The Most Famous

EXPLORERS from Spain

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This page contains a list of the greatest Spanish Explorers. The pantheon dataset contains 405 Explorers, 46 of which were born in Spain. This makes Spain the birth place of the 2nd most number of Explorers.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Spanish Explorers of all time. This list of famous Spanish Explorers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Spanish Explorers.

Photo of Hernán Cortés

1. Hernán Cortés (1485 - 1547)

With an HPI of 86.53, Hernán Cortés is the most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 132 different languages on wikipedia.

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca (; Spanish: [eɾˈnaŋ koɾˈtez ðe monˈroj i piˈθaro altamiˈɾano]; 1485 – December 2, 1547) was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish explorers and conquistadors who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Born in Medellín, Spain, to a family of lesser nobility, Cortés chose to pursue adventure and riches in the New World. He went to Hispaniola and later to Cuba, where he received an encomienda (the right to the labor of certain subjects). For a short time, he served as alcalde (magistrate) of the second Spanish town founded on the island. In 1519, he was elected captain of the third expedition to the mainland, which he partly funded. His enmity with the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, resulted in the recall of the expedition at the last moment, an order which Cortés ignored. Arriving on the continent, Cortés executed a successful strategy of allying with some indigenous people against others. He also used a native woman, Doña Marina, as an interpreter. She later bore his first son. When the Governor of Cuba sent emissaries to arrest Cortés, he fought them and won, using the extra troops as reinforcements. Cortés wrote letters directly to the king asking to be acknowledged for his successes instead of being punished for mutiny. After he overthrew the Aztec Empire, Cortés was awarded the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, while the more prestigious title of Viceroy was given to a high-ranking nobleman, Antonio de Mendoza. In 1541 Cortés returned to Spain, where he died six years later of natural causes. Because of the controversial undertakings of Cortés and the scarcity of reliable sources of information about him, it is difficult to describe his personality or motivations. Early lionizing of the conquistadores did not encourage deep examination of Cortés. Modern reconsideration has done little to enlarge understanding regarding him. As a result of these historical trends, descriptions of Cortés tend to be simplistic, and either damning or idealizing.

Photo of Francisco Pizarro

2. Francisco Pizarro (1478 - 1541)

With an HPI of 84.04, Francisco Pizarro is the 2nd most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 78 different languages.

Francisco Pizarro González (; Spanish: [fɾanˈθisko piˈθaro]; c. 1471–1476 – 26 June 1541) was a Spanish conquistador, best known for his expeditions that led to the Spanish conquest of Peru. Born in Trujillo, Spain to a poor family, Pizarro chose to pursue fortune and adventure in the New World. He went to the Gulf of Urabá, and accompanied Vasco Núñez de Balboa in his crossing of the Isthmus of Panama, where they became the first Europeans to reach the Pacific Ocean. He served as mayor of the newly founded Panama City for a few years, and undertook two failed expeditions to Peru. In 1529, Pizarro obtained permission from the Spanish crown to lead a campaign to conquer Peru and went on his third, and successful, expedition. When local people who lived along the coast resisted this invasion, Pizarro moved inland and founded the first Spanish settlement in Peru, San Miguel de Piura. After a series of maneuvres, Pizarro captured the Incan emperor Atahualpa at the Battle of Cajamarca in November 1532. A ransom for the emperor's release was demanded and Atahualpa filled a room with gold, but Pizarro charged him with various crimes and executed him in July 1533. The same year, Pizarro entered the Inca capital of Cuzco and completed his conquest of Peru. In January 1535, Pizarro founded the city of Lima.

Photo of Juan Sebastián Elcano

3. Juan Sebastián Elcano (1476 - 1526)

With an HPI of 79.50, Juan Sebastián Elcano is the 3rd most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 56 different languages.

Juan Sebastián Elcano (sometimes misspelled del Cano; 1486/1487 – 4 August 1526) was a Castilian explorer of Basque origin who completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth. After Magellan's death in the Philippines, Elcano took command of the carrack Victoria from the Moluccas to Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain. Even though Magellan did not survive the trip, he has received more recognition for the expedition than Elcano has, since Magellan was the one who started it, since Portugal wanted to recognize a Portuguese explorer, and due to fear of Basque nationalism. In 2019, the 500th anniversary of the voyage, Spain and Magellan’s native Portugal have submitted a new joint application to UNESCO to honour the circumnavigation route.

Photo of Juan Ponce de León

4. Juan Ponce de León (1460 - 1521)

With an HPI of 77.56, Juan Ponce de León is the 4th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.

Juan Ponce de León (Spanish pronunciation: [xwan ˈponθe ðe leˈon]; 1474 – July 1521), commonly known as Ponce de León (, also UK: , US: ), was a Spanish explorer and conquistador known for leading the first official European expedition to Florida and serving as the first governor of Puerto Rico. He was born in Santervás de Campos, Valladolid, Spain in 1474. Though little is known about his family, he was of noble birth and served in the Spanish military from a young age. He first came to the Americas as a "gentleman volunteer" with Christopher Columbus's second expedition in 1493. By the early 1500s, Ponce de León was a top military official in the colonial government of Hispaniola, where he helped crush a rebellion of the native Taíno people. He was authorized to explore the neighboring island of Puerto Rico in 1508 and for serving as the first Governor of Puerto Rico by appointment of the Spanish crown in 1509. While Ponce de León grew quite wealthy from his plantations and mines, he faced an ongoing legal conflict with Diego Columbus, the late Christopher Columbus's son, over the right to govern Puerto Rico. After a long court battle, Columbus replaced Ponce de León as governor in 1511. Ponce de León decided to follow the advice of the sympathetic King Ferdinand and explore more of the Caribbean Sea. In 1513, Ponce de León led the first known European expedition to La Florida, which he named during his first voyage to the area. He landed somewhere along Florida's east coast, then charted the Atlantic coast down to the Florida Keys and north along the Gulf coast, perhaps as far as Charlotte Harbor. Though in popular culture he was supposedly searching for the Fountain of Youth, there is no contemporary evidence to support the story, which all modern historians call a myth.Ponce de León returned to Spain in 1514 and was knighted by King Ferdinand, who also re-instated him as the governor of Puerto Rico and authorized him to settle Florida. He returned to the Caribbean in 1515, but plans to organize an expedition to Florida were delayed by the death of King Ferdinand in 1516, after which Ponce de León again traveled to Spain to defend his grants and titles. He would not return to Puerto Rico for two years. In 1521, Ponce de León finally returned to southwest Florida with the first large-scale attempt to establish a Spanish colony in what is now the continental United States. However, the native Calusa people fiercely resisted the incursion, and he was seriously wounded in a skirmish. The colonization attempt was abandoned, and its leader died from his wounds soon after returning to Cuba. Ponce de León was interred in Puerto Rico, and his tomb is located inside of the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in San Juan. According to John J. Browne Ayes, 30% of the modern population of Puerto Rico descend from Juan Ponce de León and his wife.

Photo of Vasco Núñez de Balboa

5. Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475 - 1519)

With an HPI of 76.91, Vasco Núñez de Balboa is the 5th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 55 different languages.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈbasko ˈnuɲeθ ðe βalˈβo.a]; c. 1475 – around January 12–21, 1519) was a Spanish explorer, governor, and conquistador. He is best known for having crossed the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean in 1513, becoming the first European to lead an expedition to have seen or reached the Pacific from the New World. He traveled to the New World in 1500 and, after some exploration, settled on the island of Hispaniola. He founded the settlement of Santa María la Antigua del Darién in present-day Colombia in 1510, which was the first permanent European settlement on the mainland of the Americas (a settlement by Alonso de Ojeda the previous year at San Sebastián de Urabá had already been abandoned).

Photo of Francisco de Orellana

6. Francisco de Orellana (1511 - 1546)

With an HPI of 76.54, Francisco de Orellana is the 6th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 45 different languages.

Francisco de Orellana Bejarano Pizarro y Torres de Altamirano (Spanish pronunciation: [fɾanˈθisko ðe oɾeˈʝana]; 1511 – November 1546) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador. He completed the first known navigation of the entire length of the Amazon River, which initially was named "Rio de Orellana." He also founded the city of Guayaquil in what is now Ecuador. Orellana died during a second expedition on the Amazon.

Photo of Diego de Almagro

7. Diego de Almagro (1475 - 1538)

With an HPI of 73.63, Diego de Almagro is the 7th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 42 different languages.

Diego de Almagro (Spanish: [ˈdjeɣo ðe alˈmaɣɾo]; c. 1475 – July 8, 1538), also known as El Adelantado and El Viejo, was a Spanish conquistador known for his exploits in western South America. He participated with Francisco Pizarro in the Spanish conquest of Peru. While subduing the Inca Empire he laid the foundation for Quito and Trujillo as Spanish cities in present-day Ecuador and Peru respectively. From Peru Almagro led the first Spanish military expedition to central Chile. Back in Peru, a longstanding conflict with Pizarro over the control of the former Inca capital of Cuzco erupted into a civil war between the two bands of conquistadores. In the battle of Las Salinas in 1538 Almagro was defeated by the Pizarro brothers and months later he was executed.

Photo of Hernando de Soto

8. Hernando de Soto (1500 - 1542)

With an HPI of 73.19, Hernando de Soto is the 8th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.

Hernando de Soto (; Spanish: [eɾˈnando ðe ˈsoto]; c. 1500 – May 21, 1542) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who was involved in expeditions in Nicaragua and the Yucatan Peninsula, and played an important role in Pizarro's conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru, but is best known for leading the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States (through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and most likely Arkansas). He is the first European documented as having crossed the Mississippi River.De Soto's North American expedition was a vast undertaking. It ranged throughout what is now the southeastern United States, both searching for gold, which had been reported by various Native American tribes and earlier coastal explorers, and for a passage to China or the Pacific coast. De Soto died in 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River; different sources disagree on the exact location, whether it was what is now Lake Village, Arkansas, or Ferriday, Louisiana.

Photo of Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar

9. Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar (1465 - 1524)

With an HPI of 71.99, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar is the 9th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar (1465 – c. June 12, 1524) was a Spanish conquistador and first governor of Cuba. In 1511 he led the successful conquest and colonization of Cuba. As the first governor of the island, he established several municipalities that remain important to this day and positioned Cuba as a center of trade and a staging point for expeditions of conquest elsewhere. From Cuba he chartered important expeditions that led to the Spanish discovery and conquest of Mexico.

Photo of Alonso de Ojeda

10. Alonso de Ojeda (1466 - 1515)

With an HPI of 71.96, Alonso de Ojeda is the 10th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 34 different languages.

Alonso de Ojeda (Spanish pronunciation: [aˈlonso ðe oˈxeða]; c. 1466 – c. 1515) was a Spanish explorer, governor and conquistador. He travelled through Guyana, Venezuela, Trinidad, Tobago, Curaçao, Aruba and Colombia. He navigated with Amerigo Vespucci who is famous for having named Venezuela, which he explored during his first two expeditions, for having been the first European to visit Guyana, Curaçao, Colombia, and Lake Maracaibo, and later for founding Santa Cruz (La Guairita).

Pantheon has 46 people classified as explorers born between 1130 and 1742. Of these 46, none of them are still alive today. The most famous deceased explorers include Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, and Juan Sebastián Elcano.

Deceased Explorers

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