How Biscayne Bay Got Its Name

Biscayne Bay is a beautiful expanse of bright blue water that hugs the Miami shoreline. Combine those waters with the brilliant blue Miami skies and you have a view that’s pure perfection. It is a beautiful place with a fascinating history – having attracted explorers, conquerors, pirates, adventurers, new residents and tourists alike. Even though its history is legendary – it’s very unclear how Biscayne Bay got its name. Many theories abound and the area had a few titles before its current name was settled. 

Ponce de Leon – a Spanish conquistador – left Puerto Rico on a mission to further explore the coast and islands around present day USA in 1513, and Biscayne Bay was one of the first locations he encountered. He referred to it as ‘bright nameless great bay’, and he later called it Chequescha.  Later in 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the Spanish admiral and explorer who led the first successful Spanish settlement on Florida at St Augustine, referred to Biscayne Bay as Tequesta.

Biscayne Bay with the skyline of Downtown Miami in the distance.

Given this Spanish influence on the area, there are theories that Biscayne Bay was named after the Bay of Biscay – a gulf on the northern coast of Spain and the western coast of France.  However, to date, there’s been no rock solid confirmation of this. Instead, there are only more theories.  

One of those further theories comes from the memoirs of Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda – a Spanish shipwreck survivor, who was captured by the native population, and lived with them as a slave for around 17 years. Writing in 1575, he  said that a Spanish sailor called El Viscayno or El Biscayno was shipwrecked and stayed in and around the Bay, prompting speculation that Biscayne Bay may have been named after him. Certainly, by the 17th Century, the Bay shows up on maps under the name of Cayo de Biscainhos. 

A Miami sunset on Biscayne Bay

There’s yet another theory that the Bay was named after Sebastián Vizcaíno – a Basque explorer soldier and entrepreneur, who explored the Americas in the 1600s.  Interestingly though – the name Vizcaíno became a commonly used term for all Basques – so was it him or another of the same origin. This name has certainly taken root in Miami – since one of our most popular sights – Vizcaya Museum and Gardens has a similar title. However, this was definitely by design since the owner of the Vizcaya estate, James Deering chose to modify the name of the estate to Vizcaya to give it an air of foreign discovery and adventure. A trend that spread to other places like restaurants and real estate projects in the area.

So, Biscayne Bay has a one-of-a-kind type of history, and it’s certainly a one-of-a-kind type of place. Protected by the Biscayne Bay National Park – it’s a unique location that divides the natural world from the heights of human urban development in Downtown Miami. One of the best ways to experience the Bay is to take our Miami City and Biscayne Bay Boat Tour – and relax to the sound of the water lapping the bottom of the boat.  It’s a restful respite from the buzz of the city. A boat trip on Biscayne Bay is an experience that sums up Miami beautifully – you’ll enjoy the beautiful blue waters of the natural world, as you look back at the impressive Miami skyline – which is a different kind of beautiful. Yet, they work well together. 

If you are planning to visit Miami, or indeed Florida – we absolutely recommend a trip to Biscayne Bay – please contact us for information on how we can help you to explore the Bay and the wonderful city of Miami.