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Visit Puerto Vallarta

History and Culture Puerto Vallarta

Early History


When it comes to the ancient history of Puerto Vallarta, the records are about as hazy as the relaxed ambience in this coastal resort city on Mexico's 'Bahía de las Banderas', or 'Bay of the Flags' on the Pacific Ocean. There is evidence of inhabitants from around about the year 580 B.C, with remnants of the Aztatlán culture, the nomadic tribes that occupied much of the area where Puerto de Vallarta is to be found. In the 1500s the whole area of this bay was discovered by the colonizing Spaniards and it became a safe refuge for boats during severe storms and also a hideout for pirates attempting to hijack Spanish ships as they passed laden with supplies and treasures. Despite this coastal hive of activity however, Puerto Vallarta (known then as Las Peñas) developed little. Gradually, as other towns along the bay grew (towns such as Mascota which are now much smaller than modern day Puerto Vallarta, but were then quite a bit larger and more developed) so did Puerto Vallarta, and people began to arrive from the other towns. The port became more and more active and received ships with cargoes destined for all over the bay.

Puerto Vallarta Development

Again it is not entirely crystal clear, but it is believed that Puerto Vallarta was officially founded in 1851, by Don Guadalupe Sánchez Torres, who moved to the area with his family. The town was originally christened Las Peñas de Santa María de Guadalupe, to be later renamed Puerto Vallarta in 1918 after a former state governor. In 1859 industry was stepped up in the area with the arrival of the mining company Union en Cuale and the beginning of its oil palm trade and exploitation in Puerto. This small pearl diving town was slowly transforming into something bigger and bolder.

Puerto Vallada's development was not without its problems. It was hard to get land following the arrival of Union en Cuale as they acquired most of the land. The people of Puerto Vallarta petitioned the Government who came up with a programme to distribute the land more evenly, but many were still reluctant to build on this land as it was not truly theirs, but the Governments and could not be sold or leased. The area was also occupied not once but twice during the Cristero War, resulting in the construction of a small military base. The mining industry began to decline, not necessarily a bad thing for Puerto Vallarta as people moved from the typically mining areas to find more space for agricultural activities. This was to be found in Puerto.

In the Spotlight


In the 1930s and 40s Puerto Vallarta began to develop its infrastructure in order to cope with the growing number of inhabitants. In 1932 the first flight service was introduced, electricity networks were developed and better roads were built. Then in the 1950s the tourism boom started to hit Puerto. Magazines in the USA started to publish advertisement campaigns showing the wonders of Puerto Vallarta. Mexicana Airlines in particular, who had been excluded from the popular tourist destination of Acapulco, choose Puerto Vallarta as its equally pleasant, if not quite as well known, alternative. In 1963 American film director John Huston chose Puerto Vallarta and nearby Mismaloya Village as the location for filming The Night of the Iguana, based on the play by Tennessee Williams and starring Richard Burton. Scandal prevailed when Elizabeth Taylor came to Puerto Vallarta to be on set with Burton. The pair were both still married to other partners and so their rumoured love affair sent waves of controversy flowing from this quiet coastal resort. A year later the pair married and Burton purchased 'Casa Kimberly', the house where they resided during filming, for Taylor on her 32nd birthday. They lived here for over a decade and brought up their children. They invested a lot in the local area and needless to say they brought it a boost of fame and tourism. There is a statue of them in the restaurant La Fuente de la Puente, found just below Casa Kimberley.

In and around the 1970s the construction of large scale hotels began and more and more people, both tourists and Mexicans in search of work, flocked to the town. This resulted in infrastructural problems and overcrowding which the Government has since addressed. Nowadays you will find a thoroughly pleasant coastal city with an equal balance of activity and tranquility. It is now quite a large and sprawling city, with a bit of something for everyone. The locals are some of the friendliest you will come across in Mexico and the natural beauty of the city, in particular the old part, and the surrounding area is truly remarkable. One thing is for sure, if you think you might like to study Spanish in Puerto Vallarta, then you are in for a lot of fun and a true insight into Mexican coastal culture.