G&ES 201: Geography of Latin America

Spanish Colonial Trade Routes

During the colonial era Spain maintained contact with her colonies through convoys of ships. Manufactured items and ballast were brought from Spain (red lines on the following map), while gold and silver were carried back to Europe (the blue lines)

At its peak, a convoy of ships left Spain for Veracruz each May, and a second convoy of ships left Spain for Puerto Bello and Cartagena each August. Crossing the Atlantic the ships were pushed along by the Northeast Trade winds, which blow predominantly from the northeast at latitudes south of the Tropic of Cancer.

The following spring or early summer ships coming from Veracruz and Cartagena would join in Havana for the return trip to Spain. For this trip the ships traveled up along the coast of North America until they could take advantage of the Westerly Winds, which blow predominantly from west to east at latitudes north of 35 degrees or so.

Other Spanish ships operated in the Pacific Ocean. From Panamá they maintained contact with the Viceroyality of Perú, located south along the coast of South America. And from Veracruz they maintained contact with the Spanish colony across the Pacific Ocean in the Philippines.


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Last Revised: January 29, 1997