Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s Early Life and Major Contributions

Vasco Núñez de Balboa is a Spanish conqueror and explorer, born in 1475 and died in 1519 at 44 years. Balboa was a son to Nuño Arias de Balboa (father) and Lady de Badajoz (mother). Balboa was the third born among his four brothers. There is very little information about Balboa’s childhood life except that he served as a page boy to Don Pedro de Portcarrero, the Lord of Moguer (Nagelhout, 2016). However, he made significant contributions to exploration and history.

            Balboa’s contact with Christopher Columbus in 1492, his master during the voyage to the New World, fueled his ambitions to explore the New World. In 1501, Balboa became part of the Spanish expedition crew that sailed to South America (Otfinoski, 2005). He traversed through the Caribbean coast from Panama to the Gulf of Uraba and finally to Cabo de la Vela before sailing to South America in 1502 and settling in Hispaniola in 1505. He became a farmer and reared pigs on the island, but he ended up bankrupt because the venture was not successful as he thought (Nagelhout, 2016). Consequently, Balboa escaped his creditors by fleeing from the island in 1509 by secretly sailing in the company of Leoncico, his dog, hiding in a barrel.

In 1510, he founded Santa Maria, which is recognized as the first European permanent settlement in Columbia. It earned him respect and authority among the Spanish and the natives in Santa Maria. He also organized the removal of Fernandez de Enciso, the despot-like mayor of Santa Maria. Later, a more democratic government was formed, and Balboa was appointed as the new mayor. Balboa gained popularity, and Diego de Nicuesa, the governor of Veragua, promised to punish him because he was challenging his authority and control over the city (Nagelhout, 2016). However, Nicuesa was forced to board a ship along with his 17 accomplices. He perished in the sea, and King Ferdinand II appointed Balboa in 1511 as the new governor of Veragua.

By then, Balboa had become a very influential figure in Veragua and Santa Maria. He started his exploration mission after conquering a lot of native communities while befriending others. Balboa used a combination of force, negotiation, and diplomacy to subdue and control the natives (Nagelhout, 2016). He focused on searching for slaves and gold while at the same time expanding his territory. Balboa gathered gold during the explorations and collected lots of ornaments from native women by force.

Finally, Babloa’s passion for exploration and desire to conquer the South Seas made him the first European explorer to discover the Pacific Ocean after his navigation from Isthmus of Panama in 1513 (Nagelhout, 2016). Finally, he named the final destination as ‘San Muguel’ after traveling for more than 110 kilometers. Notably, Balboa is among the notable historical heroes and figures in American and European history.


Nagelhout, R. (2016). Vasco Núñez de Balboa: First European to Reach the Pacific Ocean from

the New World. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.

Otfinoski, S. (2005). Vasco Nuñez de Balboa: explorer of the Pacific. Marshall Cavendish.