When many people think of Mexico, white-sand beaches, delectable cuisine and crystal-clear waters come to mind, like in Cozumel or Cancún. And at first glance, Puerto Vallarta may appear similar to the typical Mexico beach resort town. However, that façade conceals an interesting past, both distant and recent as there are a few little-known facts about the Pacific Coast city that add a layer of complexity to this already fascinating beachside town.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Puerto Vallarta
Ignored By Early Explorers
European explorers first ventured into Banderas Bay in the 1500s, even naming it after the colorful flags displayed by indigenous defenders during colonial invasions. The area of the modern day Puerto Vallarta, however, was not permanently settled until the mid-1800s. Back then, it was called Puerto Las Peñas, after the offshore rocks now known as Los Arcos. A municipality was created in 1918 and named Puerto Vallarta after a former governor of the State of Jalisco.
Banderas Bay straddles two Mexican states. While Puerto Vallarta proper lies to the south, in Jalisco, many vacationing visitors to Nuevo Vallarta or Punta Mita will actually find themselves in the state of Nayarit. Tequila lovers fret not—the popular tipple is produced in both states, although the similar drink Raicilla is also a must-try when visiting the region.
Made Famous By A Hollywood Affair
The hit film Night of the Iguana was filmed on Puerto Vallarta’s Mismaloya Beach. The world press descended on the city not only because of the film, but because star Richard Burton arrived with Elizabeth Taylor in tow (both were married—to other people—at the time). For her 32nd birthday, Burton gifted Taylor Casa Kimberly, but not before also buying the house across the street and connecting them with a bridge so they could visit beyond the prying eyes of the press.
Casa Kimberly is now a world-class hotel, open to guests hoping to relive the glamor of the city’s formative days.
Puerto Vallarta was the unlikely site of a summit between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in August of 1970. Resort development had begun following the region’s rise to fame after Night of the Iguana in the early 1960s, but was again catapulted into overdrive—not only because of the presidential visit but because of the loosening of centuries-old land restrictions that eased limits on development.
Today, the international airport in Puerto Vallarta is named for President Ordaz.
At nearly 3,000 feet depth at its deepest point and 100 miles of coastline, Banderas Bay isn’t the largest bay in Mexico, but it’s still a stunning geographical feature. The bay’s size and depth mean there are portions that have yet to be explored by oceanographers, and the relatively cool waters make it a popular spot for migrating humpback whales and sun seekers looking for a relaxing dip in the azure waters.