Puerto Vallarta (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈpweɾto βaˈʎaɾta]) is a Mexican beach resort city situated on the Pacific Ocean’s Bahía de Banderas. The 2010 census reported Puerto Vallarta’s population as 255,725 making it the fifth largest city in the state of Jalisco, and the second largest urban agglomeration in the state after the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. 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 city is located at . The municipality has an area of 1,300.7 square kilometres (502.19 sq mi). To the north it borders the southwest 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 frequently shortened to “Vallarta”, while English speakers call the city P.V. for short. In internet shorthand the city is often referred to as PVR, after the International Air Transport Association airport code for its Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport.
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. Tourism was a major economic activity because of the climate, scenery, tropical beaches, and rich cultural history.
Few details are known about the history of the area prior to the 19th century. There is archaeological evidence to suggest continuous human habitation from 580 BC, and similar 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 c. 900–1200. The limited evidence in occidental Mexican archeology have limited the current knowledge 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 natives.
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.
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 kilometres. 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 fishermen, 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.
With growth comes problems. During the early 1980s 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 Puerto Vallarta experienced a rapid expansion of impromptu communities poorly served by even basic public services. This very low standard of living leveled out Puerto Vallarta’s resort boom. In the late 1980s Puerto Vallarta government worked to alleviate the situation by developing housing and infrastructure. However, the legacy of the 1980s boom remains even today where the outlying areas of Puerto Vallarta suffer from poor provision of basic services (i.e. water, sewage, roads).
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, snowbirds, and those who visited the city enough to make purchasing a condominium or a time-share a cost-effective option.
Puerto Vallarta’s climate is typical Tropical wet and dry (Köppen climate classification Aw). 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. There is a marked dry season in the winter. 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 160 km (100 mi) 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 lies on a narrow coastal plain at the foot of the Sierras Cuale and San Sebastián, parts of the Sierra Madre Occidental. The plain widens to the north, reaching its widest point along the Ameca river. Three rivers flow from the Sierra through the area. From south to north they are the Cuale, the Pitillal, and the Ameca. A number of arroyos also run from the Sierra to the coastal plain. Many of the valleys of these rivers and arroyos are inhabited. Also development has to some extent spread up the hillsides from the coastal plain.
The city proper comprises four main areas: the hotel zone along the shore to the north, Olas Altas – Col Zapata to the south of the Cuale river (recently named Zona Romantica in some tourist brochures), the Centro along the shore between these two areas, and a number of residential areas to the east of the hotel zone. The oldest section of the town is the area of Col. Centro near the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, especially Hidalgo street.
Visibility in the water off Puerto Vallarta, close to the mouths of the rivers is poor in the summer, but away from these locations visibility in the summer is greater than in the dry season. In Puerto Vallarta, the sewage is treated by a British/Dutch company with a “State of the Art” facility. Outside of the City there may be no connection to this and in the rainy season some pollution can happen around the river mouths, but it quickly dissipates in the bay, which is a huge body of water.
Recently, jellyfish blooms in the fall have become an increasing problem, making many of the area beaches unsuitable for swimming. It is likely that the blooms are the result of increased algae levels and decreases in predator populations due to the ever declining quality of the water in the bay. While the city government has done a lot to improve sewage treatment, it has done little to enforce its usage, and the worsening jellyfish bloom is probably a consequence of the resulting plankton blooms.
Recently (as of 2006) beaches in Jalisco were ranked as the worst in the country in a government study. The beaches at Boca de Tomatlan and at the mouth of the Cuale in the heart of Puerto Vallarta tested repeatedly at rates three to four times internationally accepted standards for human fecal bacteria. Even the beaches at seemingly idyllic Yelapa and Mismaloya tested at the same high levels on several occasions. During the rainy months of June and July the situation becomes worse. For example, in July 2007, Los Muertos beach tested at 12 times the limit that the US EPA considers safe for swimming.
Landmarks in Puerto Vallarta
- 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, an identical sculpture is also located on Los Muertos Beach. There are two streets in the Olas Altas area named after the rock formations.
- Playa Conchas Chinas (Curly 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 Malecón – 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. It was also greatly renovated, having new walkways and iconic sculptures in 2010
- 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 “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.
Landmarks south of Puerto Vallarta
- Los Arcos Marine Natural Area – offshore of Mismaloya 12 km south of Puerto Vallarta. The area has been a National Marine Park since 1984. The area is protected as a breeding ground for pelicans, boobies and other sea birds. The park is a popular snorkeling destination both for the rocks themselves and for the fossilized coral beds that surround them.
- Vallarta Botanical Gardens – A popular showcase of orchids, agaves, cactus, palms, and other native plants. A restaurant and river swimming is also available to visitors. The gardens are located 14 mi (23 km) South of Puerto Vallarta on Highway 200. Buses for the Vallarta Botanical Gardens depart from the corner of Carranzas and Aguacate Streets in the Zona Romantica and are labeled as both “El Tuito” and “Botanical Gardens”.
- Puerto Vallarta Zoo – with 350 animals, and located in a forested setting in Mismaloya.
Landmarks north of Puerto Vallarta
- University of Guadalajara’s Coastal Center – North of Pitillal and West of Ixtapa, the campus features several public attractions including the Peter Gray Art Museum and a Crocodile Farm.
- Ixtapa Archaeological Zone – north of the town of Ixtapa along the banks of the Ameca River there is an archeological site with remains going back several thousand years. The site comprises 29 mounds. The largest measures 40 meters in diameter and 8 meters in height. The site also includes the remains of ceremonial ball court. The original inhabitants of the site were vassals of the Aztatlán kingdom which was located in Western Jalisco between 900 and 1200 AD. The site is the oldest explored in Western Jalisco. The digs have uncovered a number of residential and ceremonial sites, a wealth of pottery (incense burners, bowls, amphora, etc.). Many of these objects are on display at the Rio Cuale Island Museum.
Landmarks east of Puerto Vallarta
- Terra Noble Art and Healing Center – a New Age spa, meditation center and artist retreat on the hills east of Puerto Vallarta along the edge of the Agua Azul Nature Reserve overlooking Bahía de Banderas. The complex, built to resemble an early Mexican wattle and daub home was created by architect Jorge Rubio in conjunction with American sculptor Suzy Odom.
Beaches and beach towns
Beaches in Puerto Vallarta
- Playa Camarones (Shrimp Beach) – Col. 5 de Deciembre (vicinity of Av. Paragua – Hotel Buenaventura. This is the northernmost public beach in the City of Puerto Vallarta proper. It is named after the shrimp fishermen that once landed their launches on the beach to unload their catch.
- Playa Olas Altas (High Waves Beach) – Col. Emilio Zapata – the beach extends from the Cuale River South to the fishing pier. In spite of the name, the waves offshore are not particularly high, and the beach is a popular place to swim, especially for locals and national tourists. The beach is lined with outdoor restaurants.
- Playa Los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) – Col. Emilio Zapata – the city’s largest public beach. Legend has it the beach’s name (Dead Men’s Beach) stems from a battle between pirates and local miners after which bodies remained strewn on the beach, but it’s a legend, since there were never any miners in Vallarta. The South Side of the beach is a popular gathering spot for gay and lesbian tourists. The North end is frequented mostly by locals, and national tourists. The city has recently tried to change the name of the beach to Playa del Sol.
- Playa Boca de Tomates (Mouth of Tomatoes) – a beach located near the mouth of the Ameca River. The beach is not very popular among international tourists due to the rocks that come ashore especially in the summertime. Also watch out for crocodiles. Its proximity to the Ameca River which carries muddy rainwater in the summertime causes the water to lose its clarity making it appear dirty.
Beaches South of Puerto Vallarta
- Playa Gemelas – a beach 3 km (2 mi) north of the mouth of the Mismaloya river and has some of the clearest water in the bay.
- Playa Mismaloya – at the mouth of the Mismaloya River. The beach was featured in several scenes from Night of the Iguana and the main set was located on hillside to the south of the beach. The beach is developed with a number of restaurants.
South Shores beaches
A number of beaches along the South shore of the bay are accessible only by boat (from Boca de Tomatlán or the Los Muertos Pier). The developed beaches include (east to west): Las Animas, Quimixto, Majahuitas and Yelapa. These and other smaller undeveloped beaches can be reached by launch from Boca de Tomatlán.
- Playa Las Animas – a narrow wide white sand beach developed with several restaurants.
- Playa Las Caletas – a secluded beach that was once the private retreat of film director John Huston. Today it is a wildlife preserve. There is a living natural reef close to shore which makes the beach a popular destination for snorkelers.
- Playa Quimixto – a somewhat rocky and secluded beach which is settled by a small village of a several hundred families. There are horse and guide hire concessions in the town which lead visitors through a small canyon behind the town to a series of waterfalls.
- Yelapa – once a small electricity free fishing village and a popular “hideaway” for gringos, now it has electricity, telephones and the internet. Visited by tourist boats for about 3 hours a day, it reverts to its laid back ways when they leave.
Beaches north of Puerto Vallarta
The north shore of the bay is lined with beach towns that offer good wading beaches and the usual tourist amenities. These include (east to west): Bucerias, Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Playa la Manzanilla, Playa Destiladeras, Playa Pontoque, and Punta Mita, all in the State of Nayarit. All can be reached by bus (departing from Wal-Mart).
We stayed at The Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa Hotel in Riviera Nayarit is located in a paradisiacal haven, surrounded by lush, tropical vegetation and overlooking the stunning Bay of Banderas. In front of a private beach with 300 meters of fine white sand bathed by the crystalline waters of the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 50 km from downtown Puerto Vallarta and 45 km from the Puerto Vallarta airport.
The Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa, nestled in the beautiful natural setting of Riviera Nayarit and surrounded by lush vegetation, 300 mts of private beach and transparent waters is a holiday paradise for friends, couples and families. Take pleasure in the amazing views of the pacific ocean and the stunning sunsets. This beachfront hotel, situated along Banderas Bay, offers a diverse itinerary of activities and facilities to satisfy the interests of all family members. The ultimate experience in fun and leisure under the sun.
Free basic Wi-Fi access throughout the entire complex after registering in Palladium Hotel Group’s network. Premium Wi-Fi access available at extra cost. Since Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa has been built on a hill, several ramps and stairs are found throughout the hotel and has no elevator in the property.
- Destination of golden beaches and lush vegetation, spectacular scenery and huge gardens.
- Fun facilities and activities for all ages.
- Relaxing SPA with top quality treatments and facilities.
- Room Service between 13 am and 11 pm.
*Our hotel has a smoke-free policy in place in all guest rooms and lobbies.
We enjoyed our stay and hope to return one day.