22 Fun Facts About Christopher Columbus | Voyage Oddities

fun facts about Christopher Columbus

22 Fun Facts About Christopher Columbus | Voyage Oddities

  1. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain funded Columbus’s voyages.
  2. Columbus never set foot in what is now the United States.
  3. Columbus faced a mutiny on his first voyage but managed to calm his crew.
  4. Columbus’s expeditions brought European diseases to the New World.
  5. Columbus men called him ‘Admiral of the Ocean Sea.’
  6. Columbus claimed to have seen a UFO during one of his voyages.
  7. Columbus survived a pirate attack on one of his early voyages.
  8. Columbus thought Cuba was a part of mainland China.
  1. Columbus took native people back to Spain on his first voyage.
  2. Christopher Columbus’s real name was Cristoforo Colombo.
  3. Columbus wrote a book about his discoveries called The Book of Privileges.
  4. Columbus was inspired by the travels of Marco Polo.
  5. Columbus was deeply religious and carried a Bible on all his voyages.
  6. Columbus established the first Spanish colony in the New World, La Navidad.
  7. Columbus’s last voyage was in 1502.

Table of Contents

1. Columbus first landed in the Bahamas, not mainland America.

Did you know Christopher Columbus’s first landfall was in the Bahamas, not mainland America? On October 12, 1492, he arrived at an island he named San Salvador, likely present-day Watling Island. 

This pivotal moment marked the beginning of European exploration in the New World, sparking centuries of discovery and change.

2. Columbus believed he had found a new route to Asia.

Imagine setting sail, thinking you’ll reach Asia, but finding a whole new continent instead. In 1492, Columbus aimed for Asia’s riches by heading west. He mistakenly landed in the Caribbean, believing he had reached the East Indies. 

This famous miscalculation coined the term “Indians” for the natives. His error nonetheless sparked the era of European exploration and colonization in the Americas.

3. Columbus used dead reckoning to navigate the Atlantic.

Christopher Columbus navigated using dead reckoning, a method involving speed, direction, and time estimations. He sailed from Spain in August 1492 and relied on this technique to reach the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. 

Dead reckoning helped him cross the Atlantic without modern navigational tools, demonstrating his skill and daring as a navigator during an era of limited maritime technology.

4. Centuries before Columbus, Vikings were the first Europeans in the Americas.

A video about Vikings in the Americas before Columbus.

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One of the most interesting facts about Columbus is that he wasn’t the first European to reach the Americas. Nearly 500 years earlier, around 1000 A.D., Leif Eriksson led a Viking expedition to North America. 

They landed on the northern tip of Newfoundland, calling it Vinland due to its wild grapes. Archaeological evidence at L’Anse aux Meadows supports this, showcasing Viking artifacts from Eriksson’s time.

5. Columbus was governor of the islands he discovered.

Columbus’s governance of the islands he discovered was notoriously harsh. Appointed as governor in 1492, his brutal rule led to significant unrest. By 1500, reports of his cruelty reached Spain. 

Consequently, he was arrested and returned to Spain in chains. His downfall marked a dramatic end to his administrative ambitions in the New World.

6. The Columbian Exchange transferred plants, and diseases across continents.

The Columbian Exchange, starting in 1492, transformed global ecosystems. This extensive transfer introduced European wheat, horses, and smallpox to the Americas, while American maize, potatoes, and syphilis reached Europe. 

By 1650, Native American populations had plummeted by up to 90% due to diseases. This exchange revolutionized agriculture and economies, leading to significant demographic shifts across continents.

7. Columbus’s expeditions were considered failures in his lifetime.

Another unique fun fact about Christopher Columbus is that his expeditions were deemed failures during his lifetime. Despite his 1492 discovery, Columbus never found the gold or riches he promised to Spain. 

By 1500, he was arrested for his harsh governance and returned to Spain in chains. His ambitious voyages did not yield the expected wealth, leading to a tarnished reputation before his death in 1506.

8. Columbus Day is a national holiday in the United States.

fun facts about Christopher Columbus
Columbus Day celebrations in the US.

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Columbus Day, a national holiday in many countries including the US, commemorates Christopher Columbus’s landing on October 12, 1492. In the US, it was first celebrated in 1792 and became a federal holiday in 1937. 

Traditionally marked by parades and public ceremonies, it has also sparked discussions about the European conquest of indigenous peoples. Some now observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead, honoring native cultures and histories.

9. Columbus used celestial navigation by observing the stars.

A fascinating fact about Columbus is his use of celestial navigation. On his 1492 voyage, he relied on the stars to guide his ships across the Atlantic. By observing constellations and using tools like the quadrant, Columbus estimated his position at sea. 

This method was crucial for his journey, allowing him to reach the Bahamas, despite the lack of modern navigational instruments.

10. Columbus discovered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Jamaica in 1493.

During his second voyage in 1493, Columbus discovered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Jamaica. He set sail with 17 ships and over 1,200 men, expanding Europe’s geographical knowledge. 

Dominica was sighted on November 3, 1493, followed by Guadeloupe. In 1494, he reached Jamaica, marking significant milestones in the age of exploration.

11. Columbus brought back native animals to Europe, like parrots.

One of the intriguing facts about Columbus is that he brought native animals back to Europe. On his first voyage in 1492, he returned with exotic creatures like parrots. These colorful birds fascinated Europeans and symbolized the wealth and diversity of the New World. 

This practice of transporting native species helped introduce new flora and fauna to Europe, enhancing both scientific curiosity and cultural exchange.

12. Columbus had a rivalry with the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

fun facts about Christopher Columbus
C. Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci.

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An interesting twist in Columbus’s story is his rivalry with Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci, who explored the New World in 1499 and 1501, realized these lands were separate from Asia.

In 1507, the name ‘America’ was proposed by cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, derived from Vespucci’s first name, cementing his legacy over Columbus.

13. Columbus was influenced by the writings of Ptolemy.

Columbus was influenced by Ptolemy’s writings. Ptolemy’s Geography, written in the 2nd century, provided Columbus with ancient knowledge about the Earth’s size and geography. 

Using this information, Columbus planned his westward voyages, believing he could reach Asia more quickly. Despite Ptolemy’s inaccuracies, his work was crucial in shaping Columbus’s explorations.

14. Columbus reported seeing mermaids, which were likely manatees.

One of the weird facts about Christopher Columbus is that he reported seeing mermaids during his voyages, which were likely manatees. In 1493, near the coast of the Dominican Republic, Columbus noted in his journal that he saw three mermaids that were ‘not as pretty as they are depicted‘ 

Sailors often mistook manatees for mermaids due to their human-like features when glimpsed from a distance. This adds a mythical element to his explorations.

15. Columbus used sandglasses to keep track of time on his voyages.

Columbus used sandglasses to keep track of time on his voyages. Each sandglass measured a half-hour, and the crew turned them regularly to maintain an accurate measure of time at sea. This method allowed Columbus to estimate his ship’s speed and distance traveled. 

On his 1492 voyage, these simple devices were crucial for navigation, helping Columbus and his crew cross the Atlantic and eventually reach the New World.

16. Columbus was once stranded in Jamaica for a year.

fun facts about Christopher Columbus
Columbus in Jamaica, 1503.

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A dramatic episode in Columbus’s life occurred in 1503 when he was stranded in Jamaica. After his ships were damaged, Columbus and his crew were marooned for a year. 

They survived with the help of the local Taíno people until a rescue ship arrived in June 1504. This period of isolation highlighted Columbus’s resourcefulness and the challenges faced during his voyages of exploration.

17. Columbus named an island ‘Isla de los Gatos’ for its wild cats.

Christopher Columbus once named a small island ‘Isla de los Gatos’ (Island of Cats) after seeing many wild cats there. This occurred during his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. 

Columbus was struck by the abundance of these creatures, which he initially mistook for cats, but they were likely raccoons or other native animals.

18. Columbus was the first European to document the use of tobacco.

Another unique fun fact about Christopher Columbus is that he was the first European to document the use of tobacco. During his first voyage, Columbus and his crew encountered the indigenous people of San Salvador, who introduced them to dried tobacco leaves. 

The natives smoked these leaves in a manner that intrigued the Europeans. This discovery marked the beginning of tobacco’s introduction to Europe.

19. Columbus established a settlement on the island of Hispaniola.

Columbus established a settlement on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. After his flagship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked, Columbus and his men built a fort named La Navidad using its timbers. 

This site became the first European settlement in the New World. However, when Columbus returned in 1493, he found La Navidad destroyed, marking an early conflict with the indigenous Taíno people.

20. Columbus’s favorite ship was the Niña.

fun facts about Christopher Columbus
Columbus’s famous ships: Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

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Columbus’s favorite ship was the Niña, which he praised for its speed and agility. The Niña, originally named Santa Clara, was a caravel built in the 15th century. 

It accompanied Columbus on his first voyage in 1492 and proved vital in exploring the Caribbean. The ship’s smaller size allowed it to navigate shallow waters, making it an essential part of Columbus’s fleet.

21. Columbus’s crew played ‘Who can spot land first’ during voyages.

During Columbus’s voyages, the crew often played games to pass the time, including “Who can spot land first” This activity not only served as entertainment but also kept the sailors vigilant for signs of land. 

On October 12, 1492, Rodrigo de Triana, a lookout on the Pinta, famously won this game by sighting land, which turned out to be an island in the Bahamas, marking the discovery of the New World.

22. Columbus’s name is honored in many places like the District of Columbia.

Many places are named after Columbus, honoring his legacy. The District of Columbia, founded in 1791, is one of the most notable examples. Columbus, Ohio, established in 1812, and Columbia, South Carolina, founded in 1786, also bear his name. 

These place names reflect the enduring impact of his voyages and the widespread recognition of his role in history, despite the controversies surrounding his legacy.


On his second voyage in 1493, Columbus landed in the Caribbean, discovering islands such as Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Jamaica. This journey marked further European exploration and colonization in the New World.

The Columbian Exchange refers to the widespread transfer of plants, animals, and diseases between the Americas and Europe, Africa, and Asia following Columbus’s voyages. It began in 1492 and profoundly shaped global history, ecosystems, and agriculture.

Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October in the United States. This federal holiday commemorates Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas on October 12, 1492.

Christopher Columbus was born between August 26 and October 31, 1451, in Genoa, Italy. His early life remains somewhat unclear, but these dates are widely accepted by historians.

Christopher Columbus discovered America on October 12, 1492, when he landed on an island in the Bahamas, marking the beginning of European exploration and colonization in the New World.

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