What Is a Spanish Galleon Trade?

A Spanish galleon trade is the term used to describe the trade conducted by the Spanish from 1565 to 1815 across the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish used trading ships, known as Manila galleons, to transport Chinese goods to Mexico in exchange for silver from their colonies in the Americas.

The Spanish galleon trade was an annual round trip through Manila, in the Philippines, and Acapulco, in Mexico, involving a single Manila galleon. Exotic products such as silk, porcelain, spices and perfumes were traded by the Chinese and transported to the Spanish colonial capital in the Philippines. In Manila, these precious goods were loaded into a large sailing vessel known as a galleon, then shipped eastwards, across the Pacific Ocean, to Acapulco, on the western cost of Mexico. The goods were then carried across land to a port on the Atlantic coast for transport to Spain.

While docked in Acapulco, the galleon was loaded with silver the Spanish had accumulated from their American colonies, in preparation for its return journey. The ship would then complete the round trip by sailing back to Manila across the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish used the silver brought back to the Philippines in their transactions with Chinese traders to acquire more valuable commodities.