Explorers of Latin America

Sebastiano del Piombo  painted this posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus in 1519. No known portraits of Columbus exist that were painted during his lifetime.
Sebastiano del Piombo painted this posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus in 1519. No known portraits of Columbus exist that were painted during his lifetime. | Source

What is Latin America?

There are a number of definitions for Latin America. Some are based upon the languages spoken. Some are based upon geography. The one which I prefer to use is that Latin America refers to all countries and territories in the Americas south of the United States.

Where are the Americas?

The Americas are the continents of North and South America in the Western Hemisphere.

Who explored Latin America?

Among the explorers of Latin America were Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, Rodrigo de Bastidas, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa. This article provides some interesting facts about these five men.

Leo-setä photographed this replica of Columbus's ship Santa Maria in Funchal, Madeira on May 26, 2008.
Leo-setä photographed this replica of Columbus's ship Santa Maria in Funchal, Madeira on May 26, 2008. | Source

Christopher Columbus (1451 - 1506)

Christopher Columbus was a 15th century explorer born in Italy. He has often been given credit for the European discovery of the Americas in 1492, but it is now believed he was preceded by Leif Ericson, who is thought to have landed on Newfoundland nearly 500 years earlier.

Columbus proposed to reach India and East Asia by sailing on a then-unexplored westward route. The eastward sea and land routes to East Asia had existed for centuries. Columbus convinced the Spanish monarchy to finance a voyage to what he thought would be the East Indies.

Columbus made four trips to the Americas between 1492 and 1502, landing on Caribbean islands and parts of Central and South America. He was appointed Viceroy to administer the newly-discovered lands, but his administration was controversial, and he was replaced. Columbus spent most of his later years in attempts to obtain from the Spanish crown what he considered compensation for his discoveries, but he met with little success.

Central America

Amerigo Vespucci (1454 - 1512)

Amerigo Vespucci, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus, was born in Florence, Italy. As a young man, he engaged in various business ventures in Florence, but later moved to Seville, Spain. Vespucci had business connections with merchants who had outfitted Columbus, and after Columbus returned from one of his voyages to the Americas, Vespucci had the opportunity to meet him. Vespucci became interested in exploring the New World, and knew that the Spanish monarchy was interested in financing more explorations of that region.

According to a letter he wrote, Amerigo Vespucci embarked on an expedition with Spanish ships in 1497 and landed in Central America. Some scholars question whether or not Vespucci wrote the letter—or even if the expedition actually took place.

In 1499, Vespucci began a second expedition under Portuguese auspices to what is now Guyana and Brazil. He apparently discovered the mouth of the Amazon River.

On his third voyage in 1501, Vespucci explored the Atlantic coast of South America as far south as the region of Patagonia in the southern part of the continent, passing the present-day site of Rio de Janeiro.

On his fourth and final voyage in 1503, he discovered what is now the state of Bahia in Brazil and the island of South Georgia. The fourth voyage is also disputed. The only evidence of the voyage is a letter that Vespucci wrote. Scholars have concluded that the letter may have been a forgery.

Vespucci died of malaria in Spain at age 58.


South America


Amerigo Vespucci is widely thought to be the inspiration for the place name "America." In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemüler, who with other authors was working on a geography book, suggested that the area now known as Brazil be named after Vespucci, using the feminine form of Vespucci's latinized first name—Americus.

Decades later, the map maker Mercator labeled both the North and South American continents "America."

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba (1475 - 1518)

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba was a Spanish conquistador—explorer / adventurer—living in Cuba in the early 16th century. He is best known for his 1517 expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It is thought that the purpose of the expedition was to acquire slaves to work in Cuba.

After encountering a huge storm, and losing track of their position, Córdoba's three-ship expedition sighted land—the Yucatan. They spotted people and substantial buildings. Since many of the buildings were pyramids, they assumed the people they spotted were Muslims, since Muslims were the only culture besides Christians who they thought were capable of such creating such structures.


A markerYucatán Peninsula -
[get directions]


Indians in 10 large canoes rowed out to greet Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and his 100 men. The Spaniards, using sign language, attempted to learn the indian name for the land mass they had discovered. The indians responded Yucatan, which the Spaniards later learned meant "I don't understand." in a local Mayan dialect. The landing area was later referred to as Catoche.

The day after the Spaniards discovered the Yucatan, the local Mayan chief invited Córdoba and his men to come ashore. The Spaniards rowed their own launches ashore, taking muskets and crossbows with them as a precaution. After moving a distance inland, the Spaniards were ambushed by the Mayans. The Spaniards put up a fight, and the Mayans fled.

Two Mayans were captured by the Spaniards. The indians, who were renamed Julianillo and Melchorejo, were taught Spanish in Cuba. They were used as interpreters in further contacts with the Mayans.

The Spaniards lost half their men in a battle at Champotón–Potonchán in the Yucatan when they went ashore seeking water and were attacked by a large number of indians. In desperate need of water, the survivors headed to Florida, only to be attacked once again by indians. They beat the indians off, returned to their ships with the water, and sailed back to Cuba. Córdoba died a year later from wounds suffered during the expedition. Gold artifacts brought back from Champotón–Potonchán encouraged further expeditions in the Yucatan, and eventually led to the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

A Shift in Plans

The original purpose of Spanish and Portuguese explorations was to find a western route to Asia. Successive explorations along the land mass of the Americas began to convince the explorers that there was no westward water passage, at least between 32S and 16N latitudes, so the focus shifted to exploring the Americas.

Rodrigo de Bastidas (1460 - 1527)

Rodrigo de Bastidas was a wealthy Spanish notary who obtained a license from the Spanish crown to discover new lands in the Americas. He had already sailed to the New World with a previous expedition, and in 1500 he set out with two ships. In his company was Vasco Núñez de Balboa. They reached land in what is now Venezuela, and along the top of South America to what is now Colombia.

Along the way, Bastidas traded trinkets to the indians for gold. They continued west along the Atlantic coast of what is now Panama, and Bastidos and his crew accordingly are deemed the discoverers of that area. At this point, the ships began leaking as the wooden hulls were being attacked by sea worms, so Bastidas turned back eastward and headed for Santo Domingo in the Spanish colony of Hispaniola. A storm drove them to Jamaica instead, where they landed and obtained wood for repairs and water, and headed east again. The leaks became worse, and they barely made it to what is now Haiti, at which point the ships sank. Bastidas split his group into three parties to go overland to Santo Domingo, dividing the gold among the parties to trade for food.


Venezuela and Colombia


Back in Santo Domingo, Bastidas was imprisoned for exceeding his license to trade with the indians, but he was eventually pardoned. On a further expedition into Colombia to trade for gold, he angered some of his men because of his policy of not sharing the gold. Some of his men stabbed him while he was sleeping. He tried to sail to Santo Domingo to get medical attention, but was diverted by bad weather to Cuba, where he died of his wounds.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa (c1475 - c1517)

Vasco Núñez de Balboa was a member of Rodrigo de Bastida's expedition from Spain. After a little exploration of the Colombian coast, Balboa used his profits to attempt farming in Hispaniola, but he failed at that. Trying to escape creditors, Balboa stowed away on a ship that was part of an expedition led by Martín Fernández de Enciso. He was discovered aboard ship, but avoided being killed or arrested because it was thought his knowledge of the Panama coast would be useful.

Balboa suggested a location to set up a permanent settlement, where he said the land was fertile and the indians were less warlike. His suggestion was accepted, but upon reaching the site in 1510, 500 indian warriors were waiting for them. The Spanish won a difficult battle, and after the indians withdrew, the Spanish founded Santa Maria, the first permanent European settlement on mainland America.


Panama


Balboa later became Spanish governor of the surrounding territory. There followed for the next few years a series of expeditions into the Panamanian interior where Balboa used force, diplomacy, and negotiations to subdue the various indian groups.

Upon hearing claims from the indians of "another sea," Vasco Núñez de Balboa launched an expedition in 1513 across the Isthmus of Panama, and made the European discovery of the Pacific Ocean, which he called the South Sea. (The South Sea was later renamed the Pacific Ocean by Ferdinand Magellan.)

Pedrarias Dávila, a new governor of the Santa Maria area arrived, and a power rivalry between Balboa and Dávila ensued. Balboa was arrested and executed by decapitation in 1519.

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Comments 36 comments

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I guess I was out the day we learned about Vespucci in history class. Thank you for the education on this explorer. Another great hub post that has taught me something new. Voted up++


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Dianna (teaches12345),

Thanks for reading my article and being the first person to comment.

Some of Amerigo Vespucci's contributions to the exploration of Latin America were somewhat dubious, so I would imagine that some school systems didn't stress discussions about the man.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 3 years ago from Dubai

Very interesting and informative. A great insight into the explorers of Latin America. Voted up.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nithya (Vellur),

Thanks for reading and commenting in my article. I appreciate your continued support of my writing.

The explorers of Latin America led some very interesting lives. I learned a lot while doing my research for this article.


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

Very interesting article! Those men were great men when you think of what they went through to discover different parts of the world! Now we can go almost everywhere in the world in about a day sitting comfortably (more or less) without having to fight storms, people or sickness.

Voted Up and Interesting :-)


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Joelle (kidscrafts),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment.

You're so right about travel... Think how long it took these explorers to get from Europe to the New World. Then, think how easy it is for to travel from North America to Europe or Asia.


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 3 years ago from United States

Daisy, this hub was a brush up for my kid who is currently learning about discovery of America and all these rulers. He was super-excited reading through it and I learnt a few pointers as well.

Thanks a bunch!

Voted up as interesting/useful

Sharing it across


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Hi Daisy, fascinating look at these great explorers, some I had obviously heard of but others seem to have faded into the past. Amazing to think of what they all went through, and how they did it, wonderful hub!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Ruchira,

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I enjoy writing gently educational articles. I'm glad this Hub was helpful to your son and that you also learned some things by reading it.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nell,

Thanks for reading my article and posting a comment. I had forgotten a lot of what I had learned in school about the exploration of the New World. Researching and writing this article was a great refresher course for me.


midget38 profile image

midget38 3 years ago from Singapore

Thanks for the added insight into the subject of Latin explorers, truly adventurous men. I am more familiar with Columbus and Vespucci, of course, and thanks for introducing me to the others!! Shared, Daisy.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Michelle (midget38),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub. I appreciate your support of my writing.

There were several other explorers I could have discussed, but I wanted to limit my article to just five men. Vasco Núñez de Balboa's name is attached to a number of locations in Southern California...among others, an island in Orange County and a park in the city of San Diego.


agusfanani profile image

agusfanani 3 years ago from Indonesia

A very interesting story about explorers. I didn't know those brave, adventurous explorers. A lot of information revealed and becomes knowledge for generations after them thanked to those discoverers too.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Agus (agusfanani),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I'm glad you learned something new by reading my Hub.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean

Thanks for taking me on a revisit to my history class. I enjoyed it. The group of Caribbean islands in which I live is called the West Indies, because when Columbus landed there, he thought he had reached the shores of India (so I was taught). Later to identify the real India, the names "East Indies" and "West Indies" were created.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

MsDora,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and adding your insightful comment. It's wonderful hearing from someone who lives in the region I discussed in my Hub.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 3 years ago from Orange County, CA

I'm wondering why they gave Amerigo's name to the New World, when his discoveries do not seem to compare with the efforts of the others? Another excellent trip into history. Voting this Up and Useful.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Aurelio (alocsin),

Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. America being named for Amerigo Vespucci was a map maker's error. We have Mercator to thank for this.

In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemüler, who with other authors was working on a geography book, suggested that the area now known as Brazil be named after Vespucci, using the feminine form of Vespucci's latinized first name—Americus. Decades later, the map maker Mercator labeled both the North and South American continents "America."


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 3 years ago from North-East UK

I knew some of this but I'm ahamed to say, not enough. I love that 'Yucatan' meant 'I don't understand' Ha Ha! You can't help but be impressed by all of these men. The world was still an undiscovered adventure but they had to endure so much to achieve their goals.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Julie (Jools99),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. The adventures undertaken by these early explorers were incredible. To travel so far in small wooden ships is amazing.


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

Daisy I read about Columbus in my history/geography class when I was in school. I admit I had forgotten about many things.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Vinaya,

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I appreciate your continued support of my writing.

I learned about the explorers when I was in school, but since I haven't needed to use the information, I had forgotten much of what I learned. Doing the research for this article was a good refresher course for me.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 3 years ago from UK

Great Intro to the explorers of Americas- I remember from being in the school Quiz team that the Americas were named after Vespucci! It is good to know about the other little known adventurers from the age of discovery! Up/ awesome.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mohan (Docmo),

Thanks very much for reading my article and posting your comment. I appreciate your continuous support of my writing.

I don't remember learning about all of these early explorers of the New World while I was in school. I'm glad I dug into this subject. Some of the information was new to me.


jainismus profile image

jainismus 2 years ago from Pune, India

Interesting information, thank you for sharing it.


cfin profile image

cfin 2 years ago from The World we live in

Columbus "discovered" nothing. Glad you agree. "There was people here when he arrived" comes to mind.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mahavir (jainismus),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I'm glad you found my Hub to be interesting.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

cfin.

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment.


cam8510 profile image

cam8510 2 years ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

Thank you for this excellent information and for making it so easy to read and follow. I suppose I understand an expedition in search of gold, but in search of slaves? No wonder so much of the history was purged from our textbooks. But the truth comes out, even if it is centuries later. Thanks again for this wonderful hub.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Chris (cam8510),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I appreciate your very kind words about my writing.

A lot of the information in my Hub was not readily available while I was doing the research for my article. I had to "dig" to find it.


ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

I remember learning about all of these explorers when I was in elementary school. This article would make a good resource for history teachers.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

ologsinquito,

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I appreciate your very kind words.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 22 months ago from Nashville Tn.

My brother was a missionary in Oaxaca for 2 years. I think this was in the '60s. He found both beauty and poverty while he was their. He spoke spanish fluently.

I appreciate this history lesson as I'd forgotten some of these facts. What brave men these early explorers were. Up, useful, awesome, interesting and sharing.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 22 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Audrey (vocalcoach),

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. Thanks, too, for telling us about your brother. He was also an explorer, a more "modern day" one. I appreciate your continued support of my writing, including sharing this Hub.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 10 months ago from Ontario, Canada

Explorers always have varied motives and mostly would go to enrich themselves. The fact that they brought such knowledge of these places earned them their place in history. Now, we know more about these voyages and will surely change some of what we've learned.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 10 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mary (aesta1),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Until I did the research for and wrote this Hub, I had not heard of all of these explorers.

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