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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, 49 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 81.70, Hernán Cortés is the most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 135 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.

Photo of Francisco Pizarro

2. Francisco Pizarro (1478 - 1541)

With an HPI of 79.19, Francisco Pizarro is the 2nd most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 82 different languages.

Francisco Pizarro González, Marquess of the Atabillos (; Spanish: [fɾanˈθisko piˈθaro]; c. 16 March 1478 – 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 see the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. 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 manoeuvres, 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, he founded the city of Lima. Pizarro eventually fell victim to political power struggles and was assassinated in 1541.

Photo of Juan Sebastián Elcano

3. Juan Sebastián Elcano (1476 - 1526)

With an HPI of 73.45, Juan Sebastián Elcano is the 3rd most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 57 different languages.

Juan Sebastián Elcano (Elkano in modern Basque; sometimes given as del Cano; 1486/1487 – 4 August 1526) was a Spanish navigator, ship-owner and explorer of Basque origin from Getaria, part of the Crown of Castile when he was born, best known for having completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth in the ship Victoria on the Magellan expedition to the Spice Islands. He received recognition for his achievement by Charles I of Spain with a coat of arms bearing a globe and the Latin motto Primus circumdedisti me (You were the first to circumnavigate me).Despite his achievements, information on Elcano is scarce and he is the subject of great historiographical controversy, because of the scarcity of original sources which illuminate his private life and personalty. Even in Spain, for example, the first biographies about him were written in the second half of the 19th century, after three centuries of neglect by historians. Following his success, the king entrusted him with another large expedition to the Spice Islands, headed by the nobleman García Jofre de Loaisa, which was not completed. Elcano died in the Pacific Ocean during this venture.

Photo of Vasco Núñez de Balboa

4. Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475 - 1519)

With an HPI of 69.80, Vasco Núñez de Balboa is the 4th 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

5. Francisco de Orellana (1511 - 1546)

With an HPI of 69.04, Francisco de Orellana is the 5th 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. In one of the most improbably successful voyages in known history, Orellana managed to sail the length of the Amazon, arriving at the river's mouth on 24 August 1542. He and his party sailed along the Atlantic coast until reaching Cubagua Island, near the coast of Venezuela. Orellana founded the city of Guayaquil in what is now Ecuador, and died during a second expedition on the Amazon.

Photo of Juan Ponce de León

6. Juan Ponce de León (1460 - 1521)

With an HPI of 68.32, Juan Ponce de León is the 6th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.

Juan Ponce de León (, also UK: , US: , Spanish: [ˈxwam ˈponθe ðe leˈon]; 1474 – July 1521) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador known for leading the first official European expedition to Florida and for 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 to take office 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 Colón, 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; historian John Reed Swanton believed that he sailed perhaps as far as Apalachee Bay on Florida's western coast. Though in popular culture he was supposedly searching for the Fountain of Youth, there is no contemporary evidence to support the story, which most modern historians consider a myth.Ponce de León returned to Spain in 1514 and was knighted by King Ferdinand, who also reinstated 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 March 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 Ponce de Léon was seriously wounded in a skirmish. The colonization attempt was abandoned, and he died from his wounds soon after returning to Cuba in early July. He was interred in Puerto Rico; his tomb is located inside the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in San Juan.

Photo of Diego de Almagro

7. Diego de Almagro (1475 - 1538)

With an HPI of 65.48, Diego de Almagro is the 7th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 44 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 Lope de Aguirre

8. Lope de Aguirre (1518 - 1561)

With an HPI of 63.04, Lope de Aguirre is the 8th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

Lope de Aguirre (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈlope ðe aˈɣire]; 8 November 1510 – 27 October 1561) was a Basque Spanish conquistador who was active in South America. Nicknamed El Loco ("the Madman"), he styled himself "Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom." Aguirre is best known for his final expedition down the Amazon river in search of the mythical golden Kingdom El Dorado and Omagua. In 1561, Aguirre led a mutiny against the expedition's commander, Pedro de Orsúa, and declared his intent to return to Peru and overthrow Spain's colonial government. He sent a letter that defied the Spanish monarch Philip II by renouncing his Spanish vassalage and declared war upon the Habsburg monarch. Aguirre's expedition ended with his death, and in the years since then he has been treated by historians as a symbol of cruelty and treachery in the early history of colonial Spanish America, and has become an antihero in literature, cinema and other arts.

Photo of Hernando de Soto

9. Hernando de Soto (1500 - 1542)

With an HPI of 63.00, Hernando de Soto is the 9th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 62 different languages.

Hernando de Soto (; Spanish: [eɾˈnando ðe ˈsoto]; c. 1500 – 21 May, 1542) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who was involved in expeditions in Nicaragua and the Yucatan Peninsula. He played an important role in Francisco 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

10. Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar (1465 - 1524)

With an HPI of 62.86, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar is the 10th most famous Spanish Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar (1465 – c. June 12, 1524) was a Spanish conquistador and the 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 the Aztec Empire.

Pantheon has 49 people classified as explorers born between 1130 and 1742. Of these 49, none of them are still alive today. The most famous deceased explorers include Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, and Juan Sebastián Elcano. As of April 2022, 2 new explorers have been added to Pantheon including Pascual de Andagoya and Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón.

Deceased Explorers

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Newly Added Explorers (2022)

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