Puerto Vallarta’s Origin Story

Puerto Vallarta’s story is one of growth, tenacity, and innovation. Vallarta’s visitors and citizens alike embrace and celebrate this beloved city’s anniversary every May. Wonder what to do during this celebratory month? Take a walking tour and discover this unique story for yourself! 

You may know Puerto Vallarta as a stunning little city set like a jewel between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Pacific coast. Vallarta is a breathtaking mixture of old and new, with its charming boutiques and sidewalk cafes in Old Town nestled beside an ever-growing number of towering condo complexes. From the historic center with its cobblestoned streets to the lively evening entertainment scene, this city has something for everyone.  

But today’s Vallarta is very different from the one which greeted Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor when they stepped onto the tiny airstrip that made up Vallarta’s airport in the 1960s.  

And our beautiful PV is virtually unrecognizable to the little village of Las Peñas, as it was called in 1851, when it was officially founded by Guadalupe Sanchez. Sanchez was an enterprising boatman from Cihuatlán who set up a trading post there on the Rio Cuale. This post provided a way to supply salt to the mountain silver mines of San Sebastian and Mascota 

Truth be told, however, Las Peñas had long been home to pearl divers, fishermen and smugglers, and served as a port to the towns in the mountains. There have been accounts that suggest that the bay was used for pirate activity and as a smuggling point. Las Penas was a minor port, much less prone to official observation like the main port in nearby San Blas. 

 Tracing back the history even further, there is documentation to indicate that Hernan Cortes and his army met up to 20,000 indigenous inhabitants in battle in the bay area. The conquistadores named the bay Banderas, after the colorful flags the indigenous people carried into the fray.  

During the month of May each year, Vallarta celebrates the anniversary of its founding as a town in 1851, its elevation to municipality status in 1918, and the city status it attained in 1968.  All of May is a cultural celebration with a culminating event on May 31, complete with fireworks and musical concerts. 

The best way to find out more about Puerto Vallarta’s unique and intriguing history is to book a walking tour with a local company such as Vallarta 101. You’ll get up close and personal with the city’s most historic landmarks, starting at the Hotel Rosita, Vallarta’s first hotel, and ending in the Zona Romantica downtown. You’ll stop at several famous landmarks and get an inside look at the city’s iconic Catholic church, The Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Puerto Vallarta’s origin story is one of growth, transformation and innovation. Vallarta has never stopped growing and changing; from fishing village and beach port to major resort destination.

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