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Sightseeing in Acapulco is a lot easier, faster and more comfortable on the AcaBuses. They provide public transportation for tourists, locals and the disabled.

Acapulco beach
Acapulco beach
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located on the southwest Pacific coast of Mexico, Acapulco has sensational beaches, a sultry climate, a sizzling nightlife and a spectacular location. Arranged like an amphitheatre around an azure bay, it has the verdant Sierra Madre Mountains as a backdrop.

Between the early 1950s and the mid-70s, these attributes, a new highway from Mexico City and direct international air service attracted "the beautiful people."

Frank Sinatra owned a hotel, John Wayne, Red Skelton and Errol Flynn built mansions and Elizabeth Taylor married husband number three here. Johnny Weissmuller (aka Tarzan) hosted wild beach parties, Elvis sang Bossa Nova Baby in the 1963 movie, Fun in Acapulco, and John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned here.

Celebrity visitors

When pollution and neglect tarnished the glittering image of Acapulco in the late '70s and '80s, the jet-set headed to Cancun and other resorts. Acapulco invested millions of dollars to regain its sparkle.

On the beach, badgering hawkers are not allowed to pester sunbathers. (Vendors sell their wares from arts-and-crafts stalls.)

Thanks to cleaning brigades, newly planted trees and flowers, renovated streets, classy restaurants and discos, Acapulco is once again luring tourists — and celebrities. Julio Iglesias, Sylvester Stallone and Placido Domingo bought villas in Acapulco after the city's renaissance. Madonna, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are only a few of the stars who have spent their vacations here.

Discos and clubs

A midnight drive from the steep hills of the southern end of Acapulco Bay, along the highway that becomes the coastal Avenida Miguel Alemán or Costera, leaves no doubt that Acapulco is a party town. Street-side restaurants bustle with people dining al fresco. Lively music fills the air.

Balloon-decorated horse-drawn carriages bring passengers to massive discos that hold up to 2,000 dancers. Most discotheques don't get rolling until 11 pm. Palladium, on the hills of Las Brisas, has glass walls that overlook city lights sparkling like a diamond necklace around Acapulco Bay.

The $4 million neon-trimmed Mandara features laser shows, while Disco Beach has Friday foam parties and informal dancing on La Condesa Beach. Add parasailing, bungy jumping, jet-boat rides, trendy shopping and 18-hole golf courses and it's no wonder that visitors think Acapulco is solely a city of resorts.

Acapulco history

Fort of San Diego
Fort of San Diego
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The oldest resort city in Mexico also has another face. For visitors who want to glimpse the original Acapulco, the effort of searching it out is well worth the time.

The name Acapulco, in the ancient Nahuatl language, means "place of thick reeds." Archeological discoveries of bones, shells, charcoal and seeds confirm humans lived in Acapulco as long ago as 3,000 BC.

By the time the Spaniards arrived in the early 1500s, the indigenous people, related to the Teotihuacan culture of central Mexico, had progressed from a hunting and gathering society to one based on agriculture. Because Acapulco had an enviable location, and a superb natural harbour, Hernan Cortez made it a shipbuilding centre for vessels destined to explore the South Seas.

Fort of San Diego

After the Spanish conquered the Philippines in 1565, they established a trade route between Manila and Acapulco for galleons. The trading ships brought spices, porcelain, ivory, silk and other precious merchandise from the Orient to exchange for New World gold and silver, destined for Spain. It wasn't long before Dutch and English pirates heard about these riches and attempted to capture the Spanish ships.

To protect the bay from their attacks, the Spanish built the Fort of San Diego in 1617. An earthquake damaged it in 1776, but it was rebuilt two years later. Today, the five-sided star-shaped structure is a testament to the trade route which lasted more than 250 years. (Mexicans evicted the Spanish in 1813, during the War of Independence.)

Historic Museum

The massive structure, which held up to 2,000 troops, and enough water, food and ammunition to last a year, now houses the Historic Museum of Acapulco. Vases and statues from the Orient, cannons and exhibits document the history of the city over the last three centuries.

Visitors enter the fort by crossing a dry moat on an arched stone bridge. Peering through the crenulated cannon ports, they have a clear view across the water to the opposite side of the bay.

Animal mask in Acapulco House of Masks
Animal mask in Acapulco House of Masks
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Jaguar masks

Near the Fort of San Diego, the House of Masks clearly shows how the native Indians depicted the Spaniards. Early masks of jaguars and tigers, made from wood and clay, were used by priests and dancers at festivals.

When the Spaniards arrived, masks took on a European look, with beards, and sometimes horns, portraying devils. Indians sometimes wore these European masks to poke fun at the Spaniards.

Old men's dance

One dance, called Los Viejitos (the Old Men), depicts old Spanish men unable to keep up with the spry elderly Indians in dances that quicken their pace as the music plays faster and faster.

The museum has about 1,000 masks in its collection, nearly all from donations, but has space to display no more than 400 at a time. Videos show examples of ceremonies in which masked dancers enter a spiritual world to beseech the gods for rain, for example. At selected times, experts show adults and children how to make and paint masks, and how to perform masked dances.

Diego Rivera house

Hidden away on Cerro de la Pinzona Street, is the home of Dolores Olmedo. In 1956, the renowned Mexican painter, Diego Rivera, spent 18 months covering the entire outside wall with a mural of tiles, shells and stones in natural colours. One end depicts Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent god of the Aztecs; the other end portrays an Aztec dog.

Diego Rivera and Dolores Olmedo were lifelong friends. Rivera lived here for the last two years of his life, and covered the inside walls with murals, as a sign of his affection and gratitude. After his death, wealthy Mexico City investor Carlos Slim and the State of Guerrero bought the house to convert it to a museum.

Top attractions

Acapulco retains several historic neighbourhoods, where residents live, worship, work and shop in the mercado (market). The best known is La Quebrada where, ever since 1934, daring divers plunge several times daily from 45-meter-high cliffs into a rocky cove where the ocean rises and falls.

Piquis Rochin, international promotion director for the Acapulco Destination Marketing Office, also recommends that visitors get free tickets to hear the Acapulco Philharmonic Orchestra. Performances are held every two weeks, on Fridays, at the Juan Ruiz de Alarcón Theater in the convention center.

Hotel Los Flamingos

Caleta and Caletilla Beaches frame one of the historic residential neighborhoods in Acapulco. From this western peninsula, the city grew eastwards around the bay. Although locals and Mexican vacationers flock here to enjoy the calm waters, few tourists are aware of these nearby golden beaches.

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad Church
Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Church
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Perched on a 150-meter-high hill, between Caletilla and La Quebrada, is the oldest hotel in Acapulco, Hotel Los Flamingos. Built in the 1930s, it was the hidden retreat where Gary Cooper, Fred MacMurray, Cary Grant, John Wayne and other movie screen idols partied.

John Wayne

Black-and-white photos of the stars still line the walls of the reception area. Today, guests can sleep in the spartan, ocean breeze-cooled rooms where the celebrities slept, although the 46-room hotel also offers newer air-conditioned suites.

John Wayne used to sleep on an extra-long bed in a separate round house, called Casa Redonda, built under the palms. After he left, Johnny Weissmuller lived here, with his wife, for the last four years of his life. The owners renamed Casa Redonda as Tarzan's Round House to commemorate his stay.

Boat cruises

Other historic neighbourhoods sit behind the tree-shaded zócalo, or town square, which was the center of Acapulco before the high-rise hotels and condos turned the former fishing village into a world-class resort. In front of the zócalo is the pier, from where boats depart daily for cruises around the bay.

Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Church towers over the mango trees and outdoor cafés in the plaza. With its blue-and-yellow onion-shaped domes, it looks more Russian Orthodox than Mexican.

A tamale-throw away is El Pozo de la Nación (The Nation's Well) neighbourhood. Although it is one of first established residential areas in Acapulco, it is rarely mentioned in Acapulco guidebooks. (The name originated in 1850, when the Governor of the state ordered the digging of a well to protect the citizens from a cholera epidemic affecting the region.)

Acapulco street fiesta dancers
Acapulco street fiesta dancers
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Street fiesta

Pink bougainvillea cascade over stone walls. Roosters crow from courtyards inside. A VW Beetle squeezes down a narrow street only a hand's width from the peach, blue and pink homes on either side.

On the street corner, flashing blue neon lights decorate a white stucco altar. Inside, a statue of a man wearing a sombrero kneels in front of an image of the Virgin Mary. Vases of freshly picked flowers surround the shrine.

Fortunate visitors may encounter a concert in the zócalo or a street fiesta in one of the neighbourhoods. It's a great time to join the locals celebrating their culture with traditional songs, dances and costumes.

Street food

Families gather on balconies and sit on the steps outside their homes to watch the action. Vendors sell enchiladas, tacos and other snacks, as well as dulces (sweets).

On your next visit to Acapulco, by all means enjoy its amenities. Parasail above the resort-lined beaches. Sip on a margarita at a waterside café and watch the sun sink like a big tortilla into the bay. Dance until dawn in the discos. But don't forget the other Acapulco. Like a diamond, the brilliance of Acapulco is created by its many facets.


Visit Acapulco

Mexico Tourism Board

More things to see and do in Mexico:

Answers to Questions about Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo

Guanajuato Vacation

Tulum - Ruins on Riviera Maya

Mexican Cookbook

Festival Gourmet in Puerto Vallarta and Nayarit