Puerto Vallarta’s lush jungle backdrop located on of the Bay of Banderas is a top resort destination. The bay protects the area from tropical storms that effect many other beach destinations. However, Vallarta is an accidental tourist hotspot, opposed to places like Cancun and Huatulco which were government planned resort destinations. Below is a quick history of how Puerto Vallarta came to be what it is today.
The Night of the Iguana
Puerto Vallarta became a tourist destination after the filming of The Night of the Iguana, a 1960s Hollywood film. Famous director John Huston was mesmerized by Mexico, especially Puerto Vallarta. He felt the tropical setting would be the perfect location to shoot his adaptation of Tennessee William’s stage play. The movie starred Richard Burton; whom at the time had a public affair with Elizabeth Taylor. The two stars fell madly in love with Puerto Vallarta. The celebrities felt they could be themselves away from the press and chose to stay for quite some time after filming.
The famous couple continued to visit and contribute to the community for years. They purchased two homes in Gringo Gulch and connected them with a bridge, puente del amor, it’s still there today. Casa Kimberly is now a luxury hotel and restaurant. I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful Casa Kimberly last year. I had an upscale mimosa Sunday brunch with friends, it was a gorgeous experience. I’ll take any excuse to dress up and drink champagne!
It wasn’t just Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who decided they didn’t want to leave, John Huston also owned property in Puerto Vallarta. Huston leased ejido (indigenous) land at Las Caletas cove and had an extravagant home built. The Caletas hideaway was used to host guests and celebrities from all over the world. Vallarta continued to grow as a tropical escape for wealthy Americans, making it no longer a secret. Huston lived in his home at Las Caletas until shortly before his passing. The Las Caletas hideaway is now owned by Vallarta Adventures. Learn more about visiting Las Caletas on my What to do in Puerto Vallarta blog.
Time for Growth
The explosion of celebrity gossip in Puerto Vallarta caused an overnight interest in the exotic destination. Francisco Medina Ascencio, the governor at the time, was able to push forward with his vision to grow Puerto Vallarta. In 1968 PV became an official city and was granted the funds to build the infrastructure needed to become the travel destination it is today. After that the resources were provided to establish reliable roads, electricity, and telephone service. Next the international airport was built thus forever changing the history of Puerto Vallarta.
Throughout the 1980s the population in the city doubled. This demanded the need for more hotels and residential housing, cue the development of Marina Vallarta. The marina area included residential condo units and a school. Once residential housing began to grow in the area it became an ideal location for American retirees. Since the 80s Puerto Vallarta has continued to grow but has faced many challenging years. With other destinations like Cancun and Mazatlan growing quickly there has been a lot of resort competition within Mexico.
In the two+ years that I lived in the area I’d say both Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit have a bright future. The area of Riviera Nayarit is easily accessible and keeps up with modern demands. A younger expat community is growing exponentially since the pandemic. I believe this will bring success and growth to all of the communities in the area.
Thanks for reading about the history of Puerto Vallarta. Learn more about what to do while visiting Puerto Vallarta HERE.