Puerto Vallarta enjoys a definite history of its own. The original population, as recent discoveries and archeological studies show, was made up of several Aztec Indian tribes. They developed cultural and commercial relations along the Pacific coast. Puerto Vallarta was part of the pre-Columbian Indian kingdom of Xalisco. The ancients took advantage of the fertile lands of the Banderas Valley. The sea was overlooked as the main resource.
Banderas Bay (Bahía de Banderas) and Banderas Valley (Valle de Banderas) were named by the Spaniards when Hernán Cortés’ nephew was traveling in this area. He encountered several native warriors with banners and costumes of colorful bird feathers. The Spaniards had banners with the Spanish Herald and the Virgin Mary apparently shining metal in the sunlight and the reflection drove them away. The city that is now Puerto Vallarta began when businesswoman Guadalupe Sanchez established a trading post on the banks of the Cuale River to supply salt to the gold and silver mines in the mountains to Guadalajara. The ore was loaded onto ships waiting in the bay. The three marine rock formations south of the town were navigational landmarks from earlier times. The original name of the early municipality was Puerto de las Peñas, named for the prominent rocks. Puerto Vallarta was named in honor of Don Ignacio Luis Vallarta, a well-known governor of the state of Jalisco.
Spanish expeditions began in the early 15th century in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains surrounding the Banderas Valley. They discovered mines that were exploited by the end of the century. The ore was moved by mules and donkeys to land, to be transported to Spain. The town began to grow peacefully; people began to fish as a way of life. Slowly, the area changed from a small ranch to a very attractive small town.
In 1918, an American company, The Montgomery Corporation, settled in the north of Vallarta with a large banana plantation mainly for export. The area grew very rapidly. The company produced prefabricated houses and a railroad to easily bring the product from the farm to the coast. Punta Mita, the northern point of the Bay, was known for its oysters and pearls found in that area. Puerto Vallarta has been somewhat isolated by the Sierra Madre mountains and the lack of bridges over the rivers. There were no direct roads leading to the city until 1966, when the surrounding land was leveled to build an international airport. By 1970, Puerto Vallarta was fully accessible by land, sea and air and Puerto Vallarta began to become a leading tourist destination.