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.
Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador best remembered for his expeditions that eventually paved the way for the Spanish conquest of Peru. Along with Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Pizarro became the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean after crossing the Isthmus of Panama. After two failed expeditions to Peru, Pizarro led a third and successful campaign to conquer Peru.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia served the Spanish army under Charles I. He led an expedition into Chile where he founded the cities of Santiago, Concepción and Valdivia, the latter was named after him. He extended Spanish rule south to the Biobío River and served as 1st Royal Governor of Chile. He also held-office as 2nd Adelantado of Terra Australis.
Diego de Almagro was a Spanish conquistador best remembered for his role in the Spanish conquest of Peru alongside fellow conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Diego is also credited with laying the foundation for cities like Trujillo and Quito in present-day Peru and Ecuador, respectively.
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.
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.
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.
Sebastián de Belalcázar was a Spanish conquistador best remembered for founding some of the most prominent early colonial cities in South America. He is credited with founding important cities like Quito, Cali, Popayán, and Pasto. Sebastián de Belalcázar is also remembered for leading expeditions in present-day Colombia and Ecuador.
Spanish mariner Antonio de Ulloa was sent by the government to explore America and ended up being captured by the British while returning. His scientific zeal made him a Fellow of the Royal Society there. He is remembered for his metallurgical, astronomical, and geographical discoveries and treatises.
Pedro de Mendoza was a Spanish conquistador, explorer, and soldier who served as the first adelantado of New Andalusia. He is best remembered for exploring South America at his own expense and founding the city of Buenos Aires in 1536. Pedro de Mendoza suffered from syphilis throughout his life which made him ineffective as a leader.