Seven small countries make up Central America, a tapering neck of land that connects northern North American to South America. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west and the Caribbean Sea an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, lies to the east. The two oceans are connected by the Panama Canal, a short cut that saves ships months of sailing time. The original peoples of Central America were Native Americans, conquered by the Spaniards in the 1500s. Since gaining independence these countries have had periods of turbulent politics and unstable economies. Central America has a back cone of rugged volcanic peaks and massive crater lakes that run from Guatemala down to Costa Rica. The hot tropical climate and high rainfall of Central America's Caribbean cost gives rise to vast areas of dense rain forest, particularly in Belize and Guatemala, and on Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast. Thought out Central America the climate is tropical and hot with a distinct rainy season from May until November or December. Central America thus provides an important road link between North and South America.