On the 25th September 1513, Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa became the first European to successfully lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean from the New World. He and his men crossed the Isthmus of Panama – the narrow strip of land between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean – and saw what was then known as the ‘South Sea’ from the summit of one of the mountain ranges. It took another four days for them to descend to sea level.
Balboa had first sailed to the New World in 1500, and in September 1510 established the first European settlement in the mainland Americas. Within a year he had expanded his power and become the governor of the province of Veragua by usurping his rivals. Over the next few years he expanded his territory and built up significant stores of gold. However, during an argument between his men over the size of their share, Balboa heard of a kingdom on ‘the other sea’ that was rich in gold.
His expedition departed the settlement of Santa Maria on the 1st September 1513. Having sailed along the coast to find a good landing point, Balboa and his men began the land crossing on the 6th. The journey involved battling with native tribes and forging a way through thick jungle, before reaching the mountain range along the Chucunaque River. It was from this summit that Balboa first saw the Pacific Ocean, on the morning of the 25th September. It was another 4 days before he reached the water and claimed it for the Spanish sovereigns.