One of the unexpected pleasures of a visit to the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta is the Museo Histórico Naval, or naval museum. Few tourist books or maps mention it, but the white, two-story building occupies a beautiful central location overlooking the beach, less than half a block from city hall. A nearby landmark is the four arches on the Malecón, the paved seaside boardwalk that thousands of residents and tourists enjoy.
Uniformed personnel of the Mexican navy welcome visitors to the spotlessly clean, well-organized museum. They provide non-Spanish-speaking visitors with a laminated, 24-page guide that covers most of the exhibits. It is easy to follow, with photos of the items on display and explanations in English.
Three main themes are interpreted: the conquest of Mexico’s Pacific coast by the Spanish, the establishment of transpacific trade between Manila and Acapulco, and the modern activities of the Mexican navy. Beginning with Spain’s explorations and conquest of the native peoples from 1522 to 1531, the displays feature portraits of Spanish generals, maps of cities and ports, and drawings of natives. These illustrations are mostly reproductions, as the museum has few original artifacts. A large three-dimensional topographic map showing Mexico around the year 1530 orients visitors to the routes of the conquistadores.
The museum devotes several rooms to the establishment of trade between Acapulco and the Philippines, commerce that provided enormous wealth to the Mexican colony of New Spain and, most importantly, to its mother country. Andres de Urdaneta, a navigator and friar, made the first successful round-trip in 1564–65 and established the route for the Manila galleons. One highlight is a fine wooden model of the San Pedro, his ship. A modern painting shows Urdaneta’s arrival in the Philippines, and replicas of charts and maps help visitors understand the growth of the transpacific trade.
Having conquered the Philippines, the Spanish permitted them to trade only through Acapulco, some 600 miles to the south of Puerto Vallarta. A large diorama displays the star-shaped fort of San Diego, built around 1616 to protect Acapulco. Ship models include a typical galleon as well as an unusual athwartships, cross-section view of its six decks.
Also on the museum’s first floor, designated rooms take the viewer into the everyday life of a present-day sailor in the Mexican navy. In one diorama, two small craft deploy an oil-containment boom. Photos show activities from special warfare to amphibious assault, disaster relief, and oceanographic study. These exhibits and their information help Mexican visitors appreciate the importance and usefulness of their maritime service.
Two rooms on the north side of the building feature traditional naval equipment such as an the engine order telegraph communicating device, binoculars, and a sextant. A mannequin of a special-forces sailor stands with his parachute deployed and gear on display. Five ship models include a three-foot Knox-class frigate and a Huracán missile-patrol boat.
On the second floor, the café gives patrons a splendid view of the Malecón and the Bay of Banderas. Breakfast there is inexpensive and very good. The Museo Histórico Naval is well worth a visit when your desire for a sunny climate, stunning clear blue waters, and white sands takes you to Puerto Vallarta.
Museo Histórico Naval
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 48300
Tel.: +52 (322) 223-5357Email: [email protected]
Open Tuesday–Friday 0900–1930; Saturday 1000–1400; Sunday 1500–1930