent that includes Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America and the islands of the Caribbean Sea. In general, it is defined as any country to the north of (and including) Panama.
- Geographically, the North American continent also includes Greenland, though culturally and politically, the country is more aligned with Europe.
- In some uses of ‘North America’, Central America and the Caribbean are excluded and in others, even Mexico is left out of the definition.
- North America includes 23 independent countries.
- A number of the Caribbean islands are territories or dependencies of other (often European) countries.
What is South America?
South America is the other continent in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth largest in the world. It includes the nations south of Panama, including 12 independent countries and 3 major territories.
- In some uses, ‘South America’ may include the portion of Panama south of the Isthmus of Panama.
- Islands near the main continent are also considered to be part of South America. These include Easter Island (Chile), the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Falkland Islands (U.K.) and South Georgia Islands (U.K.).
What is Central America?
Geographically, what we think of a Central America is part of the North American continent. In certain uses – often political, social or cultural – the seven countries between Mexico and Colombia are referred to as ‘Central America.’
- Central America includes the countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
- Central America, a part of North America, is a tropical isthmus a narrow strip of land that connects North America to South America.
- At its narrowest point in Darién, Panama, it is only 30 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. At no point is the isthmus more than 125 miles wide.
What is Latin America?
We use the term ‘Latin America’ when referring to the countries settled by Spain or Spaniards and their descendants. The term is often used to refer to all of the countries south of the United States, including all of South America. It is used more as a cultural reference to describe all Spanish – and Portuguese – speaking nations in the Western Hemisphere.
- Latin America is a cultural entity of a very diverse group of people who differ by nationality, race, ethnicity and culture.
- Spanish is common throughout Latin America and Portuguese is the main language of Brazil.
- Latin America cover those countries where “romance languages” are spoken (Spanish, French and Portuguese). So the countries under Latin America are all the countries of Central America, and all the countries of South America and the Caribbean countries that speak Spanish and Portuguese.
- Among the exceptions, that could not be considered part of Latin America are Belize, Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago.
Sources: geography.about.com, answers.yahoo.com