The United States of America ("USA,"
"US," "United States," "America,"
or simply "the States") is a large country in central
and north-western North America. The U.S. also includes several
Pacific islands (primarily represented by the state of Hawaii)
and an unincorporated Caribbean territory (the Commonwealth
of Puerto Rico).
One of the most powerful and wealthy nations on
earth and third largest in territory and people, it has a mixture
of densely-populated urban areas with wide areas of low population
and incredible natural beauty.
With a history of mass immigration dating from
the 17th century, the U.S. prides itself on its "melting
pot" of different cultures from around the globe. Even
the briefest visit to the United States is a study in contrasts.
The U.S. stretches across the midsection of North America, from
the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, with non-contiguous
states to the north west and in the Pacific. As such, its many
regions are varied. Following the admission of the state of
Hawaii in 1959, the United States has 50 states as well as the
city of Washington D.C. (a federal district independent of any
state) and a few territories which are not states, such as Puerto
Rico. Below is a rough grouping of the country into regions
relevant to the traveler, from the Atlantic to the Pacific:
Cities and Other destinations in the United StatesThe United
States has over 10,000 cities, towns, and villages. The following
is a list of nine of the most notable. Other cities can be found
in their corresponding regions.
- Washington (D.C.) - The national
capital, home to the United States' most grand public buildings
as well as a thriving multi-cultural community.
- Boston - The capital of Massachusetts
retains much of its colonial charm, but is kept young by its
multitudes of students.
- Chicago - The "Windy City",
bustling heart of the Midwest, transportation hub of the nation,
notable for its large number of architectural gems and massive
- Los Angeles - The home of Hollywood
and the film industry, palm-fringed Los Angeles offers mountains,
beaches, sunshine, and everything else visitors look to find
- Miami - Miami is home to one of the
greatest beaches in the country, and has a mix of sun-seeking
northerners and immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean
seeking a chance to make it in the US.
- New Orleans - Despite a devastating
hurricane, "the Big Easy" is still famous for its
atmospheric French Quarter and annual Mardi Gras celebration.
- New York - The United States' largest
city, with world-class cuisine, unparalleled arts offerings,
and one of the most diverse populations on the planet. Both
a symbol of the country and intensely international.
- San Francisco - One of the most photogenic
cities in the world, idiosyncratic San Francisco offers a
diverse array of attractions, and is a popular gateway to
the California coast and Yosemite National Park.
- Seattle - This green and rainy city
is known for its trend-setting cultural scene and the business
presence of international high-tech giants
The U.S. is difficult to characterize because of its size and
diversity, both in geography and in people, but an overview will
help travelers to see these differences and perhaps help to find
what they are most interested in. It is not realistic to see a
little of everything unless one has a very long time to spend;
indeed, even lifetime residents have trouble taking it all in.
Part of the States' appeal is that you can experience so much
in one country.
Due to the vastness of their own country, and due
to the fact that many of the neighboring countries did not require
U.S. citizens to have them, fewer than a third of Americans have
passports, although this number is expected to increase greatly.
Recently, with the requirement of a passport to travel to its
neighboring countries, Canada and Mexico, as well as to nearby
Caribbean countries, there has been a surge in demand for passports.
the U.S. is one of the largest countries in the world in terms
of area (at roughly 9.6 million sq km, it's about half the size
of Russia and around the same size as China).
The contiguous United States (the 48 states other
than Alaska and Hawaii) are bound by the Atlantic Ocean to the
east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, with much of the country's
population living on these two coasts. Its only borders are shared
with Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south.
The country has three major mountain ranges. The
Appalachians extend from Canada to the state of Alabama, a few
hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the oldest
of the three mountain ranges, and are not particularly high, but
offer spectacular sightseeing and excellent camping spots. The
Rockies are the highest in North America, extending from Alaska
to New Mexico, with many areas protected as national parks. Their
natural wonders offer impressive hiking, camping, and sightseeing
opportunities. The combined Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges are
the youngest. The Sierras extend across the "backbone"
of California, with sites such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National
Park, then give way to the even younger volcanic Cascade range,
with some of the highest points in the country.
The Great Lakes define much of the border between
the United States and Canada, also known as the North Coast. Formed
by the pressure of glaciers retreating north at the end of the
last Ice Age, the five lakes touch the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin,
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
The lakes span hundreds of miles, and their shores vary from pristine
wilderness areas to industrial "rust belt" cities. They
are the second-largest body of freshwater in the world, after
the shrinking polar ice caps.