Puerto Vallarta (English: Vallarta Port) is a Mexican resort city situated on the Pacific Ocean's Bahía de Banderas. The 2005 census reported Puerto Vallarta's population as 177,830 making it the fifth-largest city in the state of Jalisco. 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 municipality's population in the 2005 census was 220,368.
The city is located at . The municipality has an area of 502.19 square miles (1,300.67 km²). To the North it borders the SW part of the state of Nayarit. To the East it borders the municipality of Mascota and San Sebastián, 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 often shortened to "Vallarta", while English speakers call the city P.V. for short. The city occasionally is spelled or pronounced as Porto Vallarta. In Internet shorthand the city is often referred to as PVR, after the IATA code (ICAO MMPR) for its international airport.
The average daily high temperature is ; average daily low temperature is ; average daily humidity is 75%. The rainy season extends from mid June through Mid October, with most of the rain falling 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 with insignificant precipitation on most days. Occasional tropical storms will bring thunderstorms to the city in November, though the month is typically dry. February, March and April are the months with the least cloud cover. Prevailing winds are from the SW, 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 NW 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 Pa'lo Seco.
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 (named Zona Romantica recently in some tourist brochures), the Centro along the shore in 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.
Puerto Vallarta, like much of the west coast of North America, is prone to earthquakes, though Puerto Vallarta tends to experience only peripheral effects of earthquakes centered further south. In 1995 an Earthquake located off the Colima coast shook the crown from the top of the cathedral.
Nearly 50% of the workforce is employed in tourist related industries: hotels, restaurants, personal services, and transportation. The municipality does however continue to have strong agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors.
Agriculture is especially important in the Ameca valley to the NE of the city center. Principal crops there include flour corn, sweet corn, dry beans, fresh chile, watermelon and tobacco. Fruit growing operations are more dispersed, with banana farms in the Ameca valley, Mango orchards in the low hills, and avocado farms on some of the higher ground above the city.
There are also significant livestock operations located in the Ameca valley, and of course fishing in the Bay of Banderas is also a significant industry.
Industrial production includes food and beverage production, furniture production, and construction supplies. Thirty years of consistent development have given Puerto Vallarta a very strong construction sector which employs nearly 10% of the Puerto Vallarta workforce.
The commercial sector comprises nearly 17% of the workforce, including shipping, trucking, wholesale and retail operations (though the retail sector is probably understated because of the large underground economy in the sector).
Shipping traffic consists of cruise ships, which arrive almost daily, and occasional visits by U.S. Navy frigates. The Mexican Navy maintains a base at the port, as well as a former naval hospital in the city center, which is now a Naval Museum. Puerto Vallarta is not however very active as a commercial port. Most goods arrive in Puerto Vallarta by truck along the Compostela highway from Guadalajara.
Vallarta is also a popular destination for domestic tourists: a popular weekend destination for residents of Guadalajara (tapatíos), and a popular national destination for vacations such as Semana Santa (the week preceding Easter) and Christmas. Also in recent years Acapulco has experienced a rise in drug related violence and Puerto Vallarta has absorbed some of the Mexico City resort vacation business (Acapulco is a very common destination for tourists from Mexico City).
Puerto Vallarta has become a popular retirement destination for US and Canadian retirees. This trend has spawned a condominium development boom in the city.
Also over the past decade, Puerto Vallarta has become a popular gay vacation destination, and consequently the Olas Altas area now boasts about a dozen clubs, several hotels, and numerous specialty shops catering to a gay clientele.
Rapid growth in tourist volume in Puerto Vallarta has given rise to rapid growth in hotel and rental apartment construction. This growth has spilled over from the city limits into Nuevo Vallarta in the neighboring state of Nayarit.
|Annual growth prior ten years||---||3.6%||9.1%||4.6%||7.1%||5.2%|
Recently (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 3 to 4 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.
Poverty remains a problem in Puerto Vallarta, fueled by the constant influx of persons seeking employment. Many areas of the city are still poorly served by roads and sewers. For example Colonia Ramblases is served by roads in generally poor condition only 10% of which are paved, and Ramblases has been a populated neighborhood since 1940s.
The Municipality of Puerto Vallarta comprises about 45,000 regular dwellings. Of those 10% do not have a potable water supply (carrying their water from a public tap), 8% do not have connections to a sewer system or septic system (using instead crude septic pits or dumping sewage directly into waterways), 4% do not have electricity.. One reason for this is the difficulty the city has enforcing building regulations.
While compared to Mexico as a whole employment levels are quite high, many of the jobs available in Puerto Vallarta are classed as inferior by the Secretariat for Social Development, and even jobs that are generally well paying tend to be seasonally so. E.g. waiters depend heavily on tips to supplement incomes that can be as low as 47 pesos a day - the applicable minimum wage in Jalisco.
There have recently (2005 to 2007) been improvements like the new IMSS facilities in Col. Versalles, improvements to several recreation facilities, improved communal beach access policies, etc. Still efforts seem to aim more at quick and visible infrastructure improvements than at solving the more pressing and perduring problem of insufficient infrastructure for basic service.
One positive result of recent growth has been that in relative terms a smaller percentage of the population lives in older and poorly served neighborhoods. A growing number of residents live in housing projects and low income housing developments which provide at least adequate basic services. So perhaps having stemmed the growth of the problem with the new developments, the City will eventually be able to devote its resources to improving existing neighborhoods.
Few details are known about the history of the area prior to the 19th century. There is archaeological evidence of continuous human habitation from 580 B.C., and there is archeological 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 approx. 900-1200 A.D. Unfortunately the limited evidence and relative lack of interest in occidental Mexican archeology have meant that we still know very little 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 nineteenth 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, 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 miles. 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 Puerto Vallarta claims that it was founded by Guadalupe Sánchez Torres, on December 12, 1851, as Las Peñas de Santa María de Guadalupe. Unfortunately the record of the 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 fisherman, 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.
In 1918, the village was elevated to municipality status and renamed after former state governor Ignacio Vallarta. During the early years of the 20th century most of Puerto Vallarta was owned by the Union en Cuale company controlled by the American Alfred Geist. Mr Geist sold land only in large plots at prices that were quite high for the time and otherwise leased the land on short term leases. To remedy this situation and to enable the new municipality to develop, the citizens petitioned the government for a land grant based on the new constitution's provisions. In 1921 the Local Agrarian Commission approved a grant of some 9,400 hectares (23,000 acres or 39 square miles), with the land to be expropriated from the Union en Cuale company. The grant was established as an ejido holding (a farming cooperative administered by the government). Legal squabbling over the size of the land grant, and the ejido status of the properties involved would stymie growth in Puerto Vallarta into the 1960s, as developers were reluctant to build anything too substantial on land for which one could not obtain clear title. (Ejido land is controlled by individuals who are given licenses to use it, but it could not be sold, subdivided or leased.)
During the Cristero War the municipality was twice taken over by Cristero forces (April 1927 and January 1928). After it was recaptured for a second time, the national government stationed a small garrison there under Major Ángel Ocampo. The garrison was stationed near the mouth of the Cuale River and is responsible for planting many of the palms that now line the beaches on near the mouth of the Cuale River to help limit beach erosion during heavy rains in October 1928. One casualty of the skirmishes was local pastor Padre Ayala who was exiled to Guadalajara for his role in fomenting the local revolt. He would die there in 1943, though his remains would be returned 10 years later to be interred in the main parish church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As mining activities in the Sierra waned in the early years of the 20th century, Puerto Vallarta and the agricultural valley to the North of the city became important destinations for those leaving the Sierra towns and looking for a place to settle. Many of those who arrived had family members already living in Puerto Vallarta, and the pattern of migration that ensued turned the town into a collection of more or less extended families, giving it the cohesion of a typical sierra town.
Also from 1925 until 1935 the Montgomery Fruit Company operated in the area around Ixtapa. Friction with the state government over labor issues eventually led to the venture being abandoned, but for ten years it provided an important source of employment in the area.
The first airplane service arrived in 1932, with electrical service on a small scale arriving about the same time. The first suspension bridge over the Cuale went up in 1933. The city's first plumbing system was started in 1939. In 1942 Puerto Vallarta was finally connected by road to Compastela, Nay. Until then the only access to Puerto Vallarta was by sea, air, or by mule trails to the sierra towns. Also in 1942 in the New York based magazine Modern Mexico the first advertisement for a Puerto Vallarta vacation appeared, sponsored by the Air Transport Company of Jalisco. By 1945 the company was landing DC-3s in Puerto Vallarta (carrying 21 passengers).
By the 1950s Puerto Vallarta had started to attract Americans, mostly writers and artists in search of a retreat from the USA of the era of Eisenhower and McCarthy. Gringo Gulch began to develop as an expatriate neighborhood on the hill above the Centro. The city also attracted Mexican artists and writers who were willing to trade the comforts of life in the larger cities for its scenic and bucolic advantages.
In 1956 the Mascota mule trail was replaced by a packed dirt road. 24-hour electrical generation arrived in 1958. A new airport arrived in 1962 connecting Puerto Vallarta with Los Angeles via Mazatlán, and the Mexican Aviation Company began offering package trips.
By the early 1960s the population had started to spread beyond the Centro and Gringo Gulch, and the Colonias of 5 Diciembre (north of the Centro) and Emiliano Zapata (south of the Cuale River) began to grow.
Four influences converged during the 1960s and early 1970s to launch Puerto Vallarta into its trajectory toward becoming a major resort destination.
First the federal government finally resolved century old property disputes involving the status of communal land originally appropriated from the Union en Cuale mining company to be parceled out as farms. The communal (ejido) status of the land had stifled development in the town for much of the 20th century. The transition to private ownership of much of the land within present city limits culminated in the appropriation of much of the land in 1973 and the establishment of the Vallarta Land Trust (fideicomiso) to oversee selling the land and using the revenue to develop the city's infrastructure.
Second, the American director John Huston filmed his 1963 film The Night of the Iguana in Mismaloya, a small town just south of Puerto Vallarta. During the filming, the US media gave extensive coverage to Elizabeth Taylor's extramarital affair with Richard Burton, as well as covering the frequent fighting between Huston and the film's four stars. The subsequent publicity helped put Puerto Vallarta on the map for US tourists.
Third, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Mexican government invested in the development of highways, airport and utility infrastructure, making Puerto Vallarta easily accessible both by air and ground transportation for the first time. The city's first tourist boom occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s because of this work. During those years most tourists in Puerto Vallarta were Mexican, and the reason they started travelling to Puerto Vallarta then was because the trip between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta was made sufficiently convenient because of the governments investment in infrastructure.
Finally, in 1968 the municipality was elevated to the status of a City. The change in status reflected the renewed interest shown by the federal and state government in developing the city as an international resort destination.
Also significant was the August 1970 visit of US President Richard Nixon who met with Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta for treaty negotiations. The visit showcased Puerto Vallarta's recently developed airport and resort infrastructure, and thus contributed to the growing visibility of the city as a resort destination.
Prior to 1973, hotels in the city tended to be modest, and only two large sized luxury hotels existed (the Real and the Posada Vallarta). After 1973 Puerto Vallarta experienced rapid growth in the number of larger luxury hotels, culminating in 1980 with the opening of the Sheraton Bugambillas. In 1982 the peso was devalued and Puerto Vallarta became a bargain destination for US tourists. Consequently the mid-80s saw a marked and rapid rise in the tourist volume. This in turn fueled more development, for example the Marina which was started in 1986. By the early 90s development of other destinations in Mexico like Ixtapa and Cancún caused a slump in travel to Puerto Vallarta.
It was also during the early 1980s that 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 the city experienced a rapid growth in impromptu communities poorly served by even basic public services, and with a very low standard of living as the boom of the early 80s leveled out. During the late 1980s the city worked to alleviate the situation by developing housing and infrastructure, but even today the outlying areas of Puerto Vallarta suffer from poor provision of basic services (i.e. water, sewage, roads) as a legacy of the early 80s.
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, snow-birds, and those who visited the city enough to make purchasing a condominium or a time-share a cost-effective option.
The commercial section has a single runway, 3,100 meters in length and 45 meters in width, capable of handling all current traffic without restrictions. The airfield is capable of handling 40 takeoffs or landings per hour. The airport has 11 active gates, three serviced directly from the terminal, and eight serviced remotely using shuttle buses.
As of 2006 the active airlines utilizing the commercial section were: Aerocalifornia, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska, American,Aviacsa, Azteca, Continental, Magnicharters, and Mexicana and US Airways .
The general aviation section handles small planes leaving for San Sebastian, Mascota, and other towns in the Sierra and along the Coast. It has 18 loading positions and shares the commercial airfield.
During the high season the airport handles approximately 300,000 passengers a month. During the low season it handles about half of that volume. During 2006 the airport handled a total of 2.8 million passengers. One fifth of those were domestic passengers and four fifths were international.
Throughout the central area of the city and along the coastal strip, roads are generally paved, often with cobblestones. In the residential areas outside of the central commercial area dirt roads are the norm, and many of them are in poor condition and not suitable for normal automobiles except at very low rates of speed.
The city is also served by a large fleet of taxis. Rates are controlled by a taxi driver's union, and set in negotiations between the union and the city. Rates are based on established zones rather than using taxi meters.
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 can be reached by bus (departing from Wal-Mart).
Puerto Vallarta comprises numerous neighborhoods (colonias). Notable neighborhoods include (from South to North)
The city also includes numerous fraccionamientos, densely built residential blocks that provide affordable housing for the city's workforce.
Additionally the municipality of Puerto Vallarta comprises a few other significant population centers (from South to North):