European rulers wanted to find a sea route to the Indies (primarily the archipelago known as the Spice Islands) so they could acquire spices, silks, and other products common in the East Indies at a low price. Spices were most important and very expensive in Europe, particularly after the terrestrial trading routes in eastern Europe and Asia were eliminated. Spices were used to preserve meat, mask the bad taste of spoiled food, and to make themselves smell better. Ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and pepper were among the spices most coveted.
Getting to the Spice Islands, now known as Indonesia, would inspire the greatest explorers in world history to embark on treacherous sea voyages that would take years to complete. Portugal was the first country to successfully send an explorer to the East Indies. Vasco da Gama accomplished this feet by sailing around Africa and through the Indian Ocean to Calicut, India. Christopher Columbus thought he could reach the Indies by sailing west from Spain. His beliefs led to the discovery of North America and LOTS of new land for Spain.