Before the world became a global village, people hardly knew what existed beyond their borders. Fortunately, there are a few individuals who were brave enough to venture beyond the confines of familiarity. Most men and women lost their lives in the process of quenching their thirst for the unknown. Driven by curiosity, fearlessness, and ambition, here are 11 legendary explorers of all time.

1. Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering the “New World”. Recognized as the first discoverer of the Americas (often debatable), Columbus’s expeditions were sponsored by Isabella I and Ferdinand II of Spain from 1451 to 1506, when he made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean.

Christopher Columbus’s main goal was to find a westward route to the Eastern Empires. His first stop was the Bahamas, which he thought were the Indies, hence calling the locals “Indians”. It was through his travels that Europe was able to access and colonize the Americas.

2. Zheng He

While the story of this legendary explorer is often overlooked, it played a crucial role in China’s influence on the outside world. For the longest time, China was isolated and had little say/influence over anything. However, during the Ming Dynasty, Zheng He, the explorer, emerged and played a crucial role in changing things.

With his fleet of 30,000 men and 300 ships, Zheng He voyaged to Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia within 28 years. Quite often, the explorer would engage in barter trade, exchanging commodities such as myrrh, ivory, silk and gold. Zheng He was the first person to bring a giraffe to China.

3. Vasco Da Gama

Every history book talks about Vasco da Gama, the legendary Portuguese explorer; he was the first European to reach India from Europe via sea. He is credited with creating the first travel route from Asia to Europe, which led to the latter’s colonization of the East. Vasco Da Gama’s escapades made it difficult for other European countries to battle Portugal’s naval supremacy. He also made another successful sail to India and East Africa.

4. Marco Polo

Before Vasco Da Gama sailed to Asia via sea, Marco Polo had already travelled from Europe to Asia via the Silk Road from 1271 to 1295. Upon arrival in China, Marco Polo was recruited by the current Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan, to explore other parts of the world.

He stayed abroad for 24 years, and when he returned to Venice, Marco Polo was sent to prison for commanding a Venetian ship against Genoa. However, Marco Polo’s imprisonment turned him into a legend. There, he met Rustichello da Pisa, a writer, and they wrote the book “II Milione” (The Travels of Marco Polo), which became a best seller. His book inspired many other legendary explorers, such as Christopher Columbus.

5. Pedro Alvares Cabral

Pedro Alvares Cabral is one of the reasons why Brazilians speak Portuguese. In 1500, he set sail for India but navigated too far southwest and accidentally landed on the coast of Porto Seguro. There, he left two exiled Portuguese criminals, who would later on become the forefathers of the Portuguese-Brazil population. Pedro’s accidental journey opened up Brazil to colonization by Portugal.

6. Amerigo Vespucci

Although not much is known about Amerigo Vespucci, he is the one who figured out that Brazil and the Americas were on another continent and not part of the West Indies, as alleged by Cristopher Columbus. After Pedro Alvarez Cabral’s voyage, he set sail to Brazil and focused mainly on the coast. As such, the two Portuguese explorers were pivotal in discovering the New World. His discovery was so remarkable that the German geographer Martin Waldseemuller named the Americas after Vespucci’s first name.

7. Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake made his first notable voyage by bringing slaves from Africa to the New World. From 1577 to 1580, the explorer became the first Englishman to travel around the globe in one single expedition. Having demonstrated his thirst for knowledge and voyaging skills, Sir Francis Drake was recruited by Queen Elizabeth I to explore Spanish colonies.

Spain was the most powerful empire during this period, so his orders were off the record. He successfully managed to sail across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Ocean before being knighted by the Queen.

8. James Cook

Because of its geographical location, Australia was completely isolated from other continents and very little was known about it. However, James Cook was the first English Captain to land on the Australian Coast in 1770. Later on, he chartered expeditions down further discovering New Zealand.

James Cook made an enormous contribution to how European nations viewed world geography. Also, other than being an explorer, James Cook boasted of exceptional cartographic and navigation skills. Unfortunately, he died on his third voyage in Hawaii while trying to explore the Pacific Northwest.

9. David Livingstone

As most explorers were heading to the East and the New Worlds, David Livingstone travelled south in search of the source of the River Nile and to spread Christianity. Even though he was unsuccessful with locating the River Nile’s source, David Livingston spread Christianity across Central, East, and Southern Africa. He also opened up Africa for colonization by European countries. One of the most notable discoveries of David Livingstone is the Victoria Falls.

10. Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen is well known for being the first person to reach the South Pole. In the late 19th century, nearly all corners of the world were explored, with the exception of the north and south poles. Roald Amundsen spent several years gathering a team and sufficient supplies before starting his journey to the South Pole in 1897. He finally arrived at the South Pole in December 1911 and placed a Norwegian flag before naming the region Polheim.

11. Neil Armstrong

All the explorers on this list are known for discovering new places on earth. Neil Armstrong is different; he was the first man to set foot on the moon. This happened on July 20, 1969, and marked the beginning of space exploration. Neil Armstrong was aboard an American spaceflight called Apollo 11, accompanied by Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin.

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General Knowledge, History,

Last Update: June 14, 2024