Elcano was born in the coastal town of Getaria (Gipuzkoa) to a Navy Grand Master. Connected to the trades of the sea, like so many from the Basque Country, he himself was the Grand Master of his own ship which he sailed across the Mediterranean. In Seville, he signed up to Magellan's armada, as Grand Master of the Concepción. Following bleak setbacks on the expedition, such as the death of Magellan, he became one of the principal captains.
At the helm of the Victoria, he filled its stores with clove in the Maluku Islands (formerly the Moluccas) and sailed back to Sanlúcar. Elcano has gone down in history for completing the first circumnavigation of the world, arriving in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522. Showered with gifts by the king, in 1525 he set sail once again for the Spice Islands in the wretched armada of Loaísa, and died the following year while crossing the Pacific.