Christopher Columbus Landfall in the New World

Christopher Columbus Landfall iMap

Five hundred years after Christopher Columbus landfall in the New World, there's still no agreement as to where exactly his landfall was.

Basically Columbus journal showed that he visited five islands in the Bahamas before reaching Cuba. He named these (in order) San Salvador, Santa Maria de la Concepcion, Fernandina, Isabela, and Las Islas de Arena. You can see from the map that there are a great number of possible locations.

Columbus landfall in the America

In the early morning of October 12, 1492, Columbus stepped ashore in the New World. His landfall was an island known to its inhabitants as Guanahani. As a sign of thanksgiving, Columbus renamed the island San Salvador, "Holy Savior." Ten of the islands in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos have been identified as the first landfall. Watling Island (present-day San Salvador) and Samana Cay are the leading candidates, with Grand Turk a distant third.

Efforts to identify Columbus's first landfall are are difficult, because there is no concrete evidence to identify any one location. And further all descriptions come from a third-hand transcription of Columbus's written account. The original log of the voyage disappeared soon after Columbus presented it to the Queen of Spain, and the copy has also been lost. What we have today is a sixteenth-century version, which is itself not an exact copy, of a copy made by Bartolome de Las Casas, a priest who knew Columbus. The version that we have contains errors and ambiguity, but offers three different strands of information that can be used to trace Columbus route through the Bahamas - sailing directions, descriptions of island physiography, and the descriptions and locations of native Lucayan villages.

Most scholars up to 100 years ago agreed with the Watling Island identification, and in 1926 the Bahamian government officially renamed Watling Island "San Salvador."

In 1986 a team of National Geographic Society scientists, using computer simulations to re-evaluate the data, concluded that Columbus had landed first at Samana Cay. A year later, however, an oceanographer and computer scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute challenged the scientists' estimates of wind and water currents and placed Columbus within sight of Watling Island on the morning of October 12, 1492.

Further archeological work has been done in the area. The balance of scientific evidence seems to point to Watling Island today.

It is unlikely that any further evidence will surface to make landfall identification any more precise. In the end the only point in identifying one island over another would be the tourist income that would accrue to the winner.

Columbus Landfall


Christopher Columbus discoverer of America