The Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta developed in the nineteenth century as a port supplying the mining towns of the nearby Sierra mountains. Before this it had been known as a center for piracy and smuggling.
The start of tourism
While still mainly a port and fishing town, Puerto Vallarta had by the mid-nineteenth century already become a seaside resort for workers from the Sierra mining towns. Its permanent inhabitants at this point were still mainly fisherman, pearl divers and smugglers.
As mining operations in the Sierra were wound down in the early twentieth century, Puerto Vallarta began to attract new residents from the former mining towns, many of whom had previously visited it as a seaside destination. An airplane service began in 1932, followed by a suspension bridge over the Cuale River in 1933 and a modern road connection to Compostela in 1942.
Post-war: the Americans arrive
In 1945, DC-3s began flying between the US and Puerto Vallarta. By the 1950’s, large numbers of Americans were living in the city, including writers and artists attracted by the scenery and relaxed atmosphere. This trend accelerated with the opening in 1962 of a new airport which connected Puerto Vallarta with Los Angeles.
In 1968, Puerto Vallarta became a city as a result of the Mexican federal and state governments wanting to open up the resort to international tourism.
The 1970’s and the start of mass tourism
It was in the 1970’s that Puerto Vallarta really became a mass tourist destination. This was driven by a number of factors, including reform of land ownership laws, its use as a location for several Hollywood films and improvements in other infrastructure such as electricity and water supply. In1970, the US President Richard Nixon met with his Mexican counterpart Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta. This also helped to highlight the improvements that had been made to the resort and attracted more international tourists to it.
The rise of the big hotels
Up to the 1970’s, most hotels in Puerto Vallarta were quite small, family run concerns that catered mainly to Mexican families. The American expatriates tended to live or stay in the Centro district above the town, an area that gained the nickname Gringo Gulch. The only hotels of any size in the resort at this time were the luxury Real and the Posada Vallarta.
In the 1970’s, there was a hotel building boom in Puerto Vallarta and the resort went through a period of rapid growth. A number of large luxury hotels were built, such as the Sheraton Buganvilias (http://www.sheratonvallarta.com) which opened in 1980.
From the 1980’s to the 1990’s: devaluation and slump
In 1982, the Mexican government devalued the country’s currency, the peso. This made the exchange rate with the US dollar very favorable and many US tourists headed for Puerto Vallarta which was now seen as a budget rather than just simply a luxury destination.
By the mid-1980s, Puerto Vallarta was seeing a big and rapidly growing rise in the number of tourists from the US and other international markets. This led the city to invest heavily in a new marina on the seafront, construction of which began in 1986. However, the development of other Mexican seaside resorts like Ixtapa and Cancún in the early 1990’s has since then led to a sharp decline in the number of tourists visiting what is still an impressive and scenic destination that offers many attractions and modern facilities for the international traveler.