America was stumbled upon by Columbus in 1492 and for more than 500 years people have travelled here seeking a better life in the 'land of opportunity'. The land was fought over by colonial powers for centuries and finally won its independence from Britain in 1783. Despite the near annihilation of the Native American population, one of the bloodiest civil wars the world had seen, and ingrained racism (Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924 and racial segregation was the norm until as late as the 1950s), the American people have succeeded in forging one of the worlds most united, democratic and tolerant nations, a fascinating melting-pot of cultures, and the undisputed military and economic heavyweight of the world.
The country is made up of 48 neighbouring states of the continental USA, plus the huge state of Alaska, northwest of Canada, and the volcanic islands of Hawaii, 2,000 miles (3,219km) out into the Pacific. There are also the US territories, which include Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Midway Islands and the US Virgin Islands. Tourism is focused mainly in the great cities such as New York and Washington, as well as sunshine states such as California, Florida and Hawaii where millions of tourists congregate each year to enjoy the fine beaches, natural wonders and man-made attractions such as Disneyland, Universal Studios and Hollywood. Too many miss out on the mind-blowing landscapes of the interior which can found in the wealth of magnificent National Parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Adirondacks, as well as spectacular sights like the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains. With all this on their doorstep, it's easy to understand why most Americans have never bothered getting a passport.