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December 12, 2011 Marks 160th Anniversary of Vallarta's Founding
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December 10, 2011
In the 1930s, Puerto Vallarta started to become a popular tourist destination. However, it wasn't until the 1963 arrival of John Huston’s film crews for the shooting of Night of the Iguana that PV became famous.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - The full City Council has declared that the central courtyard of the mayor's office will be the official site of a session commemorating the 160th anniversary of the founding of Puerto Vallarta. The event will be held at 5 pm on Monday, December 12th.

Ever since the 16th century, when Spanish soldiers first landed on the shores of the Bay of Banderas, it has been known as a safe haven. During that era, the need for ships to find shelter along the Pacific Coast was of vital importance. These safe havens helped to provide ships with shelter if pirates and renegades were to attack. They also provided ships with a place to seek repairs and to stock up on needed supplies such as food, water and firewood.

In the late 16th century, Captain Pedro de Unamuno proposed that a settlement be built on Banderas Bay. In 1644, a shipyard was built in what is now known as Mismaloya. During the 19th century, mining companies from Cuale and San Sebastian used the area to load and unload materials and mining supplies.

Halfway through that century, the area was dubbed Las Peñas de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, a name bestowed by Don Guadalupe Sanchez Torres. He named the area thus because it was on December 12th, 1851, the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that he brought his entire family there to live. It wasn’t long before other families began to arrive and a small village began to emerge.

Generations have told of Puerto Vallarta’s beginnings as a quiet little fishing village. Local records corroborate this claim, confirming that before Mr. Sánchez founded Las Peñas, inhabitants of nearby villages used to enjoy coming to where the Cuale River flows into the ocean. In this place, they were able to catch large fish … and since then, the harbor has been known as a place with abundant fishing.

By 1880, Las Peñas had a population of 1,500 inhabitants. Within a few years, the port was officially known as Las Peñas thanks to Admiral George Dewey’s report to the U.S. Naval Hydrographic Office, which was used to establish the exact geographical positions of cities along this coast in order to make an accurate map.

In October 1886, the town was given its official political and judicial standing by the State Congress. In early 1911, Las Peñas’ first post office was opened, and later that same year a telegraph was installed. In 1889, the port of Las Peñas was upgraded to a municipality. It was at this time that the settlement’s name was changed to Puerto Vallarta, in remembrance of the Governor of Jalisco, Don Ignacio L. Vallarta.

Thirty-five years later, the Montgomery Fruit Company purchased 70,000 acres for banana plantations in the neighboring town of Ixtapa, and Puerto Vallarta began to flourish. Eventually, a railway was built in order to transport the bananas to El Salado and from there to the United States.

Unfortunately, in 1938, the company was forced to leave the area due to new laws and restrictions that had been put into effect. Unlike some other cities in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta was not created for tourism. However, in the 1930’s, the city got its first taste. Those who visited the area loved it so much that they began returning year after year.

Word of Puerto Vallarta’s beauty quickly spread, and by 1950 the city was known internationally, but, as we all know, what really put Puerto Vallarta on the map was the movie The Night of the Iguana (filmed in 1963) and the steamy romance between film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Thousands of tourists flocked to the area, eager to see the location where the movie was made. Transportation improved, hotels were built and the city now had a new primary income source: tourism.

Because of that growth, Francisco Medina Ascencio, Governor of Jalisco, and Sr. José Vasquez Galvan as mayor of Puerto Vallarta, pronounced a decree which elevated Puerto Vallarta to the status of a city.

Today, hotels and restaurants line the beaches. Cruise ships come into port on an almost daily basis. Tourism, which was once nonexistent, now draws in more than three million visitors a year, turning this once a tiny fishing village into a sought-after vacation and retirement destination.

Sources: PV Mirror, Vallarta Opina,,