Updated September 9, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

See also Explorers

The following table lists important explorations of each of the world's continents, according to location name, date, and explorer name.

Country or place Event Explorer Date
Sierra Leone Explored Hanno, Carthaginian seaman c. 520 B.C.
Zaire River (Congo)Mouth visited1Diogo Cão, Portuguese explorer c. 1484
Cape of Good Hope Rounded Bartolomeu Diaz, Portuguese explorer 1488
Gambia River Explored Mungo Park, Scottish explorer 1795
Sahara Crossed Dixon Denham and Hugh Clapperton,
English explorers
Zambezi River Explored1David Livingstone, Scottish explorer 1851
Sudan Explored Heinrich Barth, German explorer 1852–1855
Victoria Falls Explored1David Livingstone, Scottish explorer 1855
Lake Tanganyika Explored1Richard Burton and John Speke, British explorers 1858
Lake Victoria, identified as the source of the NileExploredJohn Speke, British explorer1858
Zaire River (Congo) Traced Sir Henry M. Stanley, British explorer 1877
Punjab (India) Invaded Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia327 B.C.
China ExploredMarco Polo, Italian traveler c. 1272
Tibet Visited Odoric of Pordenone, Italian monk c. 1325
Southern China Explored Niccolò dei Conti, Venetian traveler c. 1440
India Explored (Cape route) Vasco da Gama, Portuguese navigator 1498
Japan Visited St. Francis Xavier of Spain, missionary1549
ArabiaExplored Carsten Niebuhr, German explorer 1762
China Explored Ferdinand Richthofen, German scientist 1868
MongoliaExplored Nikolai M. Przhevalsky, Russian explorer 1870–1873
Central Asia Explored Sven Hedin, Swedish scientist 1890–1908
Shetland Islands Visited Pytheas of Massilia (Marseille), Greek navigator
and geographer
c. 325 B.C.
North Cape Rounded Ottar, Norwegian explorer c. 870
Iceland Colonized Norwegian noblemen c. 890–900
Greenland Colonized Eric the Red, Norwegian c. 985
Labrador, Newfoundland,
Nova Scotia (?)
Explored1Leif Eriksson, Norse explorer 1000
West IndiesExplored1Christopher Columbus, Italian 1492
North America Coast explored1Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), for British 1497
Pacific Ocean Sighted1Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Spanish explorer 1513
Florida Explored Ponce de León, Spanish explorer 1513
Mexico Conquered Hernando Cortés, Spanish adventurer 1519–1521
St. Lawrence River Explored1Jacques Cartier, French navigator 1534
Southwest United StatesExplored Francisco Coronado, Spanish explorer 1540–1542
Colorado River Explored1Hernando de Alarcón, Spanish explorer 1540
Mississippi River Explored1Hernando de Soto, Spanish explorer 1541
Frobisher Bay Explored1Martin Frobisher, English seaman 1576
Maine Coast Explored Samuel de Champlain, French explorer 1604
Jamestown, Va. Settled John Smith, English colonist 1607
Hudson River Explored Henry Hudson, English navigator 1609
Hudson Bay (Canada) Explored1Henry Hudson 1610
Baffin BayExplored1William Baffin, English navigator 1616
Lake Michigan Navigated Jean Nicolet, French explorer 1634
Arkansas River Explored1Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet,
French explorers
Mississippi River Explored Sieur de La Salle, French explorer 1682
Bering StraitExplored1Vitus Bering, Danish explorer 1728
Alaska Explored1Vitus Bering 1741
Mackenzie River
Explored1Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Scottish-
Canadian explorer
Northwest United StatesExplored Meriwether Lewis and William Clark,
American explorers
Northeast Passage
(Arctic Ocean)
Navigated Nils Nordenskjöld, Swedish explorer 1879
Greenland Explored Robert E. Peary, American explorer 1892
Northwest Passage Navigated Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer 1906
Continent Explored Christopher Columbus, Italian 1498
BrazilExplored1Pedro Alvarez Cabral, Portuguese 1500
Peru Conquered Francisco Pizarro, Spanish explorer 1532–1533
Amazon RiverExplored Francisco Orellana, Spanish explorer 1541
Cape Horn Explored1Willem C. Schouten, Dutch navigator 1615
Papua New Guinea Explored Jorge de Menezes, Portuguese explorer 1526
Australia Explored Abel Janszoon Tasman, Dutch navigator 1642
Tasmania Explored1Abel Janszoon Tasman1642
Australia Crossed John McDouall Stuart, English explorer 1862
Australia Explored Robert Burke and William Wills,
Australian explorers
New Zealand Sighted (and named) Abel Janszoon Tasman, Dutch navigator1642
New Zealand ExploredJames Cook, English navigator 1769
Africa, Middle East, Asia,
and Europe
ExploredIbn Batuta, greatest Arab traveler 1325–1349
Ocean exploration Expedition Ferdinand Magellan's ships circled globe for Spain1519–1522
Galápagos Islands Explored Diego de Rivadeneira, Spanish captain 1535
SpitsbergenExploredWillem Barents, Dutch navigator 1596
Antarctic Circle Crossed James Cook, English navigator 1773
Antarctica Explored1Nathaniel Palmer, American whaler (archipelago), and Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen,
Russian admiral (mainland)
Antarctica Explored Charles Wilkes, American explorer 1840
North Pole Reached2Robert E. Peary, American explorer 1909
South PoleReached Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer 1911
1. First European to reach the area. 2. Admiral Peary's claim to have reached the Pole has been disputed from the beginning—as was the claim made by his former colleague, Dr. Frederick Cook, who has been generally dismissed as a charlatan. The credit ultimately went to Peary, a claim officially backed by the U.S. Congress. But recent scholarship, including evidence culled from the journals and diaries of both Cook and Peary, has cast doubt on both explorers' veracity. If it is the case that neither reached the Pole, then the credit goes to Joseph Fletcher, who landed a U.S. Air Force C-47 plane there in 1952.

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