Things to Do in Acapulco
||An average of 360 days of sunshine are recorded yearly, and the average annual temperature is 80°F. Only the humidity varies with about 59 inches of rain annually, tropical showers are short and usually fall at night.
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.
Once a hotbed of Hollywood stars and jet-setting playboys, Acapulco now basks in only slightly faded glory. The beaches are still glorious, the luxury still laid on with a trowel. There's another side to the city, however, and the commercial centre is filthy and congested.
Traditional Mexico is easier to find here than in the country's other resorts and you will likely hear more Spanish spoken than English. But Acapulco is definitely a hedonistic party-goer's town, and doesn't claim to be anything else. The nightlife is legendary and the energy never stops. Most visitors come here to wine, dine and dance the night away to a salsa beat; take part in the wealth of activity in and around the water; and to stretch out on the sun-drenched sand and watch other beautiful people doing the same.
Before the mountain backdrop of the Sierra Madre del Sur, Acapulco stretches along the 11km (7mi) shore of the huge Bahía de Acapulco on Mexico's Pacific coast, 400km (250mi) south of Mexico City. For tourism purposes, Acapulco is divided into three parts. Fronting the harbor in the west is the historical center, known as 'Acapulco Naútico' or the 'old town'. As in most Spanish colonial cities, the heart of the old district is the cathedral and the adjacent zócalo, or main square.
'Acapulco Dorado' (Golden Acapulco) is the strip around the bay, east from the old town along the palm-lined La Costera (Avenida Costera Miguel Alemán). This is the city's principal bayside avenue, home to most of the major hotels, restaurants, discos and other points of interest, and where the action keeps up 24 hours a day. 'Acapulco Diamante' (Diamond Acapulco) begins where La Costera changes its name to Carretera Escénica (Scenic Highway) at Puerto Marqués and continues southeast to the airport. This new luxury development, with its stunning hillside views, is Acapulco's most desirable address.
At the other end of the bay the Peninsula de las Playas juts out from the old town. South of the peninsula is the popular Isla de la Roqueta, and nearby is the so-called underwater shrine, a submerged bronze statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Just west of here is La Quebrada (The Gorge), and about 10km (6mi) further west from town is Pie de la Cuesta, a tranquil lagoon and surf beach area where tourism is more low key.
When to Go
If you're wanting to avoid the tourist crowds, you've got the wrong city - the tropical climate of Acapulco means the weather is close to perfect all year round. Tourism is seasonal, however, with high season from the middle of December until the end of Easter, and another flurry of activity during the July and August school holidays. Probably the busiest time of the year in Acapulco is Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter, when the city fills with visitors and there's lots of action in the discos, on the beaches and all over town. If you're traveling at this time or Christmas-New Year, you'd be wise to book transport and accommodations in advance.
Acapulco never needs an excuse for a party, but like all of Mexico it loves its fiestas. The Festivales de Acapulco, held for one week in May, features Mexican and international music at many venues around town. International film festivals include the Festival de Cine Negro (Black Film Festival) held the second week of June, and the Festival de Cine Francés (French Film Festival) held for a week in late November. As Mexico is the location of many mysterious UFO sightings, the Congreso Mundial OVNI (World UFO Congress) is held regularly in Acapulco, usually in December. The Festival de la Virgen de Guadalupe, for Mexico's patron saint, is celebrated all night on December 11 and all the following day, with street processions accompanied by small marching bands, fireworks and folk dances, all converging on the cathedral in the Zócalo (town square), where costumed children congregate. There are also smaller religious celebrations, regattas and fishing tournaments held throughout the year.
Centro de Convenciones
Acapulco's convention centre is a large complex on the north side of La Costera, on the east side of town. The centre has a permanent craft gallery (Galería de Artesanías), temporary special exhibitions, a large plaza, theatres and concert halls. Also here are the tourist offices, Casa Consular and Locatel. A Fiesta Mexicana is held several evenings each week, featuring regional dances from many parts of Mexico, mariachi bands, the famous Papantla voladores ritual (a kind of choreographed quadruple bungee jump) and a rope performer. There's also a sumptuous Mexican buffet. The centre's gardens, dominated by large and impressive fountains, are worth a stroll.
The Centro Internacional de Convivencia Infantil (always known as CICI) is a much-loved family water-sports park not far from the Centro de Convenciones. Dolphin, seal and diving shows are presented several times daily; there's also an 80m (260ft) water toboggan, a pool with artificial waves, a small tide pool aquarium and a Sky ride. A new attraction at CICI is Acapulco Mágico, offering swimming with dolphins. Any local bus marked 'CICI,' 'Base' or 'Puerto Marqués' will take you there.
Fuerte de San Diego
This five-sided fort was built in 1616 atop a hill just east of the old town to protect the galleons that plied the lucrative trade route between the Philippines and Mexico. The treasure-laden vessels attracted marauding Dutch and English pirates, including the notorious Sir Francis Drake. The fort's pentagonal design permitted defence in all directions; it was surrounded by a moat and was capable of housing 2000 men with enough provisions and ammunition for a year. It successfully defended Spanish interests until the early 19th century, when it saw battle in the War of Independence. It eventually fell to the Mexican troops, and the Spanish and their treasure ships departed.
The fort had to be rebuilt after a 1776 earthquake damaged most of Acapulco. It remains basically unchanged today, having been restored to top condition. It is now the home of the Museo Histórico de Acapulco, with historical and anthropological displays including native Mexican crafts, artefacts of the conquistadors and treasures of the Orient. The fort also offers a panoramic view of the bay and mountains.
La Quebrada Divers
What began in the 1930s as a boyish challenge has become one of Acapulco's most famous spectacles. It's hard to beat the drama and touch of madness of the clavadistas who gracefully launch themselves from heights of up to 45m (148ft) into a narrow chasm, timing their fall to meet the surf crashing below. The divers first scale the cliff face, then wisely pray at a small shrine before leaping over the edge (so did Elvis Presley in the film Fun in Acapulco). There are five daily performances with at least three divers performing each time, each trying to outdo the others in showmanship. During the last show of the evening they carry flaming torches. Afterwards the performers gather to accept tips, and will happily share their stories - and their scars.
There's a great view of the action from the terraces of the Plaza Las Glorias El Mirador Hotel, where celebrities have scrawled their admiration for the divers on the wall. La Quebrada is also a superb spot for watching sunsets. It's easy to get there on foot or by taxi from the Zócalo (town square).
Mágico Mundo Marino
Highlights at this aquarium include a sea lion show, the feeding of crocodiles, piranhas and turtles, swimming pools, water toboggans and an oceanographic museum. There's also a restaurant, and you can take scuba lessons or hire snorkelling equipment.
The aquarium stands on a small point of land on the Peninsula de Las Playas, between Playas Caleta and Caletilla. The area was the original Acapulco hotspot, but now has a non-touristy, nostalgic feel, especially the small shady plaza in front of the aquarium. Playas Caleta and Caletilla are favoured by locals, particularly families with small children, as the water is very calm. Regular boats ferry passengers from here to Isla de la Roqueta, with its pleasant beaches and zoo. All buses marked 'Caleta' heading down La Costera will take you there.