Famous Spanish Explorers

Explorers and discoverers held a quintessential position in the old world civilization due to the nature of their work. Brave and courageous, explorers journeyed through oceans and deserts to find new lands and water. While some were motivated by the basic instinct of knowing the unknown, most others explored new lands for wealth, power, prestige and trade. Spreading of religion and expanding the empire were other important motives that prompted explorers and discoverers. Just like explorers from round the globe, Spanish explorers undertook voyages of discovery to spread the Spanish Empire and spread Catholic faith. Some of the most famous amongst them include Juan Ponce de Leon - the first European to set foot in Florida and establish the oldest European settlement in Puerto Rico, Juan de Onate y Salazar - the first to establish the colony of New Mexico for Spain, Fray Marcos de Niza - a priest who travelled the fabled seven golden cities and even reached the shores of America and Captai Alonso Alvarez de Pineda - a map maker who became the first European to set foot in Texas. Others include Hernando de Soto, Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar and so on. Check this section to get details about the life and profile of Spanish explorers.

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

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 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 

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.

 3 
Francisco Pizarro
(Spanish conquistador)

Francisco Pizarro
6
Birthdate: March 16, 1478
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Trujillo, Spain
Died: June 26, 1541

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.

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 4 

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.

 5 
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.

 6 

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.

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.

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 8 
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

 9 
Juan de Oñate
(1st Spanish Governor of New Mexico)

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

 10 
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.

 11 
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.  

 12 

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.

 13 
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.

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.

 15 
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.  

 16 
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.

 17 
Pedro de Valdivia
(Explorer, Military personnel)

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

 18 
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

 20 

Diego de Almagro
3
Birthdate: 1475 AD
Birthplace: Almagro, Ciudad Real
Died: July 8, 1538

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.   

 21 

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

 22 
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

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.

 24 
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.

 26 
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.

 27 

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

 28 

Sebastián de Belalcázar
2
Birthdate: 1479 AD
Birthplace: Benalcazar, Spain
Died: April 21, 1551

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.

 29 
Antonio de Ulloa
(Astronomer, Explorer, Meteorologist)

Antonio de Ulloa
2
Birthdate: January 12, 1716
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Seville
Died: July 3, 1795

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.

 30 

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón
3
Birthdate: 1480 AD
Birthplace: Toledo, Spain
Died: October 18, 1526

 31 

Pedro de Mendoza
2
Birthdate: June 22, 1487
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Guadix, Granada, Spain
Died: June 23, 1537

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.

 32 

Martín Alonso Pinzón
2
Birthdate: 1441 AD
Birthplace: Palos de la Frontera, Spain
Died: 1493 AD

 33 
Adrián de Moxica
(Explorer, Noblemen)

Adrián de Moxica
0
Birthdate: 1453 AD
Birthplace: Spanish
Died: 1499 AD

 34 
Juan de Grijalva
(Conquistador)

Juan de Grijalva
2
Birthdate: 1489 AD
Birthplace: Cuéllar, Spain
Died: January 21, 1527

 35 

Juan de Zumárraga
2
Birthdate: 1468 AD
Birthplace: Durango, Spain
Died: June 3, 1548

 36 

Juan Díaz de Solís
1
Birthdate: 1470 AD
Birthplace: Lebrija, Spain
Died: January 20, 1516

 37 
Manuel Lisa
(Explorer)

Manuel Lisa
1
Birthdate: September 8, 1772
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died: August 12, 1820

 38 
Gaspar de Carvajal
(Missionary, Explorers)

Gaspar de Carvajal
2
Birthdate: 1500 AD
Birthplace: Trujillo, Spain
Died: 1584 AD

 39 
Juan Fernández
(Explorer)

Juan Fernández
1
Birthdate: 1536 AD
Birthplace: Cartagena, Spain
Died: 1604 AD

 40 
Ruy González de Clavijo
(Spanish diplomat)

Ruy González de Clavijo
1
Birthdate: 0000 AD
Birthplace: Madrid
Died: April 2, 1412

 41 
Pedro Páez
(Missionary)

Pedro Páez
1
Birthdate: 1564 AD
Birthplace: Olmeda de las Fuentes, Spain
Died: May 22, 1622

 42 

Silvestre Vélez de Escalante
1
Birthdate: 1750 AD
Birthplace: Spain
Died: 1780 AD