Discovering the World: Interactive Map of Magellan's Route

Embark on an extraordinary historical journey as we delve into Magellan’s route around the world.

In 1519, a Portugese-Spanish explorer named Ferdinand Magellan, with the support of the 18-year-old King Charles of Spain, planned and organized a voyage around the world. The purpose of the trip was to find a western route to the Spice Islands (Moluccas).

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Magellan’s successful voyage was to become the first circumnavigation of the world. Given the significance of this, students of history and cartography should look to the map of Magellan’s journey so they can trace the route and understand how he accomplished this feat in the Age of Exploration.

The Journey Begins: From Seville, Spain, to the Cape Verde Islands

Having first secured funding for the journey from the Spanish king, Magellan organized the fleet. It consisted of five ships: the Trinidad, the San Antonio, the Concepción, the Santiago, and the Victoria. These ships were loaded with food and supplies, including wine, hardtack, salted meat, flour, and other provisions.

Gathering his crew of around 270 men, Magellan set sail from Seville, Spain, on August 10, 1519.

Edging Along the Coast of Africa: Canary Islands

After five weeks of remaining at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, Magellan’s fleet left Spain, and they wouldn’t return for three years. Six days later, on September 26, 1519, Magellan made a stop at the Canary Islands. Here, they stocked up on more supplies, including vegetables and pitch.

It was also during their stay here that Magellan received a secret letter from his father-in-law, warning him that some of his ships’ captains were planning a mutiny and that the King of Portugal was coming to arrest him.

Last Stop Before the Crossing: Cape Verde Islands

On October 3, 1519, the fleet departed the Canary Islands. In a strange decision, Magellan chose to edge along the African coast rather than take a westerly bearing. He did this in an attempt to escape the Portuguese ships, which were coming to arrest him. The fleet then made a brief stop at the Cape Verde Islands, just south of the Canary Islands, to gather more supplies and make repairs.

From here, Magellan took a south-west course across the Atlantic. In late October, the fleet was near the equator, where they experienced several intense storms, and saw St. Elmo’s fire, a rare phenomenon where a blazing blue light appears atop a ship’s mast during a lightning storm.

Land Ahoy!: South America

Arrival on the Other Side of the World: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Finally, on November 29, 1519, Magellan’s fleet made it across the Atlantic. By December 13, they had entered the bay of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Magellan and his crew spent thirteen days in Rio, where they restocked supplies, repaired their ships, and exchanged goods with the locals. On December 27, they left Rio, with many of the natives following in canoes, trying to get them to stay.

Explorations: Río de la Plata, Argentina

Heading south along the coast, the fleet arrived in the Río de la Plata region. In this area, which includes present-day Argentina and Uruguay, they spent days exploring and attempting to find a strait that would allow them to pass through South America to the Pacific Ocean. Having failed to find a strait, they continued to search for one to the south.

Navigating Treacherous Waters: Patagonia, Argentina

On February 3, 1519, the fleet continued south through the treacherous waters of Patagonia, where they encountered harsh weather conditions, including squalls and dropping temperatures, and challenging terrain. Magellan’s decision to stay near the coast also meant the fleet risked hitting shoals. Stopping briefly in Patagonia, Magellan claimed to have found giants living there.

Set Our Course South-Southwest: Tierra del Fuego, Chile/Argentina

With winter setting in, Magellan decided to settle the fleet at Puerto San Julián in Argentina. They stayed here for five months before continuing the journey. During the winter, Magellan had to put down an attempted mutiny. Also, on a scouting expedition in May 1520, one of their ships, the Santiago, was wrecked in a storm.

After spending six weeks in Santa Cruz, the fleet finally resumed the journey south on October 18, 1520, and reached the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, which is shared by Chile and Argentina.

Connecting the Oceans: The Strait of Magellan

On October 21, Magellan’s fleet arrived at what is now called the Strait of Magellan. The fleet successfully navigated through it from late October through November 1520. During the crossing, the ships split up to explore different paths, but when they regrouped a few days later, the San Antonio was not there, and it was later discovered that it had deserted and returned to Spain.

Now, with three ships left, Magellan reached the Pacific Ocean, which he named because of its seemingly still waters, on November 28.

How West Becomes East: From the Pacific Islands to Indonesia

After crossing into the Pacific Ocean, Magellan and his fleet set sail on a west-north-west course. They encountered several islands, including two small ones, Guam, the Marianas, the Palau Islands, and the Philippines.

New Friendships: Cebu, Philippines

On April 7, 1521, the fleet arrived in Cebu, where they established friendly relations with the local ruler, Rajah Humabon.

The Captain is Dead!: Mactan Island, Philippines

Continuing through the Philippines, Magellan and his three ships came to Mactan Island. When native inhabitants led by Lapu-Lapu resisted religious conversion, Magellan brought 60 armed men to oppose them. The battle was given, and Magellan was killed in the skirmish. With only 115 men remaining, it was decided the fleet could no longer operate three ships, so they scuttled the Concepción on May 2, 1521.

Continuing On: Tidore, Ternate, and the Maluku Islands, Indonesia

Setting sail again, the ships reached the islands of Tidore and Ternate in the Moluccas around November 8. After establishing friendly relations with the leader of Tidore, the crew was able to purchase large quantities of valuable spices and provisions. They also explored various islands within the Maluku Islands archipelago, including Ambon, Banda, and the Kai Islands.

A few days later, they intended to depart, but the Trinidad needed repairs, so it stayed behind for a few weeks. When the Trinidad tried to continue to Spain, it was captured by the Portuguese and wrecked in a storm, leaving the fleet with only the Victoria.

One Last Effort: For South Africa and Home

Rounding the Cape without Magellan: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

On May 6, 1522, the last remaining ship of the fleet, the Victoria, rounded the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, facing treacherous winds, challenging sailing conditions, and possessing only rice for rations.

Coming Back: Cape Verde Islands

Heading north up the African coast and passing by the remote island of Saint Helena, on July 10, 1522, the Victoria stopped at the Cape Verde Islands for sorely needed supplies and repairs before continuing to Spain.

The Victorious Victoria Returns Home: Sanlùcar de Barrameda, Spain

After almost exactly three years, on September 6, 1522, the Magellan expedition’s last-remaining ship, the Victoria, with only 18 men remaining, returned to the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Spain. This marked the first circumnavigation of the globe in history.

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