When the land routes to India became more and more dangerous and cost inefficient, eyes of the European traders became fixated on the sea. In the late 15th and early 16th century, many maritime explorers embarked on their mission to find the way to India. Discoveries that they found beyond the shores of Europe soon greatly increased our knowledge of the Earth, and started new era in the history of the human civilization.
Age of discovery represents pivotal moment in human history, which bridged the time between Middle Age and the Modern era (Renaissance). Starting in 15th century, several European powers invested great resources in finding new trading sea routes and new lands. Discoveries made on those journeys ignited the rise of colonial empires and transfer of many plants, animals, communicable diseases, and cultures between Europe and the rest of the World.
Prelude to the Age of Discovery started in early 13th century with the unification of Mongol lands in Eurasia, and opening of the safe travel routes between Europe and China. Many European travelers (mostly Italians) traveled to the East in search of good trade deals and expanding their political influences. Roman Pope Innocent IV and Russian Prince Yaroslav II sent their emissaries to the Mongol Khan with little or no success in negotiations. Most famous explorer of that time was Venetian merchant Marco Polo, whose journals described his 24-year long visit to the court of Kublai Khan. Sadly, Mongol empire collapsed soon after that, and trade routes to the west became much more dangerous and heavily taxed by the Italian Maritime Republics (most notably Venice).
In the mid-15th century, rise of maritime technology and celestial navigation enabled ships to travel across much greater distances. During that time, Portugal sailors began investigating the coast of Africa, which culminated in discovery of its southern point by Bartolomeu Dias in 1488. That moment had great importance - it sparked the idea that much wanted sea route to the India could indeed be possible to find.
Feeling the pressure from the newfound Portugal discoveries, Spanish royalty decided to fund their own exploratory mission with a goal of finding route to India. With a blessing from Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1472, Italian navigator Christopher Columbus embarked on his most famous mission to the Central America. On his four journeys, he discovered the new lands of West Indies, which sparked a huge wave of new explorations. To prevent future wars, both Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) in which they divided the lands of the New World between them. In the years following that agreement, many more discoveries were made - Pedro Álvares Cabral reached Brazil in 1497, Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498, Amerigo Vespucci found that this newfound land was indeed a new continent in 1501, Sebastián de Ocampo first sailed around Cuba in 1508 and Vasco Núñez de Balboa founded the first American settlement in 1510.
Exploration of Pacific started in 1513 when Vasco Núñez de Balboa managed to travel through Panama strait in small boats. Most famous pacific exploration mission happened from 1519 to 1522 when Ferdinand Magellan managed to circumvent the world with his fleet of 3 ships and 237 crewmembers. Newfound route sparked additional hostilities between Portugal and Spain, but by then, other European countries begun their sea exploration (France and England). Pacific remained the mystery for two more centuries until the journeys of English explorer James Cook. He discovered the continent of Australia and Hawaii islands.