Once a hotbed of Hollywood stars and jet-setting playboys, Acapulco now basks in only slightly faded glory.
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Maybe it's the romantic history of spice ships and pirates; maybe it's the golden beaches, tropical jungles and lagoons; or perhaps it's the high-rise hotels, glittery nightlife and famous daredevil cliff-divers that have made Acapulco the first and foremost resort town in Mexico.
What To Do
Once a hotbed of Hollywood stars and jet-setting playboys, Acapulco now basks in only slightly faded glory. New touristic life is being breathed into the city, in part by American university students who come to spend their spring break in a more welcoming and economical environment than Cancún.
What To See
Fuerte de San Diego
This beautifully restored pentagonal fort was built in 1616 atop a hill east of the <em>zócalo</em>. Its mission was to protect the Spanish <em>naos</em> conducting trade between the Philippines and Mexico from marauding Dutch and English buccaneers. The fort was destroyed in a 1776 earthquake and rebuilt in 1783. It remains basically unchanged today. The fort is home to the Museo Histórico de Acapulco, which has fascinating exhibits detailing the city’s history, with Spanish and English captions. The fort also puts on regular evening sound-and-light shows, in Spanish and English. Call to confirm times and dates.
Isla de la Roqueta
This island offers a popular (crowded) beach, and snorkeling and diving possibilities. You can rent snorkeling gear, kayaks and other water-sports equipment on the beach. From Playas Caleta and Caletilla, boats make the eight-minute trip (M$50 round trip) every 20 minutes or so. Alternatively, glass-bottomed boats make a circuitous trip to the island (M$70), departing from the same beaches but traveling via <strong>La Virgen de los Mares</strong> (Virgin of the Seas), a submerged bronze statue of the Virgen of Guadalupe – visibility varies with water conditions. The trip takes about 45 minutes, depending on how many times floating vendors approach your boat.
La Capilla de la Paz
Perched on a hilltop high above Acapulco, La Capilla de la Paz is a quiet spot for reflection and meditation. The minimalist, open-air chapel features cascading water, gardens and benches to savor the beautiful aerial view of Acapulco. The chapel’s giant white cross is visible from miles across the bay. Visit in late afternoon, when tourists jockey for positions to capture the sun setting within the sculpture of clasped hands.
Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Cathedral
The Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Cathedral built in 1930 dominates the square and is unusual for its blue-domed, Byzantine architecture.
A small, protected beach blending into Caletilla beach in a cove on the south side of Peninsula de las Playas. Both beaches are backed by a solid line of seafood palapa restaurants. The area is popular with families, as the water is very calm. All buses marked 'Caleta' heading down La Costera arrive here. The Magico Mundo Marino aquarium sits on an islet just offshore, forming the imaginary line between the two beaches; boats go regularly from the islet to Isla de la Roqueta.
Nina’s is one of the best places in town for live música tropical (salsa, cumbia, cha-cha, merengue etc); it has a smokin’ dance floor, variety acts and impersonators.
Acapulco was named by the Náhua tribe: the name means 'where the reeds stood' or 'place of giant reeds'. Archaeological finds show that by the time the Spaniards arrived, people had been living around the bay area for about 2000 years, and had moved from being a hunter-gatherer society to being an agricultural one. The Náhua were conquered by the Aztec empire about a hundred years before it in turn fell to the Spanish conquistadors
By order of Hernán Cortés, Spanish sailors took the Bahía de Acapulco in 1521. Port and shipbuilding facilities were established here because of the substantial natural harbor, and it was the jumping-off point for further explorations and conquests, such as that of Peru. Acapulco became the only port in the New World authorized to receive Spanish galleons from the Philippines and China. It was therefore an important link in the trade route between Europe and the Orient, the longest and most profitable commercial route in the world, and remained so until the early 19th century. Goods transported through its port included spices, silks, ivory, jade, porcelain and slaves. During the annual Acapulco Fair, lasting three to eight weeks after the galleons arrived from Manila in spring, traders converged on Acapulco from Mexico City, Manila and Peru.
All this treasure was an invitation Dutch and English pirates could not resist, and by the 17th century their ships abounded in the Pacific and along the coastlines of Mexico and Baja California. To ward off the pirates, Fuerte de San Diego was built atop a low hill overlooking the bay.
Because of the sea port's strategic importance to the Spanish crown, Fuerte de San Diego became a focus of rebellion in 1812, when the discontented population rose up against their Spanish colonial rulers in the War of Independence. The royalists were besieged in the fort for four months before finally surrendering to the Mexican troops. Much of the city was subsequently destroyed, and as independent Mexico severed most of its trade links with Spain and Spain's colonies, Acapulco fell into decline for the next hundred years.
Food and Drink
This health-conscious chain has a mellow ambience and good, friendly service. The food is consistently good, eschewing red meat in favor of fish, poultry and vegetarian fare, plus wholegrain breads and rolls and a variety of fruit and veggie juices and shakes. Air-con and free wi-fi make this a great place to take a break from Acapulco’s heat and urban chaos. In addition to the zócalo branch, there are several others around town. Prettiest is the Café del Mar branch, which features ocean views and outdoor seating on a pier jutting out into the bay near Playa Hornitos.
Eat El Gaucho
Upscale but not stuffy, this is one of the top spots in town for a steak. All the meat is grilled in true Argentine style, and less carnivorous or extravagant folk can choose from an assortment of pasta dishes. The short but decent wine list includes selections from Mexico, Chile, Spain and Argentina.
Eat Taquería Los Pioneros
The tacos are tiny but their various fillings are tasty, plus you can load up on accompaniments: jalapeños, pickled carrots, onions, cilantro etc.
Very popular with the upscale crowd, this cavelike club has a laser light show and Wednesday theme nights, and spins rock, pop, house and ‘everything but electronica.’
Zany antics attract families by day, the far-party atmosphere brings in college kids at night and the bay views are unbeatable anytime.