Top 10 Greatest Explorers

Here's my list of the Top 10 Greatest Explorers of All-Time. No doubt there hundreds of other great explorers who made great discoveries or who survived grueling journeys. Also not included are early explorers like thousands of years ago who really did discover lands first. Like the the first North Americans and the first Australians. Also not included are explorers who accidentally discovered something and didn't face journeys with major burdens.

10. Mary Henrietta Kingsley

Explored Western Africa and fought crocodiles off with just her paddle. Her writings introduced Africans to Europeans. She also was very tolerant and once said the "black man is no more an undeveloped white man than a rabbit is an undeveloped hare".

9. Leif Eriksson

This European settled foot on North America a few hundred years before Columbus. This famous viking was the first European to set foot on Labrador around the year 1000.

8. Vasco da Gama

He discovered a sea route to India from Europe by sailing around the Horn of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope.

7. Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay

First men to climb Mount Everest. When they climbed Mount Everest they both shared the feat but the western world spinned it to give the feat exclusively to Hillary. Hillary also holds the honour for the first man to cross the South Pole using a tractor and made a cameo on the Lord of Rings DVD.

6. Jacques Cousteau

Cousteau is different than the other explorers who explored new land or waters. Cousteau explorers the waters underneath inventing the first conventional scuba diving gear and bringing life under sea level above ground through his documentaries and writings.

5. Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott

Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton traveled with Brit Robert Scott across Antarctica but were 35 days behind of Amundsen which is which there number 5 on the list and Amundsen is number 3.

4. Ferdinand Magellan

Sure this Portuguese born explorer who defected to Spain was the first man to circumvent the globe and prove it was round but what truly makes him great was the fact that he named the largest body of water in the world- the Pacific Ocean.  The Strait of Magellan in the Southern part of South America is named in his honour.

3. Roald Amundsen

This Norwegian explorer sailed through the Northwest and Northeast Passage. He was also the first man to reach the South Pole and lived in Antarctica for more than a year. He also was the first man after Santa Clause to fly over the North Pole.

2. Marco Polo

He and his father were the first Europeans to visit China and the far east via the "Silk Road". He befriended the emperor Kubai Khan a grandson of Genghis Khan and served in his court. His greatest legacy is the book, "Travels of Marco Polo", which is considered one of the greatest travel books in history.

1. Captain James Cook

No other early explorer covered more water than Captain Cook. He was the first European to explore both the West and East coast of Canada. He was part of the siege of Quebec City and he created the maps of the St. Lawrence seaway that General Wolfe used for his battle on the Plains of Abraham. In Canada's East he was one of the first Europeans to set foot on British Columbia.

In the Pacific, he was assigned the captaincy of the Endeavor and his mission was to go to Tahiti to measure the Transit of Venus. (Measuring the Transit of Venus helped early astronomers measure how far Venus was from the Sun.) While in the Pacific his second mission was to find the continent Terra Australis. Europeans believed that there must be an equal amount of land in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, and they believed there was an undiscovered continent in the Pacific Ocean.  Cook was the first European to land on Australia's East Coast, New Zealand, and Hawaii. Around Australia's coast he experienced the most treacherous waters in the world.
His ship got mangled in the Great Barrier Reef and sailed as far south as the Arctic Circle. Off Cape Tribulation in Australia his ship hit some coral off shore which sprung a huge hole in the ship. Cook used a technique called fothering in which he ran a sail underneath the ship and fastened it tight to stop the drainage till he reached shore.  When he did reach show he was one of the first Europeans to meet Australian aborigines.

"They may appear to some to be the most wretched people on earth, but in reality they are far happier than we Europeans. They live in a tranquility which is not disturbed by the inequality of condition: the earth and the sea of their own accord furnish them with all things necessary for life ... they seemed to set no value upon anything we gave them, nor would they ever part with anything of their own."

He was killed in Hawaii by not eaten according to historians. According to Hawaii folklore their ancestors ate Captain Cook and he was delicious.

Related Links:

Backpacking Down Under

Backpacking in Middle Earth

New York 2009

External Links:

BBC News: Who was your choice for the greatest explorer of the last 1000 years?

Exploration and Historical Geography


Plans for Euro-Russian spaceplane

Updated: January 5, 2011
Created: November 5, 2005 Creations 2003-2012