Mexico was new and exciting territory to the European explorers who came upon it in the 16th century. The beautiful and resource-rich land had been occupied by indigenous tribes like the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, who left their mark with soaring temples and an elaborate empire.
In the 1530s, Hernan Cortes explored the Pacific coast of Mexico and paved the way for Spanish merchants. Soon a trade route developed between Acapulco and Luzon in the Philippines. Ships were loaded with silks, exotic spices and precious Mexican metals like gold and silver. Such tempting bounty was a prime target for pirates who lurked in the waters near the Baja peninsula.
Thomas Cavendish, a British native, was determined to make a fortune at sea and famously ransacked a Spanish ship, the Santa Ana, off Cabo San Lucas. News of his success only bolstered the opponents of Spain and brought more to the pirate trade. Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen would pillage along the Pacific coastline and then find sanctuary in the bays and inlets of Los Cabos and La Paz, where he could rest his men. Pirate attacks virtually ceased by the beginning of the 19th century, but legends of long-lost buried treasures in the caves along the coast still circulate today.
By the 1950s, Hollywood stars discovered the beauty of the Mexican Riviera, lured by the warm weather and cosmopolitan air of cities like Acapulco and Mazatlan. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton put Puerto Vallarta on the tourist map when they filmed “Night of the Iguana” there in the early 1960s. Today, the glittering destinations along Mexico’s Pacific shores continue to draw vacationers from around the world.