Puerto Vallarta is a Mexican resort city situated on the Pacific Ocean's
Bahía de Banderas. The 2005 census reported Puerto Vallarta's population as
177,830 making it the fifth-largest city in the state of Jalisco. The City
of Puerto Vallarta is the government seat of the Municipality of Puerto
Vallarta which comprises the city as well as population centers outside of
the city extending from Boca de Tomatlán to the Nayarit border (the Ameca
River). The municipality's population in the 2005 census was 220,368.
The city is located at 20°40′N 105°16′W / 20.667°N 105.267°W / 20.667;
-105.267. The municipality has an area of 502.19 square miles (1,300.67 km²)
To the North it borders the SW part of the state of Nayarit. To the east it
borders the municipality of Mascota and San Sebastián del Oeste, and to the
South it borders the municipalities of Talpa de Allende and Cabo Corriente.
Puerto Vallarta is named after Ignacio Vallarta, a former governor of
Jalisco. In Spanish, Puerto Vallarta is often shortened to "Vallarta", while
english speakers call the city P.V. for short. The city occasionally is
spelled or pronounced as Porto Vallarta. Being a Spanish name, Vallarta is
usually pronounced 'vie-arta', not 'val-arta'. In internet shorthand the
city is often referred to as PVR, after the IATA code (ICAO MMPR) for its
Puerto Vallarta's proximity to the Bay of Banderas, the agricultural valley
of the Ameca River, and the important mining centers in the Sierra have
given the town a more interesting past than most Mexican tourist
destinations. Puerto Vallarta was a thriving Mexican village long before it
became an international tourist destination.
Pre-Hispanic times to the 19th century
Few details are known about the history of the area prior to the 19th
century. There is archaeological evidence of continuous human habitation
from 580 B.C., and there is archeological evidence (from sites near Ixtapa
and in Col. Lázaro Cardenas) that the area belonged to the Aztatlán culture
which dominated Jalisco, Nayarit and Michoacán from approx. 900-1200 A.D.
Unfortunately the limited evidence and relative lack of interest in
occidental Mexican archeology have meant that we still know very little
about pre-historic life in the area.
Spanish missionary and conquistador documents chronicle skirmishes between
the Spanish colonizers and the local peoples. In 1524, for example, a large
battle between Hernán Cortés and an army of 10,000 to 20,000 Indians
resulted in Cortés taking control of much of the Ameca valley. The valley
was then named Banderas (flags) after the colorful standards carried by the
Also the area appears on maps and in sailing logs as a bay of refuge for the
Manila Galleon trade as well as for other coastal seafarers. As such it
figures in some accounts of pirate operations and smuggling and pirate
contravention efforts by the viceregal government. During the 17th and 18th
centuries the Banderas Valley and its beaches along the Bay of Banderas
served as supply points for ships seeking refuge in the bay. The area also
served as a point where smuggled goods could be sent on to the Sierra towns
near Mascota, evading the customs operations at San Blas, Nayarit.
El Carrizal and Las Peñas - 19th century
During the 19th century the history of Puerto Vallarta, then called El
Carrizal or Las Peñas, was linked to the history of the sierra towns of San
Sebastian del Oeste, Talpa de Allende and Mascota. While today these towns
are considered quaint tourist destinations, during much of the 18th century,
Mascota was Jalisco's second largest town, after Guadalajara. Mascota and
its neighboring towns located in the high plateaus of the Sierra, developed
as agricultural towns to support the growing mining operations in the Sierra
During the 18th century, as Mascota grew, Puerto Vallarta grew with it,
transforming itself from a small fishing and pearl-diving village into a
small beach-landing port serving the Sierra towns. At the time the main port
serving Jalisco was located at San Blas, but the inconvenient overland route
from San Blas to the Sierra towns made Puerto Vallarta a more convenient
alternative for smaller shipments, not to mention smuggling operations which
evaded the tax collectors at San Blas. Puerto Vallarta also became a
vacation destination for residents of the Sierra Towns, and by the mid 19th
century, the town already had its regularly returning population of
vacationers. Most of the early settlers in Puerto Vallarta were families who
had left the Sierra towns for one reason or another.
1859 saw an important turning point for the small village, then known as Las
Peñas. That year the Union en Cuale mining company took possession of land
extending from Los Arcos to the Pitillal river and extending back up into
the Sierra for miles. The Union en Cuale company was owned in part by the
Camarena brothers of Guadalajara who had developed a small trade in oil palm
in Las Peñas. The purpose of the government's sale of the land to the
company was to provide for shipping, fishing and agricultural support for
the mining operations which were growing quite quickly in the Sierra.
The official founding story of Las Peñas and thus of Puerto Vallarta is that
it was founded by Guadalupe Sánchez Torres, on December 12, 1851, as Las
Peñas de Santa María de Guadalupe. Unfortunately the record of Sr. Sanchez's
purchase of property in Las Peñas dates the sale to 1859. Also even as early
as 1850 the area was already peopled by fisherman, pearl divers, smugglers
and foragers, all of whom had something of a permanent existence in the area
Given the existing historical documents it is simply impossible to date the
first permanent settlement in the area,
There is however no doubt the development of Las Peñas into a
self-sustaining village of any significant size happened in the 1860s as the
mouth of the Cuale area was exploited to support the operations of the newly
enfranchised Union en Cuale company. As such 1859 marks the beginning of
Puerto Vallarta as a village. Twenty years later, by 1885, the village
comprised about 250 homes and about 800 residents.
The early Municipality - early 20th century
In 1918, the village was elevated to municipality status and renamed after
former state governor Ignacio Vallarta. During the early years of the 20th
century most of Puerto Vallarta was owned by the Union en Cuale company
controlled by the American Alfred Geist. Mr Geist sold land only in large
plots at prices that were quite high for the time and otherwise leased the
land on short term leases. To remedy this situation and to enable the new
municipality to develop, the citizens petitioned the government for a land
grant based on the new constitution's provisions. In 1921 the Local Agrarian
Commission approved a grant of some 9,400 hectares (23,000 acres or 39
square miles), with the land to be expropriated from the Union en Cuale
company. The grant was established as an ejido holding (a farming
cooperative administered by the government). Legal squabbling over the size
of the land grant, and the ejido status of the properties involved would
stymie growth in Puerto Vallarta into the 1960s, as developers were
reluctant to build anything too substantial on land for which one could not
obtain clear title. (Ejido land is controlled by individuals who are given
licenses to use it, but it could not be sold, subdivided or leased.)
During the Cristero War the municipality was twice taken over by Cristero
forces (April 1927 and January 1928). After it was recaptured for a second
time, the national government stationed a small garrison there under Major
Ángel Ocampo. The garrison was stationed near the mouth of the Cuale River
and is responsible for planting many of the palms that now line the beaches
on near the mouth of the Cuale River to help limit beach erosion during
heavy rains in October 1928. One casualty of the skirmishes was local pastor
Padre Ayala who was exiled to Guadalajara for his role in fomenting the
local revolt. He died there in 1943, though his remains were returned 10
years later and interred in the main parish church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As mining activities in the Sierra waned in the early years of the 20th
century, Puerto Vallarta and the agricultural valley to the North of the
city became important destinations for those leaving the Sierra towns and
looking for a place to settle. Many of those who arrived had family members
already living in Puerto Vallarta, and the pattern of migration that ensued
turned the town into a collection of more or less extended families, giving
it the cohesion of a typical sierra town.
Also from 1925 until 1935 the Montgomery Fruit Company operated in the area
around Ixtapa. Friction with the state government over labor issues
eventually led to the venture being abandoned, but for ten years it provided
an important source of employment in the area.
The first airplane service arrived in 1932, with electrical service on a
small scale arriving about the same time. The first suspension bridge over
the Cuale went up in 1933. The city's first plumbing system was started in
1939. In 1942 Puerto Vallarta was finally connected by road to Compostela,
Nay. Until then the only access to Puerto Vallarta was by sea, air, or by
mule trails to the sierra towns. Also in 1942 in the New York based magazine
Modern Mexico the first advertisement for a Puerto Vallarta vacation
appeared, sponsored by the Air Transport Company of Jalisco. By 1945 the
company was landing DC-3s in Puerto Vallarta (carrying 21 passengers).
By the 1950s Puerto Vallarta had started to attract Americans, mostly
writers and artists in search of a retreat from the USA of the era of
Eisenhower and McCarthy. Gringo Gulch began to develop as an expatriate
neighborhood on the hill above the Centro. The city also attracted Mexican
artists and writers who were willing to trade the comforts of life in the
larger cities for its scenic and bucolic advantages.
In 1956 the Mascota mule trail was replaced by a packed dirt road. 24-hour
electrical generation arrived in 1958. A new airport arrived in 1962
connecting Puerto Vallarta with Los Angeles via Mazatlán, and the Mexican
Aviation Company began offering package trips.
By the early 1960s the population had started to spread beyond the Centro
and Gringo Gulch, and the Colonias of 5 Diciembre (north of the Centro) and
Emiliano Zapata (south of the Cuale River) began to grow.
The modern resort - 1960s to the present
Four influences converged during the 1960s and early 1970s to launch Puerto
Vallarta into its trajectory toward becoming a major resort destination.
First the federal government finally resolved century old property disputes
involving the status of communal land originally appropriated from the Union
en Cuale mining company to be parceled out as farms. The communal (ejido)
status of the land had stifled development in the town for much of the 20th
century. The transition to private ownership of much of the land within
present city limits culminated in the appropriation of much of the land in
1973 and the establishment of the Vallarta Land Trust (Fideicomiso) to
oversee selling the land and using the revenue to develop the city's
Second, the American director John Huston filmed his 1963 film The Night of
the Iguana in Mismaloya, a small town just south of Puerto Vallarta. During
the filming, the US media gave extensive coverage to Elizabeth Taylor's
extramarital affair with Richard Burton, as well as covering the frequent
fighting between Huston and the film's four stars. The subsequent publicity
helped put Puerto Vallarta on the map for US tourists.
Third, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Mexican government invested in
the development of highways, airport and utility infrastructure, making
Puerto Vallarta easily accessible both by air and ground transportation for
the first time. The city's first tourist boom occurred in the late 1960s and
early 1970s because of this work. During those years most tourists in Puerto
Vallarta were Mexican, and the reason they started travelling to Puerto
Vallarta then was because the trip between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta
was made sufficiently convenient because of the governments investment in
Finally, in 1968 the municipality was elevated to the status of a City. The
change in status reflected the renewed interest shown by the federal and
state government in developing the city as an international resort
Also significant was the August 1970 visit of US President Richard Nixon who
met with Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta for treaty
negotiations. The visit showcased Puerto Vallarta's recently developed
airport and resort infrastructure, and thus contributed to the growing
visibility of the city as a resort destination.
Prior to 1973, hotels in the city tended to be modest, and only two large
sized luxury hotels existed (the Real and the Posada Vallarta). After 1973
Puerto Vallarta experienced rapid growth in the number of larger luxury
hotels, culminating in 1980 with the opening of the Sheraton Buganvilias. In
1982 the peso was devalued and Puerto Vallarta became a bargain destination
for US tourists. Consequently the mid-80s saw a marked and rapid rise in the
tourist volume. This in turn fueled more development, for example the Marina
which was started in 1986. By the early 90s development of other
destinations in Mexico like Ixtapa and Cancún caused a slump in travel to
It was also during the early 1980s that Puerto Vallarta experienced a marked
increase in problems related to poverty. While the devaluation of the peso
brought record numbers of tourists to the area, it also stifled investment
and thus construction. So while more and more workers were arriving in
Puerto Vallarta to try to cash in on the booming tourist trade, less and
less was being done to accommodate them with housing and related
infrastructure. So during the mid 1980s the city experienced a rapid growth
in impromptu communities poorly served by even basic public services, and
with a very low standard of living as the boom of the early 80s leveled out.
During the late 1980s the city worked to alleviate the situation by
developing housing and infrastructure, but even today the outlying areas of
Puerto Vallarta suffer from poor provision of basic services (i.e. water,
sewage, roads) as a legacy of the early 80s.
In 1993 the federal Agrarian Law was amended allowing for more secure
foreign tenure of former ejido land. Those controlling ejido land were
allowed to petition for regularization, a process that converted their
controlling interest into fee simple ownership. This meant that the property
could be sold, and it led to a boom in the development of private residences
mostly condominiums, and a new phase of Puerto Vallarta's expansion began,
centered more on accommodating retirees, snow-birds, and those who visited
the city enough to make purchasing a condominium or a time-share a
Puerto Vallarta's climate is typical Tropical wet and dry with a marked dry
season in the winter. The high temperature and variations in humidity can
make July through September nearly intolerable. It has pronounced wet and
dry seasonal variation, with sudden monsoon-like rains from July through
September, normally for a few hours in the evenings.
The average daily high temperature is 86 °F (30 °C); average daily low
temperature is 70 °F (21 °C); average daily humidity is 75%. The rainy
season extends from mid June through mid October, with most of the rain
between July and September. August is the city's wettest month, with an
average of 14 days with significant precipitation. Even during the rainy
season precipitation tends to be concentrated in large rainstorms.
Occasional tropical storms will bring thunderstorms to the city in November,
though the month is typically dry. February, March and April are the months
with the least cloud cover.
Prevailing winds are from the southwest, and most weather systems
approaching Puerto Vallarta are consequently weakened as they pass over Cabo
Corriente. Thus even during the rainy season Puerto Vallarta's weather tends
to be mild compared to other areas along the Mexican Pacific coast.
Hurricanes seldom strike Puerto Vallarta. In 2002 Hurricane Kenna, a
category 5 hurricane, made landfall about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of
Puerto Vallarta, and the city suffered some damage from the resulting storm
surge. In 1971 Hurricane Lily, a category 1 hurricane, caused serious
flooding on the Isla Cuale, prompting the city to relocate all of its
residents to the new Colonia Palo Seco.
Puerto Vallarta was once named as La Ciudad Mas Amigable en el Mundo (The
Friendliest City in the World), as the sign reads when entering from Nayarit
Today, the presence of numerous sidewalk touts selling time-shares and
tequila render the city's atmosphere more akin to tourist-heavy resorts like
Cancun and Acapulco, but overall the city's reputation remains relatively
Tourism makes up roughly 50% of all economic activity in Puerto Vallarta
according to puertovallarta.net. The high season for international tourism
in Puerto Vallarta extends from late November through March (or later
depending on the timing of the College Spring Break period in the USA.) The
city is especially popular with US residents from the West Coast because of
the number of convenient flights between Puerto Vallarta and Los Angeles,
San Francisco and Seattle. The air routes between Puerto Vallarta and Los
Angeles and Puerto Vallarta and San Francisco are by far the most heavily
traveled of all air routes to the city.
Puerto Vallarta is also a popular destination for domestic tourists. It is a
popular weekend destination for residents of Guadalajara (tapatíos), and a
popular national destination for vacations such as Semana Santa (the week
preceding Easter) and Christmas. Also in recent years Acapulco has
experienced a rise in drug related violence and consequently Puerto Vallarta
has absorbed a lot of the Mexico City resort vacation business (Acapulco has
long been a common destination for tourists from Mexico City).
Puerto Vallarta has become a popular retirement destination for US and
Canadian retirees. This trend has spawned a condominium development boom in
Rapid growth in tourist volume in Puerto Vallarta has given rise to rapid
growth in hotel and rental apartment construction. This growth has spilled
over from the city limits into Nuevo Vallarta in the neighboring state of
Nayarit. The area is one of the fastest growing regions in the Americas.
Guadalajara and Acapulco were common vacation destinations for gay men and
lesbians from Mexico City and, especially, the United States and Canada in
the 1980s and 1990s. However, since that time, Puerto Vallarta has developed
into Mexico's premier resort town as a sort of satellite gay space for its
big sister Guadalajara, much as Fire Island is to New York City and Palm
Springs is to Los Angeles. It is now considered the most welcoming and
gay-friendly destination in the country, dubbed the "San Francisco of Mexico
It boasts a gay scene, centered in the Zona Romántica, of hotels and
resorts as well as many bars, nightclubs and a gay beach on the main shore.
Puerto Vallarta has been cited as the number one gay beach destination in
Lic. Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport
The Lic. Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport comprises a commercial
international section and a general aviation section.
The commercial section has a single runway, 3,100 meters in length and 45
meters in width, capable of handling all current traffic without
restrictions. The airfield is capable of handling 40 takeoffs or landings
per hour. The airport has 11 active gates, three serviced directly from the
terminal, and eight serviced remotely using shuttle buses.
As of 2006 the active airlines utilizing the commercial section were:
Aerocalifornia, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska, American, Aviacsa, Azteca,
Continental, Magnicharters, Northwest Airlines, Mexicana and US Airways.
The general aviation section handles small planes leaving for San Sebastian
del Oeste, Mascota, and other towns in the Sierra and along the Coast. It
has 18 loading positions and shares the commercial airfield.
During the high season the airport handles approximately 300,000 passengers
a month. During the low season it handles about half of that volume. During
2006 the airport handled a total of 2.8 million passengers. One fifth of
those were domestic passengers and four fifths were international.
Landmarks in Puerto Vallarta
* Parish Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe - Col. Centro
* Púlpito and Pilitas (Pulpit and Baptismal Font) - Col. Emilio Zapata -
two rock formations at the South end of Los Muertos Beach. El Púlpito is the
tall headland and Las Pilitas are the formation of rocks beneath it. Las
Pilitas was the original location of the Boy on a Seahorse sculpture (El
Caballito) now located on the Malecón. There are two streets in the Olas
Altas area named after the rock formations.
* Playa Conchas Chinas (Chinese Shells Beach) - Fracc. Amapas - the city
s most secluded beach, located to the South of the headland which forms the
boundary of Los Muertos beach.
* The Malecon - paved walkway along the seashore in Col. Centro -
especially popular during the Sunday evening paseo. It features a collection
of contemporary sculptures by Sergio Bustamante, Alejandro Colunga, Ramiz
Barquet and others. The Malecon was extensively rebuilt in 2002-2003
following damage from hurricane Kenna.
* Mercado Isle Cuale and Mercado Municipal Cuale - there are two large
public markets in the Centro along the banks of the Cuale selling a variety
of artisanal and souvenir goods, and the Isla Cuale has a number of souvenir
vendor shops as well. The Isla Cuale was also famous for its cat population.
The Island was a lower class suburb until flooding during Hurricane Lily
(1971) forced residents to be relocated. They were moved to Palo Seco (which
means for dry stick) and the Island was converted into a site for
restaurants, shops and a cultural center.
* Cuale Archaeological Museum - on the West side of the Isla Cuale, the
museum presents a significant collection of local and regional pre-Hispanic
art in a number of informative displays. The museum also houses a small
gallery for showing contemporary art.
* John Huston statue on Isla Cuale - dedicated on the 25th anniversary
of the film's release and honoring Huston's contributions to the city. John
s son Danny was married in a ceremony that took place at the statue in 2002.
* Plaza de Armas (Ignacio Vallarta) / Aquiles Serdan Amphitheater (Los
Arcos) - the city's main plaza - site of public concerts both at the
bandstand in the Plaza de Armas and on the stage in front of the arches
across the street.
* City Hall - a modern city hall laid out using a traditional courtyard
plan. There is a tourist office in the SW corner, and on the landing of the
main (West off the courtyard) stairwell there is a modest naive style mural
by local artist Manuel Lepe.
* Saucedo Theatre Building (Juarez at Iturbide) - Built in 1922 in a Belle Epoque style reminiscent of architecture of the Porfirato. The theater presented live shows and films on its first floor, and the second floor housed a ballroom. The building has been converted to retail use.