Acapulco is the glittering jewel of the Pacific Mexico coast. It is situated 418 Km. (260) miles southwest of Mexico City, in the state of Guerrero. With Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo to the north and Bahías de Huatulco to the south, Acapulco sits along a stretch of coastline that first brought Mexico recognition as having some of the world’s finest beaches. Lush jungle-covered mountains rise steeply behind the city, while the deep blue Pacific stretches out in front.
You’re probably already familiar with Acapulco if you ever watched the Wild World of Sports on ABC. Acapulco was exhibited frequently as the location of those sketchy cliff diving competitions. You know, the one where crazy men jumped a few hundred feet into a pool of water between rocks. Fortunately, you don’t have to cliff dive to enjoy Acapulco.
Acapulco is located below and on mountains jutting on off of a beautiful bay. The place is visually impressive and the beaches are very nice. There is, however, one potential downside to Acapulco. The town is tailored to tourist in a big way. You aren’t going to find any authentic Mexican culture unless you head into the hills. Instead, you are going to be bombarded by people selling things and generally catering to the all mighty tourist dollar. Some people love Acapulco, but there are better places in Mexico in my opinion.
Acapulco probably has the best nightlife of any Mexican beach resort. Here, you dine late, drink and dance until dawn, and then sleep the day away on the beach or by a pool. Not to worry. If you are looking for something more peaceful, or maybe watersports for the family, you can find that here too.
Far from the towering hotels, the old, rustic neighborhoods of Acapulco still feel like a typical Mexican city. If the eastern half is a glitzy, highly commercial district into whose clutches the first-time visitor immediately falls, the moment you enter Old Acapulco, the traffic seems to slow and people return to traditional ways.
Old Acapulco encompasses the western side of the bay and is packed with actual houses, smaller family-style hotels frequented by middle-class Mexican vacationers, and the quieter beaches of Caleta and Caletilla.
Hotels are not as luxurious as in Golden Acapulco, but much cheaper and, some would say, more authentic. For less than $50 a night in low season, you can get an air-conditioned, ocean-side room with a balcony, fridge, and shower in an older hotel with two pools set about with mango trees and flowering bushes.
Oldest Fort in America
Anchored right in the center of the city, the five-sided San Diego fort was built to protect the legendary Galleon of Manila, coming from Spain’s Asian colonies loaded with pricey merchandise, against marauding Dutch and English Pirates.
The fort now houses the Acapulco Historical Museum, which contains an interesting collection of rare art pieces dating back to the founding of Acapulco. Free on Sunday and holiday.
Acapulco is a real metropolis, with over a million inhabitants and 400 years of history. And the central plaza, or Zocalo, is the heart of the city. It may not be as grandiose as the town squares in the colonial cities of central Mexico, but nevertheless, it’s a good place for people-watching, socializing, or sharing the Mexicans’ addiction for talking the world over for hours at the plaza’s benches and cafés.
This shaded plaza, overgrown with dense trees, is filled all day with vendors, shoe-shine men, and people lining up to use the payphones. After siesta, they drift here to meet and greet. On Sunday evening there’s often music in the bandstand.
The zócalo fronts Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, the town’s modern but unusual church with its stark-white exterior and bulb-shaped blue and yellow spires.
Old Town Beaches of Acapulco
Downtown beaches once made Acapulco world famous. Although they have lost some of their luster since mass tourism, they are the best bet to mingle with locals. All downtown beaches are walking distance from the Zocalo and of easy access. Palapa restaurants and beach vendors are as common as traffic jams on the main boulevard.
Playas Caleta and Caletilla
These 2 small protected beaches, sharing a cove on the southern side of the Peninsula de Las Playas, are a favorite spot for all kind of watersports. Very calm waters make it particularly popular with families with small children. Most of the less expensive hotels in town are located around the Zócalo, so these beaches are popular with the more budget-conscious vacationers in town. They become crowded on weekends, and hopping between sunbathers is then the main sport in town.
Magico Mundo Marino Aquarium
On a tiny island joined to Caleta by a footbridge is Magico Mundo Marino, the town’s largest aquarium. It features some of the world’s more outlandish sea creatures, like sharks, giant eels and piranhas.
Just across the street from the Central Plaza is the always-crowded beach of Tlacopanocha. Its calm waters make this strand quite popular with many middle-class Mexican families with kids.
Playa Angosta & sunset view
Playa Angosta is the only beach with an unobstructed sunset view. This small breezy strand is sandwiched between two sandstone cliff beaches, one going to La Quebrada, and the other toward the Peninsula de las playas. Playa Angosta is best for scenery and picnics.
Playa Hamacas & Fishing Fleet
This narrow slice of sand, sandwiched between the bay and the Costera Boulevard, is home to what’s left of the local fishermen. Nowadays, even the fishermen’s pier has been overtaken by tourism and was converted into a mid-range bar-restaurant. You can see still real fishermen if you get up early enough: go to any beach and you will see them pulling in their nets with the catch of the day.
Entertainment in Acapulco
Acapulco is a city with a population of 1 million, so things to do are plentiful and advance planning is optional. “Don’t over plan, don’t over-schedule” would be a good motto.
Several steel ships offer cruises around the bay, with onboard parties at night.
- The Fiesta Cabaret and Bonanza offer both day and nighttime cruises. The Bonanza has a swimming pool, as well as a stern platform that lowers to sea level when the boat makes a brief stop.
- The Aca Tiki bills itself as a floating supper club that takes a three-hour cruise around the bay every afternoon at 3 p.m. It claims to be the world’s largest sailing catamaran.
- The Palao leaves from the Ski Club pier, downtown, at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for a four-hour tour to Roqueta Island, with a buffet lunch and open bar.
More, smaller boats leave from the main marina, one block east of the Zócalo, to the Roqueta Island.
The modern Jai Alai center on the Costera, near the Hyatt Regency, has a very popular giant bingo hall, with couples and families sitting at large tables, playing, and sharing snacks and refreshments. There is also a venue for watching and betting on horse races and other sporting events.
The Acapulco bullfighting ring (“Frontón”) is a smaller version of the one in Mexico City, but its crowd is as vociferous and colorful. Bullfights (“Corridas”) are held every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. from January to March. Be certain to buy a ticket in the shade (around $20). Most people buy their ticket directly at the ticket office, but you can buy it in advance from travel agents and some hotels in Golden Acapulco. Avoid congestion by taking a taxi to get there.
Av. Circunvalación, across from Playa Caleta, Acapulco. Ph 74/82-11-81
Several world-class golf courses have been constructed in Acapulco Diamante recently, including the spectacular Robert von Hagge-designed course at the exclusive Tres Vidas Golf Club, where a single membership costs over 25,000 U.S. dollars. The par 72, 18-hole course, built right where the Papagayo River meets the Pacific Ocean, is landscaped with nine lakes, dotted with palms, and home to a flock of ducks and other birds.
Mayan Palace Golf Club
The Mayan Palace Golf Club also boasts an 18-hole course by the ocean’s edge, on the western side of Playa Revolcadero. The Fairmont Acapulco Princess and Pierre Marques hotels share two championship golf courses side by side, with driving ranges and practice areas. And there’s a nine-hole municipal course at the Club de Golf on the Costera, just west of the convention center.
Museo Historico Naval de Acapulco
This museum displays intricate wooden models of historic ships, many built on-premises by local artisans.
La Costera 123, across Hotel Costa Club. Open Mon – Sat, 10am to 2pm, then 5pm to 10om. Free.
The Divers’ show at La Quebrada takes place daily at 1PM, then at 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30pm. The Mirador Hotel charges $5 to look at it from its terrace.
Magico Mundo Marino
A bayside Zoo / Aquarium with Sealion shows, feeding of crocodiles and piranhas. Kids can also enjoy swimming pools and water toboggans. Jet Skis, inner tubes, and kayaks are also for rent.
Daily 9-6, zoo daily 9-5. Tel. ++52 (744) 483-1215
The CICI is a much larger and more crowded family water-sports park on the east end of the Costera by Playa Icacos. Particularly popular with kids, the CICI recently underwent a 3 million-dollar renovation, and sports many swimming pools with artificial waves and toboggans – one 80m long, an aquarium, a sky ride, a dolphin and seal show, opportunities to swim with the dolphins, and a beach club.
10am to 6pm daily. $6 entrance. Tel. ++52 (744) 481-02-94.
There is a small Zoo on Roqueta Island. Take a boat either from the main Marina, across the Zocalo, or from Playa Caleta. COST: Aquarium $3; round-trip ferry service to Isla la Roqueta, including zoo, $3.
This amusement tropical-style park sits on 52 acres of prime real estate on the Costera, just after the underpass that begins at Playa Hornos. Youngsters enjoy its aviary, a roller-skating rink, a racetrack with mite-size race cars, a replica of the space shuttle Columbia, bumper boats in a lagoon, and other rides. Open all day. Free entrance. Per ride charges.
Costera Miguel Alemán. Tel. ++52 (744) 485-96-23
Art Gallery Casa de la Cultura
A small art gallery and handicraft shops located next to the CICI, on the Costera Boulevard. It includes a small archaeological museum, an exhibit of Mexican and international crafts, and the Ixcateopan art gallery.
Costera Miguel Alemán 4834, Acapulco. Tel. ++52 (744) 484-40-04; Weekdays 9-2 and 5-8, Sat. 9-2. Free admission.
Centro Internacional Acapulco
Located right on the Costera, the International Convention Center of Acapulco is a 50 million-dollar, 35-acre convention and exposition center built in 1976. It houses a permanent craft gallery, a theatre, concert halls, and several large shops displaying handicrafts and jewelry from Guerrero. It also stages a Fiesta Mexicana every Wednesday and Friday from 7 to 10 p.m., featuring a Mexican buffet, mariachis, Papantla Flyers, and folk dancing. The center hosts various exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year. There is a tourist orientation department with a bilingual staff, and free maps and literature.
La Costera Blvd 4455. Tel. ++52 (744) 484-7050.
Pie de la Cuesta
Various outfits along with hotel strip offer tours – prices hover around US$7.50 per person but it’s worth checking what’s on offer and how long the cruise is, as times tend to differ. Most boats stop on one island for lunch (not included in price) and swimming. The bus (“Pie de la Cuesta”) runs east every ten minutes or so past the zócalo along Costera. The last bus back leaves around 8 pm.
History of Acapulco
During colonial times Acapulco was the port serving a Philipines-Mexico trade route. After Independence, Mexico experienced something close to anarchy and domestic struggles caused foreign trade to be less of a priority much of the time. Consequently, Acapulco slipped into quiet poverty, until the 1930s when Hollywood celebrities “discovered” this forgotten jewel & the tourists followed them in. In the 1950s, President Miguel Alemán ordered the construction of a new highway linking Acapulco with Mexico City. Then in the 1960s highrise hotels began to spring up, direct air service came to town, and more tourists followed. Thus, modern Acapulco was born.
Since then Acapulco has grown into a bustling city, with all the problems inherent with any city. Hotels now stretch for miles around the bay and beyond. As with many Mexican beach resorts, Acapulco comprises two towns. There are the glimmering hotel/tourist zone and the old town. Unlike other places like Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo, old town Acapulco is dirty, neglected and rundown. Clearly the politicians have their own priorities and the old town is not one of them. This was all too evident after hurricane Pauline. Within a week the hotel zone was cleaned up and ready for business, while in the old town most people were without basics such as running water.
This is not to discourage a well-deserved visit to the old town, however. Few things are more pleasant in any Mexican city than a stroll through the Zocalo (main plaza). There you can take a peek at the cathedral, sit under a shady tree and visit with a local, or enjoy a coffee and a pastry at one of the cafes that line the plaza while watching life roll by.