The History of Puerto Vallarta

Nestled between the Sierra Madre mountains and the Pacific Ocean waters of Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta blends modern luxury with Mexican colonial charm. Cobblestone streets, red tile roofed white buildings, and enchanting seaside villages preserve the ambiance of Old Mexico.

The Spanish Era Llong populated by indigenous tribes, according to historian Joseph J. Mountjoy, the first people to inhabit the area were the Toltecs, who arrived around 400 B.C.

After a succession of native civilizations, the pre-Columbian kingdom of Xalisco, was to begin a new era of change in 1525, with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. There is a story that tells us, that when Captain Francisco Cortés de San Buenaventura, nephew of Hernan Cortés, while exploring the mountainous areas along the Pacific coast with a small band of conquistadors, came to their first view of the vast panorama of a beautiful valley. They quickly descended to the valley and shoreline and were met by a multitude of native warriors prepared for battle. The Spanish forces were less than 100 men, and heavily outnumbered by over 18,000 warriors flying brightly colored banners from their bows. Captain Cortés, being a resourceful officer, attempted to talk the opposing forces into surrender. The chiefs refused his proposal. Francisco Cortés was set to order a retreat when his second in command, Captain Angel Villafaña exhorted Cortés that this is their God-given moment to display their Spanish courage. With the support of his command, Francisco Cortés resolved to fight, but first requested his soldiers to pray to the Virgin Mary for help. Standing among them was a monk named Juan de Villadiego, carrying a flag emblazoned with the Holy Cross and inscribed "In this I defeated, and the one that carries me, it will defeat." On the other side of the flag there portrayed the Immaculate Conception and the words "Mary, Mary, pray for us." As Captain Cortés readied the call to charge, a miracle occurred. The banner of the Holy Cross was illuminated by a brilliant ray of light which formed a halo pointing to the Holy Virgin. The warrior horde and the Spanish conquistadors were awe struck. Realizing they had been "touched by divine grace" both parties withdrew from battle. There was peace. To commemorate this event, Captain Don Francisco Cortés de San Buenaventura named the site "Valle de Banderas"—Valley of the Flags.

Days of Obscurity -During the 16th century expeditions to Lower California—also known as the "island of pearls"—Spanish soldiers landed in Banderas Bay to supply their ships with water, firewood and fresh food. Pirates also used the bay as a place to hide and prey upon Spanish galleons. Legend states that Playa de los Muertos was named after a bloody battle between pirates and the local indians.

The area that now embodies Puerto Vallarta was discovered in 1541 by Don Pedro de Alvarado. Though frequented often by vessels sailing the Pacific, the region was mainly left undeveloped for the next 300 years. The bay afforded a safe harbor from Pacific storms, which was a vital necessity to ships returning from the Orient. Here, ships could make necessary repairs and reprovision for their journey. One of the first to propose a settlement in Banderas Bay was Captain Pedro de Unamuno after his voyage to the Philippines in 1587. Many other Spanish navigators landed on these beaches and proposed the establishment of a colony—but their petitions were disregarded. It is known that a shipyard was built at Banderas Bay in 1644 and 2 ships were built for Bernardo Bernal de Pinadero that were used in the colonization of Lower California. Many documents and ships' logs from the 1700s give references to whaling ships and fishing boats harboring in the bay. At that time, Banderas Bay was also known as Humpback Bay—Bahía de los Jorobados—because of the numerous humpback whales seen in the bay.

A Community Established -During the 1800s, the loading of gold and silver and unloading of supplies for the mining companies working in Cuale and San Sebastian took place at the mouth of the Cuale River at a site known as Puerto de las Peñas—Port of the Rocks. Named so because of the prominent rocks in the bay opposite Mismaloya. In 1851, Don Guadalupe Sánchez Torres, originally from Cihuatlán, Jalisco, began making regular deliveries of salt in his small boat. The mines required large quantities to refine the silver. Near the end of that year, Don Guadalupe choose to bring his family to what he now named Las Peñas de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, because he arrived early in the morning hours of December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This little village grew with the addition of new families, and began to cultivate corn and raise cattle, in addition to the trading at the port. Occasionally, French and German ships entered Banderas Bay searching for brazil wood—a very hard wood that was processed in Europe to obtain dyes.

By 1880, the population of Las Peñas had grown to 1500, with the addition of new families that had come from Cuale and San Sebastian to settle in the port. In July 1885, the port was opened to national maritime traffic with the establishing of a Maritime Customs Office, and officially given the name of Las Peñas. In 1914, the first post office was opened and a telegraph was installed. On May 31, 1918, by Congressional decree, the port was promoted to the status of a municipality, and the name was changed to Puerto Vallarta, in honor of Don Ignacio Luis Vallarta. Ignacio Vallarta was governor of the state of Jalisco during the Mexican Revolution (1910 - 1917) and an author of the Mexican Constitution. After the Montgomery Fruit Company purchased 70,000 acres of land in Ixtapa in 1925, Puerto Vallarta experienced a burst of growth due to the jobs at the nearby banana plantations. A railway was constructed from Ixtapa to El Salado estuary to transport the fruit to awaiting ships for export to the United States. The international trade continued until 1935, when the Montgomery Fruit Company was forced to leave do to a new agrarian law. Corn, beans, tobacco and coconuts continued to be shipped from Banderas Bay to Mexico's interior for the national market.

In 1930, a few vacationers began to discover the wonders of Banderas Bay. The first airplane in Puerto Vallarta landed in 1931, yet the holiday trade remained at moderately low numbers—the world economy in the 30s was bleak. The first hotel (Rosita) opened in 1948 to accommodate the few visitors. In 1951, Puerto Vallarta celebrated its centennial with Mexican warships presenting a 21-gun salute from Banderas Bay. A relic of the True Cross was brought here to add to the festivities. Puerto Vallarta continued to be an isolated gem enjoyed by the few until Mexicana Airlines opened the door of opportunity to this land of wonder. AeroMexico had exclusive air rights on the flights between Mexico City and Acapulco. Desiring to share in the tourist trade, visionary officials of Mexicana Airlines saw the potential Puerto Vallarta could be as a resort to Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city. With no roads to Banderas Bay, Mexicana acquired a franchise for flights to Puerto Vallarta in 1954 using a dirt runway south of Río Cuale.

A Hollywood Drama -The event propelling Puerto Vallarta to the international spot light was the filming of the movie Night of the Iguana in 1963. Directed by Oscar-winning film director John Huston, Emilio (El Indio) Fernandez and Gabriel Figueroa, and starring Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner and Sue Lyon. The movie, based on a drama written by Tennessee Williams, portrayed the struggles of a group of polished losers: an alcoholic renegade cleric (Burton), an anguished old maid (Kerr), the sensual hotel owner (Gardner) and a glamorous young woman (Lyon)—together on an excursion in old Mexico. The film was mostly shot at Mismaloya with beautiful settings viewing the mountains, the sea, the deserted beaches and magnificent sunsets. The making of the movie, more than the movie itself, is what caught the attention of the world. The notoriously published romance between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (then married to popular singer Eddie Fisher), which had started during the filming of Cleopatra, brought Liz to accompany Burton during the filming. (Taylor was not in the film.) Beside the film crew and cast, were numerous reporters looking for the latest scoop. Director John Huston said, "There were more reporters than iguanas on the set." The scandal-hungry press daily narrated the couples lives. As a result, the world received photos and stories, not only of Liz and Dick, but of this tranquil, tropical haven. Thousands of visitors came to see the places the stars had been, and the sights that appeared in the movie. Many more came to see the beauty of the area. Hotels and restaurants boomed. Tourism quickly became the economic swell of Puerto Vallarta.

In 1969, Highway 200 was completed, connecting Puerto Vallarta with the Mexican interior, and a new commercial airport was opened in 1970, linking air-routes to the principle cites of North America and Europe. A modern Maritime Terminal also permits luxury cruise ships to dock here on a daily basis, with a marina providing slips for 550 boats of all sizes. Since the filming of Night of the Iguana, more than 70 movie and television productions have been filmed in Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area. Among them were the TV series The Love Boat. The World-Class Resort City -Several years ago the "town fathers" passed an ordinance that requires Puerto Vallarta to retain its village look. Preserving its cobblestone streets winding lazily around the mountainsides, viewing the deep blue waters of Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta has become the sixth most popular travel destination in the world.

Even with several high-rise hotels along the beach, Puerto Vallarta retains it's "village" presence, while enjoying the amenities of today. Today Puerto Vallarta has 350,000 residents and about 4 million visitors each year. There is a large foreign colony here, with Americans, Canadians, and Australians that live here on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. Though it has become a large city, Puerto Vallarta retains the picturesque charm of colonial Mexico—with the appearance more like a large village. Downtown is focused around the town plaza and the landmark Church of Guadalupe. The historical center is the downtown square, known as El Jardin Principal—The Main Garden. As with all main squares in Mexico, having a traditional gazebo with elaborate wrought iron and wood ceiling, the square hosts local mariachi bands, filling the plaza with music.

Puerto Vallarta is becoming a major golf destination with 7 challenging golf courses and more in development. Tournaments are hosted here every year. Visitors will find the variety of watersports typical to Mexican beach resorts and will enjoy Puerto Vallarta's strong folkloric tradition, sophisticated art galleries, fine restaurants and shopper's paradise among elegant boutiques and a flourishing handicraft market.

Puerto Vallarta covers 670 square miles of land along the central coast of Banderas Bay—the second largest bay in the Americas and the seventh largest in the world—presenting 25 miles of sheltered beaches. The "Bay of Flags" is 34km by 52km, having at least 3 different areas within the bay that exceed depths of 3000 feet. (Measuring instruments have never found the bottom in certain areas.) Most geologists agree with the theory that the sunken crater of a giant extinct volcano forms the bay.

Banderas Bay abounds with sea life, and has the unusual distinction of being a nearly shark free bay. Seldom have sharks been sighted. Sharks lingering into the bay are often attacked by a group of dolphins, and battered to death. Dolphins can weigh up to 500 pounds and swim at speeds over 45 m.p.h. They are one of the few creatures that, in a small group, can easily overcome sharks by ramming them broadside. Many dolphins inhabit the bay, and to protect their colony, these dolphins mount a patrol at the bay's entrance, not allowing the sharks to enter. Don't worry, dolphins are friendly to us! One of the most popular sites occurs December through April, when the pilot and grey wales bear their young. If you're out on the bay in a boat you can see the whales in season. Giant manta rays also inhabit the bay. During their April-May mating season you can see them from the Malecon, breaking the surface as they leap high into the air! The marvelous natural beauty of Banderas Bay has become the focus of several ecological groups interested in preserving the natural ecosystems existing here: rainforests, tropical jungle, mountain forest, coral reefs, and the incomparable marine life. The University of Guadalajara's Puerto Vallarta campus (Centro Universitario de la Costa) and private foundations are working to advance Mexico's studies and protection of marine life. The city of Puerto Vallarta—along with several hotels and other businesses—manages a sea turtle protection program that collects and protects turtle eggs during the summer, and further supports the newly-hatched young to enter the sea. Some of the hatcheries are open to visitors. These and other strategies are contributing to advance Puerto Vallarta to the forefront of ecologically minded destinations in Mexico.

From the small trading post beginnings on the beach to becoming a world-class resort city, Puerto Vallarta blossoms with the color of its history and present day charm. Since 1996, Puerto Vallarta has achieved the status of being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, and is among the most visited cities in Latin America by North Americans and Europeans

Sam Skidmore's Puerto Vallarta Luxury Properties • Call 1-866-610-9674 (toll-free)
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