Long populated by indigenous tribes, the Spanish first entered the area in 1524. Francisco Cortes (nephew of Hernan Cortes) led an exploration party down into the region from the Sierra Madre's. As they entered the valley, they were met by over 18,000 indians. Many of the indians were carrying crude flags and thus, the area became known as Valle de Las Banderas (Valley of the Flags).
Ships routinely pulled into the bay as a safe refuge from Pacific storms or as a place to load up on fresh water. Pirates also used the bay as a place to hide and prey on Spanish galleons. Legend says that Playa de los Muertos was named after a bloody battle between pirates and local indians.
The valley slept in a quiet slumber for centuries, until 1851 when Guadalupe Sanchez purchased the land near the Rio Cuale and began farming the fertile soil. He grew crops and shipped them to the mining operations of the Sierra Madre.
At the same time, the miners shipped in mining supplies through Sanchez' settlement of Las Penas bound for the mining towns in the mountains surrounding the valley. By the 1880's the population had reached 1,500 people and the name was changed to honor former Jalisco governor and constitutional delegate, Ignacio Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta became officially recognized as a city of Mexico in 1918. It remained an agricultural center with a few visitors arriving from the sea or private plane. These visitors usually fell in love with the village and returned often. The first hotel (Rosita) opened in 1948 and accommodated the few visitors who came to the sleepy village.
Two events changed Puerto Vallarta forever; Mexicana Airlines and Richard Burton & Liz Taylor.
In the 1950's, Mexicana Airlines, shut out of Acapulco by other airlines which held exclusive air rights, decided to fly from Guadalajara to this tiny, but beautiful hideaway. The first flight came in 1954 and used a dirt runway south of Río Cuale. Puerto Vallarta now had commercial flights available for visitors.
Although Puerto Vallarta was now connected to the world via Guadalajara, and a few Americans and Canadians built homes in an area called Gringo Gulch, the town remained quiet.
This all changed when famous Hollywood director John Huston decided to film "Night of the Iguana" here in 1963, starring Richard Burton & Ava Gardner. The real attraction wasn't the film, but the behind the scenes romance of Burton and Liz Taylor (she wasn't even in the film). Once Hollywood received word of this, reporters and photographers came and supplied the world with photos & stories of not only the two stars but of this tropical hideaway.
Puerto Vallarta's days as a hideaway were over as hotels and restaurants sprung up to accommodate the new influx of visitors who wanted to see where Richard & Liz romanced. Puerto Vallarta would never be the same.
Today, Puerto Vallarta is a world class resort, while retaining the charm of a century ago. The stunning backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountains and it's 41 km (24 miles) of coastline provide for the ultimate vacation or living situation. Puerto Vallarta is like no other place in Mexico and most who come, yearn to return.