Latin America is a vast region in the Western Hemisphere that covers almost 16 percent of the earth's surface and features varied landscapes. Chapter 8 describes Latin America's physical features, water systems, and natural resources, and explains their importance to the region's countries.
The Land Latin America is divided into three geographic regions: Middle America, which consists of Mexico and Central America; the Caribbean Islands, also know as the West Indies; and the continent of South America. The region's location along the Ring of Fire has had a tremendous influence on the landscape. Latin America's diverse physical geography features extensive mountain ranges, broad highlands, coastal lowlands, grassy plains, and volcanic islands. The region's water systems, especially its huge rivers, are important for transportation, agriculture, and human settlement. Minerals, forests, farmland, and water are major natural resources throughout the region. Not all countries, however, benefit equally due to geographic, political, or economic difficulties.
Climate and Vegetation Much of Latin America lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, resulting in tropical rain forest, tropical savanna, and humid subtropical climates with hot temperatures and heavy rainfall. Smaller areas of desert and steppe climates receive less rainfall. The climates of Latin America, however, are more affected by elevation than latitude. Differences in elevation create three vertical climate zones that affect agriculture and settlement, with the temperate zone being the most heavily populated.