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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.