16th Century Explorers

Find out more about the greatest 16th Century Explorers, including Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, Amerigo Vespucci, Juan Ponce de León and Samuel de Champlain.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite 16th Century Explorers

 1 
Hernán Cortés
(1st and 3rd Governor of New Spain)

Hernán Cortés
10
Birthdate: 1485 AD
Birthplace: Medellín, Spain
Died: December 2, 1547
Spanish "Conquistador" Hernán Cortés was one of the pioneers of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. He conquered the Aztec Empire and helped bring a massive portion of Mexico under the King of Castile’s rule in 16th century. As a reward, he was named the Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca.

 2 
Francis Drake
(Best Known for His Circumnavigation of the World in a Single Expedition)

Francis Drake
14
Birthdate: 1540 AD
Birthplace: Tavistock, Devon, England
Died: January 28, 1596

Francis Drake was an English explorer and naval officer. He is remembered for his Raiding Expedition, a prominent historical maritime event which unfolded between 1577 and 1580. Although Drake is considered a hero in the United Kingdom, his privateering led the Spanish to refer to him as a pirate. His expedition has also had a major cultural impact in Britain.

 3 
Amerigo Vespucci
(Discoverer of South America)

Amerigo Vespucci
7
Birthdate: March 9, 1454
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Florence
Died: February 22, 1512

Amerigo Vespucci was a merchant, navigator, and explorer. Credited with participating in two major voyages of the Age of Discovery, Vespucci's claim that the New World represented a new continent inspired cartographers to associate the name America (a Latinized form of his first name) to the newly discovered continents.

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 4 
Walter Raleigh
(Politician, Writer, Explorer)

Walter Raleigh
14
Birthdate: 1552 AD
Birthplace: Hayes Barton, England
Died: October 29, 1618
English explorer Walter Raleigh is best remembered for his involvement in the Siege of Smerwick and for colonizing North America. He made smoking tobacco popular in England. His accounts of his first voyage to South America led to the legend of El Dorado. He was executed to please the Spanish.

 5 

Juan Ponce de León
6
Birthdate: 1474 AD
Birthplace: Santervás de Campos
Died: June 30, 1521

Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de León was the first governor of Puerto Rico but had to give away the governorship to Christopher Columbus's son, Diego. Juan led the first European expedition to Florida. He was knighted by King Ferdinand but died in an attempt to colonize coastal U.S.

 6 

Samuel de Champlain
10
Birthdate: August 13, 1574
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Hiers-Brouage, Marennes-Hiers-Brouage, France
Died: December 25, 1635

Samuel de Champlain was a French colonist, navigator, draftsman, soldier, and explorer who made between 21 and 29 trips across the Atlantic Ocean. He founded Quebec and New France and is considered an important figure in Canadian history. He is also referred to as the "Father of New France." As a businessman, he founded many trading companies.

 7 

Hernando de Soto
4
Birthdate: 1500 AD
Birthplace: Province of Badajoz, Spain
Died: May 21, 1542

Hernando de Soto was a Spanish conquistador and explorer best remembered for his expeditions in the Yucatan Peninsula and Nicaragua. The first documented European to have crossed the Mississippi River, Hernando de Soto is also remembered for guiding the first European expedition into the territory of the present-day USA. He also played a key role in the Conquest of Peru.

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 8 
Vasco Núñez de Balboa
(Spanish Explorer)

Vasco Núñez de Balboa
6
Birthdate: 1475 AD
Birthplace: Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain
Died: January 15, 1519

Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa became the first European to reach the Pacific from the New World, when he crossed the Isthmus of Panama. He is remembered for his long-term conflict with Spanish administrator Pedrarias, who eventually charged Balboa with treason and ill-treatment of Indians. Balboa was eventually beheaded.

 9 

Pedro Álvares Cabral
3
Birthdate: 1467 AD
Birthplace: Belmonte, Portugal
Died: 1520 AD

Pedro Álvares Cabral was a Portuguese nobleman, navigator, explorer, and military commander. Regarded as a prominent figure of the Age of Discovery, Cabral is often remembered as one of the earliest Europeans to set his foot on Brazil. Pedro Álvares Cabral is also remembered for his voyage to India in a failed attempt to return to Europe with valuable spices.

 10 

Alvar N. C. de Vaca
4
Birthdate: 1490 AD
Birthplace: Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Died: May 27, 1559

Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca led an expedition to Galveston, Texas, although most of his men died during the voyage. De Vaca then wandered around with the Native Americans, pretending to be a healer, and eventually reached Mexico. He later became the governor of Rio de la Plata.

 11 
William Adams
(Navigator)

William Adams
4
Birthdate: September 24, 1564
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Gillingham, England
Died: May 16, 1620

One of the first-known Westerner to gain the title of samurai, William Adams, also known as Anjin Miura, was an English navigator who explored uncharted territories for his country. Apart from being the first Englishman to travel to Thailand and Japan, he was also the third from his country to travel to Vietnam.

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
3
Birthdate: 1510 AD
Birthplace: Salamanca
Died: September 22, 1554

While Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado set out to find the mythical Seven Golden Cities of Cíbola, he discovered natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river instead. His later exploration of Kansas, too, yielded nothing but sightings of the Natives who lived there.

 13 

Juan Sebastián Elcano
3
Birthdate: November 30, 1476
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Getaria, Spain
Died: August 4, 1526
Though Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan had started the first circumnavigation of the world, it was Basque explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano who completed it after Magellan’s death, manning the two ships left, despite issues such as scurvy and starvation. Elcano eventually died on a failed expedition to the Molucca Islands.

 14 

Antonio Pigafetta
3
Birthdate: 1491 AD
Birthplace: Vicenza, Italy
Died: 1531 AD

Antonio Pigafetta was an Italian explorer and scholar. He was part of the famous expedition to the Spice Islands, which was led by Ferdinand Magellan. Pigafetta served as Magellan's assistant during the expedition and kept a journal, which is the first recorded document pertaining to the Cebuano language. Antonio Pigafetta was among the men who achieved the world's first circumnavigation.

 15 
Miguel López de Legazpi
(Navigator and Governor Who Established the First Spanish Settlement in the East Indies)

Miguel López de Legazpi
4
Birthdate: 1502 AD
Birthplace: Zumarraga, Spain
Died: August 20, 1572

 16 
Juan de Oñate
(1st Spanish Governor of New Mexico)

Juan de Oñate
3
Birthdate: 1550 AD
Birthplace: Zacatecas, Mexico
Died: June 4, 1626

 17 
Diego Columbus
(Navigator)

Diego Columbus
4
Birthdate: April 1, 1479
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Porto Santo Island, Portugal
Died: February 23, 1526

Diego Columbus was an explorer and navigator who served under the Kings of Aragón and Castile. The oldest son of Christopher Columbus, Diego spent most of his time trying to regain the privileges and titles granted to his father and then denied in 1500.

 18 
John White
(Governor of the Second Attempt to Found Roanoke Colony on the Same Island in 1587)

John White
3
Birthdate: 1539 AD
Birthplace: London, England
Died: 1593 AD

 19 
Pedro de Alvarado
(Conquistador, Explorer)

Pedro de Alvarado
3
Birthdate: 1485 AD
Birthplace: Badajoz, Spain
Died: July 4, 1541

Pedro de Alvarado was a Spanish conquistador who later became the governor of Guatemala. He took part in the conquest of Cuba and the conquest of Mexico led by Hernán Cortés. He is credited to have conquered much of Central America. Extremely cold-hearted, he was notorious for his cruelty towards the natives. He died in the Mixtón War in 1541.  

 20 

Martin Frobisher
4
Birthdate: 1535 AD
Birthplace: Altofts, England
Died: November 21, 1594

 21 
Lope de Aguirre
(Conquistador)

Lope de Aguirre
3
Birthdate: November 8, 1510
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Oñate, Spain
Died: October 27, 1561

Lope de Aguirre was a Spanish conquistador who lived and worked in South America. Dubbed the Madman, Aguirre is best remembered for his final expedition in search of Omagua and a mythical golden Kingdom known as El Dorado. Lope de Aguirre was killed during his last expedition down the Amazon River. Over the years, he has been antagonized in arts.

 22 
Willem Janszoon
(Navigator)

Willem Janszoon
4
Birthdate: 1570 AD
Birthplace: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died: 1630 AD

Willem Janszoon was a Dutch colonial governor and navigator who served in the Dutch East Indies in the early 1600s. He is best remembered for captaining the first recorded European landing on Australia in 1606.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
3
Birthdate: February 15, 1519
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Avilés, Asturias, Spain
Died: September 17, 1574

Remembered as the founder of St. Augustine in Florida, USA, Spanish admiral and explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés has also been credited with planning the first regular trans-Atlantic convoys. Ruthlessly loyal to the Spanish king, he massacred the entire population of a nearby French post and established a string of forts along the Atlantic coast to protect Spanish interests.

 24 
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo
(Former Explorer known for First European in California)

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo
4
Birthdate: March 13, 1499
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Palma del Río, Spain
Died: January 3, 1543

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was an Iberian maritime explorer. He is best remembered for his explorations of the west coast of North America, which he undertook on behalf of the Spanish Empire. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo is also remembered as the first European to explore modern-day California.  

 25 
Panfilo de Narváez
(Conquistador)

Panfilo de Narváez
3
Birthdate: 1478 AD
Birthplace: Castile, Spain
Died: October 31, 1528

Panfilo de Narváez was a Spanish soldier and conquistador in the Americas. He is best remembered for his role in the conquest of Cuba where he led an expedition to Camagüey while escorting the famed historian and social reformer Bartolomé de las Casas. Panfilo de Narváez is also remembered for leading two failed expeditions in the 1520s.

 26 

Francisco de Almeida
4
Birthdate: 1450 AD
Birthplace: Lisbon, Portugal
Died: March 1, 1510

Francisco de Almeida was a Portuguese nobleman, explorer, and soldier. He served as a counsellor to John II of Portugal and played an important role during the conquest of Granada and in the battles against the Moors. Francisco de Almeida also served as the first viceroy and governor of Portuguese India in the early 1500s.

 27 

Christopher Newport
4
Birthdate: 1450 AD, 1561
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Limehouse
Died: 1617 AD

 28 
Sebastian Cabot
(Former Explorer)

Sebastian Cabot
3
Birthdate: 1474 AD
Birthplace: Venice, Italy
Died: 1557 AD

 29 
Pedro de Valdivia
(Explorer, Military personnel)

Pedro de Valdivia
3
Birthdate: April 17, 1497
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Castuera
Died: December 25, 1553

 30 

Richard Hakluyt
3
Birthdate: 1553 AD
Birthplace: London, England
Died: November 23, 1616

English geographer Richard Hakluyt is remembered for his marked political influence and his continuous support of the British colonization of North America. A priest, he was associated with the Westminster Abbey. He also penned reports such as Discourse of Western Planting, which was appreciated by Queen Elizabeth I.

 31 
Bartholomew Columbus
(Italian Explorer and the Younger Brother of Christopher Columbus)

Bartholomew Columbus
5
Birthdate: 1461 AD
Birthplace: Genoa, Italy
Died: August 12, 1514

 32 
Ruy López de Villalobos
(Explorer Who Sailed the Pacific From Mexico to Establish a Permanent Foothold for Spain)

Ruy López de Villalobos
3
Birthdate: 1500 AD
Birthplace: Málaga, Spain
Died: April 4, 1544

Alonso Álvarez de Pineda
3
Birthdate: 1494 AD
Birthplace: Aldeacentenera, Spain
Died: 1520 AD

 34 
Humphrey Gilbert
(Adventurer)

Humphrey Gilbert
3
Birthdate: September 9, 1539
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: England
Died: September 9, 1583

 35 
Willem Barentsz
(Navigator)

Willem Barentsz
4
Birthdate: 1550 AD
Birthplace: Terschelling, Netherlands
Died: June 20, 1597

Willem Barentsz was a Dutch cartographer, navigator, and Arctic explorer. Barentsz was part of three expeditions in search of a Northeast passage to the far north. Although the first two expeditions were unsuccessful, Willem Barentsz and his crew discovered Bear Island and Spitsbergen during their third expedition. Many places, including the Barents Sea, have been named in his honor.

 36 
Robert Dudley
(Explorer)

Robert Dudley
3
Birthdate: August 7, 1574
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Richmond Palace, Surrey, England
Died: September 6, 1649

 37 

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar
3
Birthdate: 1465 AD
Birthplace: Cuellar, Spain
Died: June 12, 1524

 38 

Yermak Timofeyevich
3
Birthdate: 1532 AD
Birthplace: Chusovaya River, Russia
Died: August 6, 1585

 39 
Jean Ribault
(Was a French Naval officer, Navigator)

Jean Ribault
2
Birthdate: 1520 AD
Birthplace: Dieppe, France
Died: October 12, 1565

 40 
Alonso de Ojeda
(First European to Visit Guyana, Curaçao, Colombia, and Lake Maracaibo)

Alonso de Ojeda
2
Birthdate: 1466 AD
Birthplace: Torrejoncillo del Rey, Spain
Died: 1515 AD

 41 

Thomas Cavendish
2
Birthdate: September 19, 1560
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Trimley St Martin
Died: April 30, 1592

 42 
Hans Staden
(Former German soldier and explorer who voyaged to South America in the middle of the sixteenth century)

Hans Staden
2
Birthdate: 1525 AD
Birthplace: Homberg, Germany
Died: July 30, 1576

Catalina de Erauso
2
Birthdate: 1592 AD
Birthplace: Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain
Died: 1650 AD

Catalina de Erauso was a Spanish nun who fled from the convent and travelled around Spain and Spanish America. She did several odd jobs disguised as a man and also served as a soldier of fortune in Bolivia, Chile, Perú, and Argentina before returning to Spain where she supposedly visited the Pope. She became a muleteer in her later life.

 44 
Juan de la Cosa
(Navigator and Cartographer, known for designing the earliest European world map)

Juan de la Cosa
2
Birthdate: 1460 AD
Birthplace: Santoña, Spain
Died: February 28, 1510

Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada
2
Birthdate: 1509 AD
Birthplace: Córdoba, Spain
Died: February 16, 1579

Legend has it that Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada had inspired the character Don Quixote penned by Cervantes. Initially a lawyer, Quesada later gained fame as a Spanish conquistador and explored parts Colombia, then known as New Granada. He also made unsuccessful voyages in search of El Dorado.

 46 
Gonzalo Pizarro
(Conquistador)

Gonzalo Pizarro
2
Birthdate: 1510 AD
Birthplace: Trujillo, Spain
Died: April 10, 1548

Gonzalo Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador best remembered as the paternal half-brother of another popular conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who conquered the Inca Empire. Gonzalo Pizarro and his brothers, who were collectively known as the Pizarro brothers, were also involved in the search of a mythical golden Kingdom known as El Dorado.

Duarte Barbosa
3
Birthdate: 0000 AD
Birthplace: Portugal
Died: May 1, 1521

Duarte Barbosa was a Portuguese writer best remembered for his work The Book of Duarte Barbosa, which is one of the oldest paradigms of Portuguese travel literature. Barbosa was part of the first voyage to circumnavigate the world in 1519. Barbosa is also remembered for his work as a scrivener in Kochi, India, where he was an interpreter of Malayalam.

 48 
Martin Behaim
(Geographer and navigator)

Martin Behaim
4
Birthdate: October 6, 1459
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Nürnberg, Germany
Died: July 29, 1507

Martin Behaim was a German cartographer and textile merchant best remembered for producing the oldest surviving terrestrial globe, the Erdapfel. Behaim was an adviser to John II of Portugal who consulted him in matters of navigation. Martin Behaim also took part in an expedition to West Africa.

Gaspar Corte-Real
2
Birthdate: 0000 AD

 50 

Andrés de Urdaneta
2
Birthdate: November 30, 1508
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Ordizia, Spain
Died: June 3, 1568