The opera is set in Lisbon and on an island in the Indian Ocean during the 16th century. Vasco da Gama has been away from his fiancé Inès for two years. Assuming Da Gama is dead, Inès’ father insists that she marry Don Pédro. Surprisingly, Da Gama returns and brings with him two slaves Sélika and Nélusko. When the Grand Inquisitor refuses Da Gama’s request for more exploration funds, Da Gama attacks the Grand Inquisitor and is sent to prison. Luckily, Inès purchases Da Gama’s freedom by marrying Don Pédro. Inès and Don Pédro now set sail, piloted by the treacherous Nélusko. Da Gama has followed Don Pédro in another ship, and begs him to return to Lisbon. Don Pédro refuses, and a storm breaks out. The local people kill all males on the ships except Da Gama. Sélika is now queen once again and claims Da Gama as her husband. However, when Sélika sees Da Gama secretly with Inès (who survived), she commits suicide followed by Nélusko.