In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Spain with five ships — the Trinidad, the San Antonio, the Concepcion, the Victoria and the Santiago. Magellan’s goal was to sail west to find a new and faster route to the spice markets of the Indies.

His specific destination was the Moluccas, also known as the Spice Islands. He wasn’t in for smooth sailing, though.

He didn’t have a GPS unit or accurate maps to help him. He was an explorer in the truest sense of the word!

Three years later, only one ship — the Victoria — returned to Spain. It carried only 18 of the original 270 crew members who started the voyage.

The Victoria became the first ship to sail all the way around the world. Unfortunately, it achieved this feat without its leader.

Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521, in the Philippines during a battle with tribal natives. Although he didn’t finish the voyage, Magellan did see some incredible sights and make some important discoveries along the way.

For example, after a stop off the coast of Brazil, Magellan’s expedition searched for a route that would allow them to sail around the southern tip of South America. On November 1, 1520 (All Saints’ Day), they saw a strait and started their journey through it.

A strait is a narrow channel of water that a ship can use to navigate between two larger bodies of water. Straits are often important shipping channels.

However, they don’t have to be straight. If you look at a map of the Strait of Magellan, you’ll notice that it’s quite crooked!

Since he entered the strait on All Saints’ Day, Magellan named it Estrecho de Todos los Santos (“Strait of All Saints”). The name was later changed to Estrecho de Magallanes (“Strait of Magellan”) in his honor.

Magellan discovered that the strait he found connected the Atlantic Ocean to another ocean, which he named the Pacific Ocean because he thought it was calm and peaceful. The Pacific Ocean probably did seem peaceful, at least compared to the strait he had just passed through.

The 350-mile Strait of Magellan separates Chile from Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. Because of unpredictable winds and currents, as well as the narrowness of the channel, the Strait of Magellan can be very difficult to navigate safely.

It took Magellan’s expedition 38 days to pass through the strait. When they emerged into the Pacific Ocean, Magellan thought the Spice Islands were only two to three days away.

Like many explorers at that time, Magellan thought the Earth was much smaller than it really is. It actually took the expedition about four months to sail across the Pacific Ocean to the Spice Islands.


50 Join the Discussion

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  1. We have been off for a few days for Thanksgiving, we sure hope you have had a great Thanksgiving break, too!

    Today, we learned a lot. One of our teachers showed us a world map that helped us visualize Magellan’s route. It was very cool to see how far he traveled.

    We also talked about how Magellan might have kept track of things he discovered since camera’s were not invented yet. We also thought about times we have gone on trips and what we would have felt like if we did not know where we were going and had to make a map as we went. We all said that would be scary.

    Thanks for getting our brains sparked this Monday morning! :)

    • Hello, Kerrick Elementary! We had a WONDERful Thanksgiving, thank you so much for asking! We’re glad you left us this comment to share with everyone how you WONDERed even more about the cool stuff you learned today! Those were some really awesome things you talked about…we think Ferdinand Magellan would be just as proud of you all as we are! :-)

  2. My teacher put the wonder question up on the smartboard, and I knew right away, yes, a strait can be crooked! Thanks again for the awesome wonder! I LOVE WONDEROPOLIS! Wonderopolis, you keep doing wonders, and I will keep WONDERing! :)

    • That’s what we like to hear, Missy! We know you are a huge fan of Wonderopolis because you always let us know what you like about the Wonders of the Day! Thank you for always WONDERing! YOU ROCK! :-)

  3. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We loved your article today. We learned a lot of new things that we didn’t know before. None of us knew (except for Mrs. Johnson who didn’t tell us) what a strait was. We predicted it could be a ship, a sail, water, lightning, or clouds because we looked at the picture. We were wondering how long it took the Victoria to travel around the world. RJ saw a movie this weekend that reminded him of your article. It was called The Chronicles of Narnia.

    Thanks again!
    Mrs. Johnson’s third grade

    • Happy Monday, Mrs. Johnson’s third grade! It is awesome to hear from you today! Thanks for letting us know all the awesome things you guessed a strait might be from looking at the photo. We LOVE when our Wonder Friends use context clues to guess parts of the Wonders before they explore them…WAY TO GO! We also like that RJ made a personal connection to today’s Wonder! :-)

  4. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I did not know that a “strait” could be crooked! This WONDER really makes me WONDER why we spell strait without a “gh?” I really liked this WONDER and I will read the Wonder of the Day tomorrow.

    TEAM CAISSE’s 5th grade Reading class

    • Thanks for letting us know that you learned something new about straits from exploring today’s Wonder, team caisse! We’re glad you visited Wonderopolis today! :-)

  5. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Wow! That happened a long time ago. I probably wouldn’t do what Magellan did. Although, if I discovered the Pacific Ocean, I would name it after myself.

    Team Caisse’s 5th grade reading class

    • That would be neat if the ocean was named, TEAM CAISSE Ocean, wouldn’t it? Thanks for exploring today’s Wonder with us! :-)

  6. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Is it true that only 18 people survived out of the 207 crew members? If you were Magellan, what would you do? Oh, plus, thanks for teaching us how a strait CAN be crooked!

    • We’re not sure what we would do if we were Magellan, TEAMCAISSE! We’ll have to WONDER about that one a bit more. We think he must have had quite an adventure, though, filled with excitement and danger! :-)

  7. We really like this wonder. We learned that strait is a narrow path that connects two large bodies of water. We thought the map activities were fun, we struggled on a few of them and had to refer back to the maps with the routes.

    After reading this article, it made us wonder, how many people would it take to crew the ships. According to math, there were 270 crew members and 5 ships which is approximately 54 people per ship, on the return voyage the ship that made it, there were only 18 that survived… we wonder how many people it takes to effectively crew a ship.

    –Team Turner

    • That’s a LOT of great WONDERing, Team Turner! We’re glad you asked how many people it takes to effectively crew a ship…that question would make an awesome future Wonder of the Day®! Thank you so much for leaving us a comment today to let us know you liked this Wonder about STRAITS! :-)

  8. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I never knew that a strait could be crooked. I learned a lot about Magellan and his voyage around the world. I thought that it was interesting that in honor of Magellan “Strait of All Saints” was changed to “Strait of Magellan”.

    TEAM CAISSE’s 5th Grade Reading Class :D

    • Thank you for sharing your favorite parts of today’s Wonder, TEAM CAISSE! We appreciate hearing all these super comments from your class today! :-)

  9. Dear Wonderopolis,
    This wonder was great and it really made me wonder a lot about if a strait can be crooked.
    I did not know that Magellan was the captain of the ship that was the first ship to sail around the world.

    Team Casses 5th grade Reading class

    • Magellan was a pretty adventurous guy, wasn’t he, TEAM CAISSE? We’re glad you learned about straits today and that they CAN be crooked! :-)

  10. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I thought that the wonder of the day was interesting because I did not know any of that information. Now I know that a strait is a narrow channel of water that a ship can use to navigate between two larger bodies of water.

    TEAM CAISSE’s 5th grade Reading Class

    • Thanks for this cool comment, TEAM CAISSE! We wonder…have you ever been on a big ship that sailed though a strait? We haven’t yet, but we bet it would be a fun trip to take! :-)

  11. Dear Wonderpoolis,

    Today’s WONDER of the Day was exciting and I have learned that Magellan didn’t sail in a strait line and he tried his hardest. Also, his goal was to sail west to Moluccas. This WONDER was fascinating and took me on an adventure!

    TEAM CAISSE’s 5th grade Reading Class:D

    • Those are really cool things you learned about Magellan today, TEAM CAISSE! We like that you said Magellan tried his hardest. It’s always a good thing to try your best at whatever you do in life…school, sports, EXPLORING! We love how you said today’s Wonder took you on an adventure! Thank you for your comment! :-)

  12. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I like the WONDER of the Day. I didn’t know much about the strait. I didn’t know the explorer that decided to take the voyage was named Magellan. I did not know the names of the five ships that went through the strait. I learned a lot of new information to use during Social Studies.

    Thank you,

    TEAM CAISSE’s 5th grade Reading Class

    • It makes us super happy to read all these comments coming from TEAM CAISSE today! We love hearing all the different, interesting things each of you learned from exploring the same Wonder together! Thanks for being GREAT Wonder Friends! :-)

  13. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I liked this wonder because it was very fascinating and I never knew about the five ships. I think this is one of your best wonders yet! I also learned that straits are all over the world and are very helpful to ships.

    TEAM CAISSE’s 5th grade Reading class

    • Another awesome comment from TEAM CAISSE! Thank you for letting us know that you think this is one of the best Wonders you’ve visited! We’re glad you learned some new things from stopping by today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  14. Dear Wonderopolis,
    :) I think this Wonder of the Day is great because I learned a lot. I couldn’t believe that sailors went and sailed all around the world with no GPS. Just a map was there to help them, and they made it home safely. I think those sailors were very brave and I wouldn’t have ever done that. I wonder if the sailors had much food to eat. Your Wonder of the Day is great!!!!

    • It’s hard to imagine a world without all the amazing navigational technology we have today, isn’t it, TEAM CAISSE? We agree with you…Magellan and the sailors must have been very brave. It takes a lot of courage to explore places that haven’t even been discovered yet! :-)

  15. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I think this is a great WONDER of the Day! I liked to learn about how Magellan’s goal was to sail west to find a new and faster route leading to the Spice Islands. Also I thought it was interesting how they had to find the Spice Islands without maps or GPS’. I also liked how it took them four months to sail over the Pacific Ocean. That is cool!!!

    TEAM CAISSE’s 5th grade Reading Class

    • We’re glad you liked so many parts of today’s Wonder, TEAM CAISSE! Thank you for sharing what you learned from EXPLORING it today! :-)

    • We’re super glad you thought this Wonder of the Day® was interesting, Wonder Friend! We hope you learned a lot about straits and navigation! :-)

    • We thought so too, Tyson! We liked imagining that we were on the ship that was sailing through the strait. It was fun to see the snow-capped mountains in the distance and all the waves around us! :-)

    • That’s so WONDERful to hear, Natalie! Thank you for letting us know that you and your classmates enjoyed this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We’re sure happy to hear that, Ry! Thanks for letting us know that you thought this Wonder was interesting and that you learned some cool new things today! :-)

  16. Dear Wonderopolis,
    You guys are the best I was like what strait are they talking about. So that got me for a sec and I was like they spelled straight wrong

    Once again,

    • Hey there, Eriana! Thanks for sharing your comment – we’re so glad you learned something new with us today! Have a terrific Tuesday! :)

  17. It makes me and my classmates super super happy and educated to read all of those facts and information of how he explored the ocean and how he experienced the whole world!that is amazing but I gotta say I want to do that some day. Thank You!

    • We’re so happy we got to WONDER with you and your classmates, Jacob! Thanks for stopping by Wonderopolis and leaving us such an awesome comment! :)

  18. It’s so cool that a strait can be crooked because it’s name is strait!!!! Now I learend something new!!
    Thanks wonderoplis!!!!! I love your site!!!!!

    • Woohoo! We’re so happy that you enjoy WONDERing just as much as we do, Annamarie! Thanks for being our Wonder Friend! We hope to hear from you again soon! :) :D

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can a strait be crooked?
  • Where is the Strait of Magellan?
  • What was the Strait of Magellan originally named?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to retrace Magellan’s famous voyage? Let’s take a trip around the world and learn about some new places in the process.

First, take a look at a map of Magellan’s voyage around the world. If you want more details about the places he visited, check out this more detailed map.

Next, print out a blank world map. Without referring to the other maps you’ve seen, try to fill out the following on your blank map:

  • North America
  • South America
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Australia
  • Spain
  • Brazil
  • Strait of Magellan
  • Philippine Islands
  • Cape of Good Hope

If you get stuck, feel free to refer back to one of the maps mentioned above.

How did you do? Don’t worry if you don’t get all the locations on the first try. The world is a big place!


Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Xpeditions’ Be an Explorer Every Day! activity to learn how to make exploration tool kits with gear to help explore your local environments.


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