Mexico's original beach town has reclaimed its old-school allure.
Long before Cancún or Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya were even specks on the tourist map, Acapulco reigned as Mexico’s coastal queen. Acapulqueños have recently worked hard to restore Old Acapulco and the Costera, and posh resorts and malls have risen in the newest neighborhood, Acapulco Diamante. The result is a thoroughly modern vacation destination rich in culture and history. Now is the time to visit—or revisit—the place where Mexico’s tourism fame was born.
In the early Hollywood days, Playa Caleta and Playa Caletilla, on the western shores of Acapulco Bay, saw the most action. Today, the ’50s have returned with the restoration of the beachfront Hotel Boca Chica. The designers faithfully retained the mid-century architecture and the tiny Coco Wash disco, which has become the hippest hangout in town. Chef Keisuke Harada creates platters of sushi and Kobe burgers for happy hordes at the hotel’s restaurants; on weekends, locals pull their yachts up to the dock and linger for hours over mescal martinis.
With Boca Chica grabbing attention, travelers are also being lured to the palapa-shaded fish shacks on Playa Caletilla. Here families gather beneath blue umbrellas, and water taxis take swimmers to the clear waters off Isla Roqueta, just 10 minutes away. At the nearby Plaza Alvarez (also called the zócalo), elderly gents study their newspapers at sidewalk cafés as kids scamper around the filigreed bandstand. Across the street, fishermen lay out their nets beside docks where party boats collect passengers for sunset sailings.
In the winding streets high above Old Acapulco, sightseers gather at La Quebrada to witness the famed clavadistas, or cliff divers. During the show, a lone diver poses atop a jagged, precipitous cliff. Below, waves crash against rocks before settling into a small swirling pool. In the blink of an eye, the diver swoops toward the sea. Onlookers applaud as he emerges from the water, and another duplicates his feat.
Most visitors to the Costera devote the sunlight hours to lounging poolside, browsing in arcades and malls and playing in the bay. Pint-sized fun-seekers enjoy the rides at Papagayo Park and the waterslides at CICI waterpark.
As evening sets in, families head to the Hard Rock Cafe for burgers and ribs. Partygoers seek out tables at Paradise or Beto’s, among the best of the clubs on the sand, or retire to high-end restaurants and discos in the hills. Horse-drawn calesas (carriages) clomp along the Costera, delivering dancers to Baby ’O, one of the best-known discos. And fireworks and laser beams shoot over the bay from the hilltop clubs until dawn.
Perhaps the best evidence of Acapulco’s resurgence lies in the burgeoning Diamante neighborhood. Stretching from the Costera up the steep, winding Scenic Highway, Diamante has legendary discos, championship golf courses, lavish resorts, a concert hall and a shiny new mall.
Several large timeshare resorts are also found on the beaches of Acapulco Diamante, close to attractions like the La Isla shopping center at Punta Diamante, which has lured some of the Costera’s well-known establishments (including the family-friendly yet rowdy Carlos’n Charlie’s). Kids can head to the mall’s Aqua Planet, with bumper boats and mini-golf, as well as displays that teach about water conservation. And at Mundo Imperial, an enormous development with a convention center and hotel, the stars of today appear at the Forum, a state-of-the-art concert hall. With the three sides of Acapulco all in a state of transformation, Mexico’s coastal queen is once again the biggest star on the map.