Few details are known about the history of the area prior to
the 19th century. There is archaeological evidence of
continuous human habitation from 580 B.C., and there is
archeological evidence (from sites near Ixtapa and in Col.
Lázaro Cardenas) that the area belonged to the Aztatlán
culture which dominated Jalisco, Nayarit and Michoacán from
approx. 900-1200 AD. The limited evidence and relative lack
of interest in occidental Mexican archeology have limited
the current knowledge about pre-historic life in the area.
Spanish missionary and
conquistador documents chronicle skirmishes between the
Spanish colonizers and the local peoples. In 1524, for
example, a large battle between Hernán Cortés and an army of
10,000 to 20,000 Indians resulted in Cortés taking control of
much of the Ameca valley. The valley was then named Banderas
(flags) after the colorful standards carried by the natives.
Also the area appears
on maps and in sailing logs as a bay of refuge for the
Manila Galleon trade as well as for other coastal seafarers.
As such it figures in some accounts of pirate operations and
smuggling and pirate contravention efforts by the viceregal
government. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Banderas
Valley and its beaches along the Bay of Banderas served as
supply points for ships seeking refuge in the bay. The area
also served as a point where smuggled goods could be sent on
to the Sierra towns near Mascota, evading the customs
operations at San Blas, Nayarit.