Oct 12, 1492 CE: Columbus Makes Landfall in the Caribbean

Oct 12, 1492 CE: Columbus Makes Landfall in the Caribbean

On October 12, 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus made landfall in what is now the Bahamas.


5 - 12


Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, World History

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On October 12, 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus made landfall in what is now the Bahamas. Columbus and his ships landed on an island that the native Lucayan people called Guanahani. Columbus renamed it San Salvador.

The modern identity of Guanahani remains a subject of historical debate, and over the years, multiple Bahamian islands have been suggested as candidates for “Guanahani”, including Sanama Cay, Rum Cay, Grand Turk Island, and the Plana Cays. However, the most popular theory is that Guanahani is the island today known as San Salvador (which was known as Watling Island until its name was officially changed to San Salvador in 1925 to recognize it as the site of Columbus’ first landing).

The confusion over Guanahani’s modern identity stems primarily from Columbus’ description of the island in his Diario, where he describes Guanahani as having “very green trees and many ponds and fruits of various kinds.” What Columbus couldn’t have known is that this can be said of a great number of the islands in the region.

Further complicating the issue is a map made by Juan de la Cosa. De la Cosa was a cartographer sailing with Columbus, and also the owner of Columbus’ largest vessel, the Santa Maria. Years after their historic voyage, in 1500, de la Cosa made a map of where they’d travelled. While he was fairly accurate of the position and shape of the islands we know as Cuba and Hispaniola, his inaccurate depictions of the Bahamas leave the exact location of Guanahani undetermined.

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National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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