Africa, the second largest Continent on Planet Earth, has a population of more than one billion individuals across nearly twelve million square miles of land area. Africa contains a multitude of countries and cultures, both on the African mainland and the considerable number of islands off the African coast. Africa has been populated since the beginning of time, and has witnessed many crucial stages of human evolution over millennia of ancient history. Although the origin of the name “Africa” is a subject of some etymological debate, most theories trace the beginning of the term to either an indigenous term, a word from a colonial power, or simply a reference to the warm weather of the continent. Over thousands of years, Africa saw the rise and fall of many great civilizations as well as the mixed experience of European colonialism. In the modern day, Africa is home to fifty-five sovereign nations, including the world’s newest country, South Sudan. Africa’s nations differ greatly in terms of cultures and ethnic backgrounds as well as economic status and internal stability. Many of Africa’s economic realities and political boundaries stem from outside influences, including Cold War tensions and IMF investments in addition to lingering colonial legacies.
Africa’s environment is almost entirely tropical, although some of the higher mountain peaks on the continent see much colder temperatures along with snowfall. One of the primary attractions of Africa’s islands and mainland is the wide variety of wildlife. Africa is known throughout the world for offering an extremely diverse selection of indigenous animals, both in designated wildlife conservation areas and out in the wild. Tourists come from around the world to experience the biological diversity of Africa, highlighted by animals such as cheetahs, lions, elephants, giraffes, and even crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Although Africa has abundant natural resources in the form of metal, oil, and mineral deposits, many nations on the continent are either poor or developing. Africa is projected to mark a fairly strong overall rate of GDP growth in the next few years, as governments and foreign investors begin to exploit the continent’s considerable reserves of diamonds, gold, chromium, cobalt, uranium, and platinum, among other commodities. The limited urbanization of Africa has allowed dozens of fascinating and unique cultures to endure for thousands of years. These various ethnic groups range from the Swahili and the Khoisan as well as the Bantu and the Pygmy peoples, each with their own set of cultural traditions and historical legacies.
The African Renaissance has lent a hand to cultural revitalization efforts in Africa, and the and landscape architecture of the continent remain among the most varied and impressive in the world. Africa is home to a number of internationally renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Church of Saint Georgia in Ethiopia, as well as towering peaks such as Mount Kilimanjaro. Of course, one of the best known landmarks on the continent of Africa is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, found in the north of Africa. Africa’s national sports teams have recently become considerably more successful, and South Africa was even the host of the 2010 World Cup. Africa is extremely diverse in terms of religious practices, and some of the most impressive cultural practices and structures on the continent are the product of this diversity. Many of Africa’s larger cities boast impressive museums and civic centers, while the more developed countries offer abundant Western comforts. The greatest feature of Africa is its opportunity for explanation – the continent is home to so many different nations and cultures that there is always something new to do and somewhere new to see.