Famous Spanish Explorers

Painting of Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto

Introduction - Spanish Explorers

A discussion on famous explorers in history would be incomplete without information on famous Spanish explorers. Some of greatest explorations in history were made by these brave explorers and conquistadors who sailed for Spain. What you will find on this page is a list of some of the main motives that drove these great explorers to take the great risk involved in their explorations. This is followed by a list of who some of these great Spanish explorers were and where they traveled. Some of the names listed here will be familiar to every kid from school history lessons and some you may never have heard of.

In the late 1400s Spain was poised to become one of the greatest empires the world had ever seen. With the marriage of Princess Isabella of Castile to Ferdinand of Aragon political unity was brought to Spain ending years of internal strife. Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V of Spain formed a powerful empire. In 1492 they financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus which resulted in the discovery of America. This discovery set off a frenzy of Spanish exploration and conquest which would result in Spain's dominance in the New World.

Famous Spanish Explorers Main Motives

Famous Spanish Explorers List and Description

Below is a list of several famous Spanish explorers; many of these explorers are referred to as conquistadors which means a leader in the 16th century Spanish conquest of Native American Indians.

Hernando Cortes

Hernando Cortes was one of the first Spanish Conquistadors. He attacked and caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and in doing so brought much of modern day Mexico under Spanish control. He was a ruthless commander known for slaughtering thousands of natives.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado

This great explorer explored what is now the southwest United States. He also was made governor of the Spanish colony New Galacia.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Vasco Nunez de Balboa was a great explorer (conquistador) who is best known for discovering the Pacific coast of the Americas; which he promptly claimed belonged to Spain.

Juan Ponce de Leon

Ponce de Leon was the first European to explore Florida and he founded the oldest settlement in Puerto Rico. He is also famous for searching for the Fountain of Youth in Florida; however there is no historical record that this was ever a motive his explorations.

Hernando de Soto

This famous Spanish explorer is best known for being the first European to journey deep into what is today the United States of America. He is also the first known European to spot and cross the Mississippi River.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

This explorer is best known for being the first European to explore the coast of what is today the state of California. Mining for gold in modern-day Guatemala brought him great wealth.