How Long Did Magellan Sail For?

Christopher Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, is famous for leading the first circumnavigation of the Earth. This daring journey took place between 1519 and 1522. Magellan set sail from Spain with a fleet of five ships in search of a westward route to the Spice Islands (now known as the Moluccas).

The Beginning of the Voyage

On August 10, 1519, Magellan’s fleet departed from Seville and sailed down the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where they finally set out into the open ocean on September 20th. The fleet consisted of five ships: Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago.

Magellan sailed towards the Canary Islands before heading southwest across the Atlantic Ocean. It was during this initial phase of the journey that he encountered rough weather and navigational challenges.

The Discovery of a Strait

After weeks at sea, Magellan’s fleet arrived at what is now known as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. From there, they continued southward along the coast until they reached an opening that led them into a narrow waterway – now called the Strait of Magellan.

This strait proved to be a crucial discovery as it provided a passage through South America and offered an alternative route to reach Asia. However, navigating through these treacherous waters was not without its difficulties; strong currents and unpredictable weather posed constant threats.

Across the Pacific Ocean

Once through the strait, Magellan found himself in uncharted waters – what we now know as the Pacific Ocean. The enormity of this vast ocean became apparent as his fleet battled against strong winds and currents for months.

As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, provisions dwindled on board each ship. The crew faced severe hunger and thirst, enduring unimaginable hardships. Despite these challenges, Magellan’s determination never wavered, and he pressed on towards his ultimate goal.

Landfall in the Philippines

After sailing for over three months across the Pacific Ocean, Magellan and his weary crew finally made landfall in the Philippines on March 16, 1521. Here, they encountered native tribes and established friendly relations with some of the local rulers.

Magellan’s stop in the Philippines proved to be both a blessing and a curse. While he successfully converted several tribes to Christianity, a conflict arose between his crew and a rival tribe. Tragically, it was during this altercation that Magellan lost his life on April 27th, 1521.

The Completion of the Journey

Despite losing their leader, the remaining crew members were determined to complete their mission of circumnavigating the Earth. Under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano, they continued their voyage westward.

With only one ship left – the Victoria – they sailed across the Indian Ocean and around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Finally, on September 6th, 1522 – almost three years after their departure – the Victoria arrived back in Spain.


Christopher Magellan’s voyage was an extraordinary feat that lasted for approximately three years. It involved treacherous seas, dangerous encounters with native populations, and immense physical challenges for his crew. Though Magellan did not live to see its completion, his journey demonstrated human perseverance and forever changed our understanding of our planet’s geography.

Photo of author

Daniel Bennet