Home Puerto Vallarta History

Puerto Vallarta History

Image credit: Comstock | Thinkstock
Image credit: Comstock | Thinkstock

Puerto Vallarta history began with the Spanish. The Bay of Banderas was frequented by the Spanish in the 16th century to repair their ships and resupply them with water, firewood and fresh food. During that time, ports along Mexico’s western coast were essential to Spain for their colonization of South America and the Philippines. Safe harbors like the Bay of Banderas also helped protect the Spanish fleet from pirates who roamed the seas.

Most of the economic activity in the area at that time was in the nearby mountain villages of Cuale, San Sebastian and Mascota, where silver was mined. Supplies and materials for the mining companies were unloaded at the site where Puerto Vallarta is now located.

By the mid-1850s, a village began forming at the mouth of the Cuale River. It was called Las Peñas at the time and grew to a population of about 1,500 people by 1880. Five years later, the port was opened to national maritime traffic and the name Las Peñas became official.

In 1918, Las Peñas became an official municipality in the state of Jalisco and also acquired a new name: Puerto Vallarta, given in memory of Jalisco governor Don Ignacio L. Vallarta.

The fertile valley of the Ameca River north of Puerto Vallarta became a major source for bananas by 1925 as well as corn, beans, tobacco and coconuts, which provided a solid agricultural economic base for Puerto Vallarta.

Tourists slowly began arriving by the 1930s after hearing about the beauty of the Bay of Banderas and the quiet charm of Puerto Vallarta. Tourism spurted after the construction of an airport and the first commercial flights to Puerto Vallarta by Mexicana Airlines began in 1954.

By the early 1960s, the tourism spurt had turned into a flood with the filming of “The Night of the Iguana” starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The media publicity generated by their romance and the movie finally put PV squarely on the map for tourists around the world.

Now with the tourism tap turned on, Jalisco’s governor in the late 1960s – Francisco Medina Ascencio – made sure that Puerto Vallarta received the necessary funds to create modern infrastructure to accommodate the demand, which included a bridge over the Ameca River, a major coastal highway and the development of the Gustavo Diaz Ordaz international airport.

Puerto Vallarta became a full-fledged Mexican city by 1968. Major international hotels began sprouting along the bay and international airlines began arriving with tourists from every major country by the early 1970s.

By 1990, PV had swollen to over 110,000 residents, the quiet downtown streets became a thing of the past and a new, large marina was built just south of the international airport.

Today, Puerto Vallarta is the sixth largest city in the state of Jalisco and his home to over 300,000 people. It is now the third largest vacation destination in Mexico and host to nearly 2 million visitors each year.