The word circumnavigation is a noun formed from the verb circumnavigate, from the past participle of the Latin verb circumnavigare, from circum "around" + navigare "to sail" (see further Navigation § Etymology).
If a person walks completely around either Pole, he crosses all meridians, but this is not generally considered a "circumnavigation." The trajectory of a true (global) circumnavigation forms a continuous loop on the surface of Earth separating two halves of comparable area. A basic definition of a global circumnavigation would be a route which covers roughly a great circle, and in particular one which passes through at least one pair of points antipodal to each other. In practice, people use different definitions of world circumnavigation to accommodate practical constraints, depending on the method of travel. Since the planet is quasispheroidal, a trip from one Pole to the other, and back again on the other side, would technically be a circumnavigation, but practical difficulties generally preclude such a voyage although it was successfully undertaken in the early 1980s by Ranulph Fiennes.
The first single voyage of global circumnavigation was that of the ship Victoria, between 1519 and 1522, known as the Magellan–Elcano expedition. It was a Castilian (Spanish) voyage of discovery, led initially by Ferdinand Magellan between 1519 and 1521, and then by the Basque Juan Sebastián Elcano from 1521 to 1522. The voyage started in Seville, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and after several stopovers rounded the southern tip of South America where the expedition discovered the Strait of Magellan, named after the fleet's captain. It then continued across the Pacific discovering a number of islands on its way, including Guam before arriving in the Philippines. After Magellan's death in the Philippines in 1521, Elcano took command of the expedition and continued the journey across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, north along the Atlantic Ocean, and back to Spain in 1522. Elcano and a small group of 18 men were actually the only members of the expedition to make the full circumnavigation.
Apart from some scholars, it is not generally accepted that Magellan and some crew members (possibly some other Portuguese and the Malay-Sumatrese Enrique of Malacca, who survived to the Philippines and Borneo) previously completed a full circumnavigation on several voyages, since Sumatra and Malacca (where Magellan had been twice before, in 1509 and in 1511-1512) lie southwest of Cebu (Philippines). If he had also been in the Moluccas islands (located southeast of Cebu) in early 1512 (dubious and controversial), he completed and clearly exceeded an entire circumnavigation of Earth in longitude—though one circumnavigation in the strict sense implies a return to the same exact point. However, traveling west from Europe, in 1521, Magellan reached a region of Southeast Asia (in the Malay Archipelago), which he had reached on previous voyages traveling east. Magellan thereby achieved a nearly complete personal circumnavigation of the globe for the first time in history.
In 1577, Elizabeth I sent Francis Drake to start an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Drake set out from Plymouth, England in November 1577, aboard Pelican, which Drake renamed Golden Hind mid-voyage. In September 1578, he passed through the southern tip of South America, named Drake Passage, which connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean. In June 1579, Drake landed somewhere north of Spain's northern-most claim in Alta California, which is known as Drakes Bay, California. Drake completed the second circumnavigation of the world in September 1580, becoming the first commander to lead an entire circumnavigation.