Fact Check

The Real San Salvador

Ivan, looking for a place to find Columbus clues, demands that he be taken to San Salvador -- the island where Columbus landed on October 12, 1492. Enigma says this will not be possible: “Without the original Columbus log from 1492, we cannot be certain which of the islands is the real San Salvador.”

Where Did Columbus Land?

Columbus arrived in one of the Bahama Islands on October 12, 1492. He described the island in his log book, and gave it the name San Salvador. The Columbus log even tells us that it was called Guanahani by the Tainos tribes. But finding the exact island today is difficult... perhaps impossible.

With over 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, historians have used the Las Casas version of the Columbus log to come up with clues to find the island where Columbus first landed. The problem is that the description given by Columbus seems to match no island perfectly. There are many theories (or explanations not yet proven); but after 500 years, we are still trying to figure out the mystery.

What Does the Log Book Tell Us?

Columbus gave us some clues that help us locate the island. Some of the clues seem to contradict each other, or tell us two opposite things. Columbus describes it as “a small island” but also later said it was bien grande or “quite large”. He also called it “very green” which would apply to virtually all islands in the Bahamas.

In 1923 Watling Island was officially renamed San Salvador which is how the island is named on most maps today. But originally scholars thought Cat Island or Grand Turk were the real location. More recently the National Geographic Society argued that Samana Cay is Guanahani/San Salvador. Each theory has one problem or another which means the debate has not been settled, and the search for the real San Salvador continues.

Sources and Further Reading

Henige, D. P. (1991). In search of Columbus: The sources for the first voyage. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, p.159-235.

Dor-Ner, Z., & Scheller, W. (1991). Columbus and the age of discovery. (Companion Volume to the PBS Series) New York: W. Morrow, p.206-208.

West, D. C., & West, J. M. (1991). Christopher Columbus: The great adventure and how we know about it. New York: Atheneum, p.65.

* Roop, P., & Roop, C. (2000). In Their Own Words: Christopher Columbus. New York: Scholastic, p.63-67.

* Pelta, K. (1991). Discovering Christopher Columbus: How history is invented. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, p.53-55, 66.

* Soule, G. (1988). Christopher Columbus: On the green sea of darkness. New York: F. Watts, p.52-58.

* Young Readers Selection