North America includes Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean Sea, and is sometimes defined to include the countries of Central America. It is believed that Native Americans, the continent’s first inhabitants, arrived 15,000 years ago, traveling by foot over the Bering Strait, which was a land mass at the time.
Following their prey, the Native Americans came to North America and settled principally in the region of present-day Mexico and Central America. European settlers did not arrive on the continent until the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The lowest point in the western hemisphere, 86 m (282 ft) below sea level, is located in Death Valley, California. The valley is part of the Great Basin in the western United States.
After Christopher Columbus returned to Spain from his 1492–1493 expedition to San Salvador, Cuba, and Hispaniola, other European explorers began voyages to North America. In 1497 John Cabot explored the coasts of Labrador, Newfoundland, and New England. Juan Ponce de León explored Florida and part of the Yucatán Peninsula in the early 1500s. In 1519 Hernán Cortés invaded Mexico and subsequently spent several years conquering the Aztecs.