Portugal was one of the earliest nations to try to gain access to China via a water route. By seeking a water route to China, the Portuguese hoped to cut out Venetian and Ottoman middle men who controlled the Mediterranean spice and silk trade. Portuguese sailors stayed close to the African coast in order to easily replenish drinking water supplies and repair ships in case of storm damage. Later, Portuguese captains would also be involved in the slave trade in Africa.
Portuguese traders were in search of Chinese silks and spices but they found much of what they were looking for in India. The first Portuguese captains thought they found an obscure sect of Christianity in India when in reality they were seeing Hindu shrines. Indian leaders initially turned down offers to trade cinnamon and nutmeg for rough European cloth, but later Portuguese explorations forced Indians to accept inferior European goods for Asian spices. Goods unique to Asia such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper were worth more than their weight in gold and a single successful trading voyage could make a sea captain wealthy for life. Silk was also valuable since silk worms could not survive cold European winters and silk maintained its quality during long sea voyages.
The Portuguese hoped to reach Asian spices quickly and efficiently by sailing around the coast of Africa. Portugal was also trading in African slaves but this would not be the major focus of the voyage since spices were more valuable than slaves. Portuguese merchants also wanted Chinese silk but these were not considered to be the most important goods on board. Portugal was able to establish trading posts in India in order to facilitate its spice trade.