Mapping the Physical & Human Characteristics of the Caribbean, Central & South America

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  • 0:00 Terms and Definitions
  • 0:40 Caribbean
  • 2:10 Central America
  • 3:20 South America
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson discusses the physical geography and demographics of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. It highlights the populations and religions of the different regions.

Terms and Definitions

As a product of the American school system, I don't remember many lessons on areas south of the border. Yes, I learned all about Cortes conquering the Aztecs or Pizarro devastating the Incas, but after that, things seemed pretty silent on our neighbors to the south. To remedy this, today's lesson will take a look at the physical and human characteristics of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. In other words, we'll be taking a look at their physical geography and their demographics. Keeping things simple, we'll define demographics as the study of populations.

We'll get things moving with the physical geography of the Caribbean. Since this is such a vast area, we'll just hit some main features.


The Caribbean is made up of about 7,000 islands surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike the soils of the U.S., most of the Caribbean is volcanic in origin. Volcanoes aren't just a part of the Caribbean's past. Islands like St. Croix and St. Vincent still have active volcanoes.

Although mainly made up of islands in the ocean, the Caribbean also has its fair share of lakes and rivers. Located on Hispaniola, Lake Enriquillo is the largest lake in the Caribbean. Located in Cuba, the Cauto River is the largest river in the Caribbean.

Now that we know a bit about its physical geography, let's take a look at the people that inhabit this region. For starters, the estimated population of the Caribbean is about 36 million. With about 11 million people, Cuba is the most heavily populated island nation. The Dominican Republic and Haiti come in second and third.

Since much of the Caribbean was first colonized by very Catholic Spain, many of its inhabitants speak Spanish and hold to Catholicism. However, French and English also can be heard, as well as the native languages of the individual islands. Protestantism is also practiced by some of the people.

Because the islands of the Caribbean are so varied, they are home to many different people groups. Some are of African/Caribbean descent, while some are of European/Caribbean descent. Some still are pure members of the native Arawak, Caribs, or Tainos tribes.

Central America

With this, let's move on to Central America. Central America is the isthmus that connects North America to South America. An isthmus is a narrow strip of land, surrounded by sea, which connects two larger landmasses.

Just like the Caribbean, much of Central America is volcanic in origin. Some parts are also rather mountainous. Central America also has its own impressive bodies of water. Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America. The Rio Coco is Central America's longest river. Adding to the beauty of the area, Central America has many rain forests, as well as the second largest coral reef in the world!

As for demographics, Central America is home to about 43 million people. Guatemala has the largest population, with about 13 million inhabitants. Among the people of Central America, Spanish is the dominant language. However, Belize breaks the mold by claiming English as its official language.

Like the Caribbean, Catholicism is the dominant religion of the region. When it comes to ethnicity, a majority of the people are of European and native tribal descent.

South America

Last, we come to South America. South America has some pretty impressive physical geography! It's home to the Amazon Rain Forest, the largest rain forest in the world. It also boasts the Amazon River, which has the largest volume of all the world's rivers. South America also has the stunning Angel Falls, the highest falls in all the world. It's also the location of the Andes Mountains, the world's longest mountain range.

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