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Puerto Vallarta History, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, meaning Vallarta Port, is located in the Bahia de Banderas area of Mexico. The city had derived its name from a former governor of Jalisco, Ignacio Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta thrived for a long time, even before the city turned into an internationally acclaimed destination for tourists.

There are not enough records to reveal the detailed history of the city before the 19th century. However, it is accepted that the rich agricultural hinterland in the valley, the major mining centers situated in the Sierra, and the closeness to the Bay of Banderas, had made the city an affluent one even at that time.

Some of the available Spanish documents sustain this fact. Archaeologists claim that the area of Puerto Vallarta was inhabited from as far back as 580 BC. Further archaeological evidences establish that the Aztatlan culture dominated this area and Jalisco, Michoacan, and Nayarit areas between 900 and 1200 AD. Available Spanish documents reveal that a huge battle took place in 1524 between an army of Indians numbering between 10,000 and 20,000 and Herman Cortes of Spain. Cortes defeated the Indians and took control of the Ameca valley. It is believed that Captain Pedro de Unamuno proposed a settlement on Banderas Bay in 1587, after returning from a trip to the Philippines, but his request went unheeded. Proposals by other famous navigators like Gonzalo de Francia, Lopez de Vicuna, and Sebastian Vizcaino for establishing a settlement here were also not accepted.

According to records, Don Guadalupe Sanchez Torres started regular deliveries of salt that were required by the mines in 1851. At the end of 1851, he brought his family to this place. More families arrived from Cuale and San Sebastian and the village started growing. It is known that there were about 1,500 residents in Puerto Vallarta in 1880, then known as Las Penas. A Congressional decree on May 31, 1918 granted the town the title of municipality and also the new name, Puerto Vallarta, honoring the famous governor of Jalisco, a lawyer by profession, Don Ignacio L. Vallarta.

Changing Economy of Puerto Vallarta

When cheaper silver was discovered in the United States around 1915, silver prices plummeted and many miners left the mountain townships, abandoning the mines, to turn to agriculture. The fertile Ameca valley started producing as much as three corn harvests in a year. The prospering exports of unripe bananas by the Montgomery Fruit Company thrived here between 1915 and 1935. However, the land reforms by the local government forced the company to return nearly 26,000 hectares of land to the locals. The agricultural prosperity started declining. However, the enterprising citizens turned towards fishing and shark hunting. Shark fin sales to the Chinese restaurants of New York and shark liver oil sales to American soldiers brought wealth to the area between 1935 and 1950.

In 1950, Fernando Freddy Romero arrived in Puerto Vallarta to impose a new type of ‘Vallarta style’ architecture on the city. The houses designed by him recaptured the old atmosphere of typical Mexican villages. This and the centenary celebrations of the city made Puerto Vallarta known throughout the Western hemisphere and the city grew into a major tourist destination. Today, it is the tourism that is the backbone of Puerto Vallarta’s economy.

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