Andrés de Urdaneta


Andrés de Urdaneta y Ceráin, O.S.A. (Villafranca, Mexico City, June 3, 1568) was a Spanish military officer, cosmographer, sailor, explorer and Augustinian religious. He participated in the dangerous expeditions of García Jofre de Loaísa and Miguel López de Legazpi, and achieved universal fame for discovering and documenting the route across the Pacific Ocean from the Philippines to Acapulco, known as the Route of Urdaneta or tornaviaje.


He was born in the town of Villafranca in Guipuzcoa, his parents were Juan Ochoa de Urdaneta and Gracia de Ceráin, both of illustrious lineage. Juan de Urdaneta was mayor of Villafranca in 1511, and the mother must have had a family relationship with the ironworks sector, as she was a relative of Legazpi, and Urdaneta himself recognized Andrés de Mirandaola as his nephew. Although tradition places his birthplace in the hamlet of Oyanguren, it seems more logical to suppose that it was in the center of the town; Lope Martínez de Isasti writes in his Compendio Historial de Guipúzcoa (1625) about the existence of a “house of Urdaneta”.

He had studies, although it is not known where, and excelled in mathematics, apart from his mastery of Latin and philosophy.

Loaísa”s expedition

In 1525, together with Juan Sebastián Elcano, he was part of the expedition of García Jofre de Loaísa. When Elcano died, he was one of the witnesses who signed his will. After the Moluccas campaign, when Elcano and Loaisa died (1526), he returned to Spain in 1536 in command of the expedition in the only ship arriving in Lisbon, where he was seized by the King of Portugal with the numerous and important information gathered during an eleven-year circumnavigation. Once at the court of Spain, he visited the emperor and gave him a recovered memoir of his knowledge about the voyage and about those longed-for islands. From his stay in the Moluccas he returned with a daughter that he gave to his brother for adoption.

From Spain he went to New Spain, under Pedro de Alvarado, who made him an important figure in the province of New Spain, as he wanted to include him in new expeditions to the Moluccas and the Philippines. After Alvarado”s death, he continued to have the confidence of Viceroy Luis de Velasco in his projects. Surprisingly, and after holding important political posts, in March 1553, at the age of 45, he entered as a friar in the Order of St. Augustine in the Augustinian convent of the Mexican capital, governed by Agustin Gormaz, where he spent the next eleven years.

The turnaround

The ships of the fleet were built in Acapulco, New Spain, and were 28 meters long.

The expedition consisted of the Capitana, with Legazpi and Urdaneta, the galleons San Pablo and San Pedro and the barges San Juan and San Lucas.

In a report to the viceroy he stated that:

it is necessary to include fresh food for the health of the crew.

He selected beans, pineapples and coconuts, among others, to avoid scurvy during the long voyage.

The expedition set sail, under Legazpi”s command, on November 21, 1564 from the port of La Navidad, in New Spain (currently Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico), and the voyage to the Philippines took two months with the trade winds in their favor, following a well-known route.

They remained in the Philippines for four months repairing the ships and waiting for favorable weather to begin their return journey in early June.

The return route from the Philippines to the west was strategically very important, as it would allow New Spain to trade with East Asia without sailing through Portuguese-controlled waters in the Moluccas, India and Africa. Urdaneta and other pilots were aware of the previous attempts and continued the effort by sailing northward in search of a favorable current that would take them back to America.

For his return, Urdaneta set sail from San Miguel, Philippines, on June 1, 1565, and set a northeasterly course, taking advantage of the southwest monsoon. He ascended to the 40th parallel, where he encountered the Kuro Siwo current, which took them across the Pacific Ocean to Cape Mendocino in California, which Urdaneta himself named the cape in honor of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. From there, they sailed south to Acapulco, New Spain, where they arrived on October 8, after having traveled 7644 nautical miles (14,157 km) in 130 days, at an average of 59 nautical miles (109 km) per day.

Upon arrival, Urdaneta discovered that a captain of the expedition, Alonso de Arellano, who had separated from the fleet, had gone ahead and from the Philippine Islands had reached the port of Navidad in August. Urdaneta presented himself before the Royal Court and following in Arellano”s footsteps continued the voyage to the King”s court, to report the event.

The Augustinian chronicles have given prominence to Fray Urdaneta”s performance and, due to his long empirical experience, his name has been associated with the route of the tornaviaje.

For the next 250 years Spanish ships used this route. In particular the Manila galleon that traveled the Acapulco-Manila-Acapulco route.

Today it remains one of the main shipping routes of the modern world.


After personally informing King Philip II of his discovery, Andres de Urdaneta returned to New Spain to his convent where he died on June 3, 1568 at the age of 60. In spite of his great feat, Urdaneta was practically forgotten, remaining one of the most unknown discoverers of his time. The convent later suffered a fire and the current reconstructed convent later became the National Library of Mexico. The remains probably rest under the cloister of the convent.

The evangelization of the Philippines, which even today continues to be the only Catholic country in Asia (with the exception of East Timor), originated thanks to Urdaneta and the other four Augustinian friars who accompanied him on the Legazpi expedition, whom he instructed to evangelize in the native language. The founders of the Basque Geographical Institute (INGEBA) (Euskera: Euskal Geografi Elkargoa) chose his name to accompany the denomination of the entity.

As for the works written by Father Urdaneta, the following are known:

Regarding the defining situation of the Philippine Islands, it reads as follows:

In one of these reports, dated October 8, 1566, Father Urdaneta said that to his persuasion, Fr. Martín de Rada, a native of Pamplona, priest and theologian, good mathematician, astrologer, cosmographer and great arithmetician, took with him in the armada of General Miguel López de Legazpi, from Nueva-España to the Philippines an instrument of medium size, in order to verify the longitude from the meridian of Toledo to that of the land where he arrived, and he effectively verified it in the town of Zubiú (which is at 10º lat N.), finding 216º 15” by the Alphonsine tables. ), finding 216º 15” by the Alfonsinas tables, and 215º 15” by Copernicus, from which, deducting 43º 8”, 172º 7” were subtracted, and it resulted finally that 7º 53” were still subtracted until the 180º that belonged to the crown of Castile.



  1. Andrés de Urdaneta
  2. Andrés de Urdaneta
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