The Americas are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions while the singular form America is primarily used to refer to the United States of America. The Americas is often divided into South America, Central America and North America. In addition Latin America is used on the part of the Americas where Spanish or Portuguese is the official or most common language.
In central America people from industrialised countries should have no problem in crossing borders and might expect a border fee from around $2-$20 depending on country. When crossing the border, no one will flag you down to get your stamp. You will need to find the immigration office on your own and get your stamp. A visa ahead of time is usually not required. Getting to South America has gotten much easier in recent years due to massive increases in flights to the continent by major global airlines. Although some particular places are still quite hard to reach (i.e. Paraguay, Suriname, northern Brazil), the places that you most likely want to go, such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, are more accessible than ever before. The United States has exceptionally onerous and complicated visa requirements. Read up carefully before your visit, especially if you need to apply for a visa, and consult the Bureau of Consular Affairs site for current information. Citizens of the 36 countries within the Visa Waiver Program, as well as Canadians, Mexicans living on the border, and Bermudians do not require advance visas for entry into the United States. For Canadians and Bermudians, the entry period is normally for a maximum of six months. Those who have a criminal record should seek out a U.S. embassy for advice. For travellers under the visa waiver program, however, the entry period is limited to 90 days. Travel under the Visa Waiver Program is limited to tourism or business purposes only; neither employment nor journalism is permitted with a Visa Waiver. The 90-day limit may not be extended nor will travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean reset the 90-day limit. A criminal record (excluding traffic violations, offences committed as a minor, and some relatively minor charges such as disorderly conduct) will generally make a potential traveller ineligible for visa-free travel. Contact your nearest U.S. embassy to find out if you need to apply for a visa or not. Since 2009, travellers entering the U.S. through the Visa Waiver program must now apply for Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval online before their flight, preferably 72 hours before travel. An ESTA approval is valid for two years, or until your passport expires and costs $14. Approvals issued before 8 September 2010 remain valid until their expiry date. Entry under the VWP from air or sea also requires entry via an approved carrier. It is a somewhat safe assumption that most major airlines and sea carriers are approved, but make certain that the carrier is approved to carry Visa Waiver visitors. Notably, however, this means that flying private aircraft or chartering a vessel to the United States requires a full visa. Travellers must also have a return/onward ticket out of the United States. If the return/onward ticket terminates in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or any Caribbean island, the traveller must be a legal resident of that country/territory. If travelling by land, there is a $7 fee when crossing the border. Before VWP travellers commence their journey, they must apply electronically for authorisation to travel (ESTA) through the ESTA website. If approved, it allows the traveller to commence his journey to the U.S. but doesn't guarantee outright entry yet. For the rest of the world, the visa application fee is a non-refundable $140 (as of 4 June 2010) for visas that are not issued on the basis of a petition and $150 for those that are.
Geography and geology in the Americas
The climate of the Americas varies significantly from region to region. The hottest places in the Americas are located in the Great Basin of North America and the Atacama Desert in Chile. Tropical rainforest climate occurs in the latitudes of the Amazon, American Cloud forests, Florida and Darien Gap. In the Rocky Mountains and Andes, a similar climate is observed. Often the higher altitudes of these mountains are snow capped. Southeastern North America is well known for it's occurrence of tornadoes and hurricanes, of which the vast majority of tornadoes occur in the United States' Tornado Alley. Often parts of the Caribbean are exposed to the violent effects of hurricanes. These weather systems are formed by the collision of dry, cool air from Canada and wet, warm air from the Atlantic.
With coastal mountains and interior plains, the Americas have several large river basins that drain the continents. The largest river basin in North America is that of the Mississippi, covering the second largest watershed on the planet. The Mississippi-Missouri river system drains most of 31 states of the U.S., most of the Great Plains, and large areas between the Rock and Appalachian mountains. This river is the fourth longest in the world and tenth most powerful in the world. The western geography of the Americas is dominated by the American cordillera, with the Andes running along the west coast of South America and the Rocky Mountains and other North American Cordillera ranges running along the western side of North America. The ranges with the highest peaks are the Andes and Rock Mountain range. While high peaks exists in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range, on average there are not as many reaching a height greater than fourteen thousand feet. In North America, the largest amount of fourteeners occur in the United States and more specifically in the U.S. state of Colorado. The highest peaks in the Americas are located in the Andes with Aconcagua of Argentina being the highest; in North America Denali of the United States is the tallest. Between its coastal mountain ranges, North America has vast flat areas. The Interior Plains spread over much of the continent with low relief. The Canadian Shield covers almost 5 million km² of North America and is generally quite flat. Similarly, the north-east of South America is covered by the flat Amazon Basin. The Brazilian Highlands on the east coast are fairly smooth but show some variations in landform, while further south the Gran Chaco and Pampas are broad lowlands
Travel to Americas
Getting to South America has gotten much easier in recent years due to massive increases in flights to the continent by major global airlines. Although some particular places are still quite hard to reach (i.e. Paraguay, Suriname, northern Brazil), the places that you most likely want to go, such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, are more accessible than ever before.
Travelling within the Americas
There is prolific long range bus service across most of the US and Canada, but travel times are excessively long (on the order of three to five times as long as a direct trip in a personal vehicle) and many stations are relatively unsafe. Most bus service is useful only for travelling within a dense metro area or along major commuter routes and is then limited or unavailable outside of business hours. The same goes for central and southern America. For long distance travel aeroplanes are the best option. There are no cross-country train services in South America, and with the exception of Argentina and Chile, domestic networks are quite limited. Buses are the main form of land transportation for much of the continent... for longer distances you're often better off flying.
In Canada and USA English is the national language even though French-based creole, Spanish and Canadian French is used to some extent. Lusophone (Portuguese) is spoken in Brazil and they speak Spanish in rest of the southern Americas with some minor exeptions.
Places to sleep
There are two places to sleep on Cuba. It is either in government approved familys, called Casa particular or in a hotel.
Money and banking
In south America it be somewhat difficult to find ATMs so you should have som hard cash in your pocket just in case. Visa or Mastercard are the cards most widely used. Remember that credit or debit cards issued from any bank in USA are useless on Cuba because of the embargo. Exchange of U.S. currency is possible, but subject to an additional fee. Bring either Canadian Dollar or Euro if you have planned to travel to Cuba. Debit are not accepted in Cuba and credit cards are not widely accepted. Credit cards issued by American financial institutions, such as American Express cards, are not accepted on Cuba. In north America credit and depet cards are widely used.
Vaccine and health
Tap water in many countries in South America is not drinkable, it's wise to purify your own or buy bottled water. Malaria and Yellow fever can be a risk as well on the continent, check with a travel clinic or your doctor before heading out to see if you'll be in a high-risk area. travelling to most countries and southern av central part of the Americas you should take vaccines before you leave home. Check this page for a list of vaccines you should take in which countries. In some countries it is mandatory you take vaccines before you visit and you may be required to show your vaccine card before entry. Even if it isn't mandatory I recommend you to take them. In a worst case scenario a vaccine may save your life or prevent you from a long stay at a hospital.
Wearing or carrying items which may identify you as an affluent tourist can be a mistake in southern and central America. You shouldn't pack anything that you would be upset to lose. Leave expensive jewelry, watches and other items of value at home and only carry what you need. That goes for credit cards and other documents as well; if you have no need for them leave them behind in the hotel safe, only take what money you are likely to spend with you. Crime and violence prevention and public security are now important issues for governments and citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean region. In 2004, violence was the main cause of death in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras. Homicide rates in Latin America are among the highest in the world. From the early 1980s through the mid-1990s, homicide rates increased by 50 percent. The major victims of such homicides are young men, 69 percent of whom are between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Many analysts agree that the prison crisis will not be resolved until the gap between rich and poor is addressed.
American cuisine and drink
Guatemala is the country of tamales, there are regular tamales made out of corn "masa" with either meat, chicken, turkey or pork filling and tomato, and sometimes "chile". "Black tamales" are similar to the former ones but are sweet, "paches" are tamales made out of potatos, "tamales de cambray" are small sweet "masa" balls", tamales de "chipilin", and many others; rellenitos (sweet fried bean-stuffed banana bonbons) are a tasty dessert sold on streetcorners. Black beans are the main staple after corn of course. There is a variety of soups ("caldos"). Guatemalan cuisine is a mixture of Mayan and Spanish dishes. Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans with a little cilantro or onion thrown in, it is the national dish of Nicaragua and Costa Rica This mixture is called Casamiento ("marriage")in El Salvador and Guatemala. And on the north coast of Honduras, casamiento is made with coconut milk. Pupusas and "chicharron con yuca" (pork skin & yucca) are very popular dishes originated in El Salvador. Nacatamales, which are big tamales containing pork, potato, rice, chile, tomato, and masa is steamed in platano leaves, they originate from Nicaragua and can be bought in the colonial city of Granada. Oven tamales, wraped with platano leaves, are very good in Costa Rica. Grilled octopus is a very tasty dish in Panama. Mainstream American and Canadian cuisine is similar to that in other Western countries. Wheat is the primary cereal grain. Traditional American cuisine uses indigenous ingredients, such as turkey, venison, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash, and maple syrup, which were consumed by Native Americans and early European settlers. Slow-cooked pork and beef barbecue, crab cakes, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies are distinctively American foods. Soul food, developed by African slaves, is popular around the South and among many African Americans elsewhere. Syncretic cuisines such as Louisiana creole, Cajun, and Tex-Mex are regionally important.