Whether it's your first visit or you've been here several times before, don't forget to include these sights and experiences on your vacation to-do list.
By AAA Travel Editor
Although Acapulco's history goes back to the turn of the 16th century, the best sightseeing during your trip focuses on the scenic, not the historic. Calandrias (horse-drawn carriages) festooned with flowers and colorful balloons parade along Costera Miguel Alemán; touring this wide bayfront boulevard, admiring the beaches and big hotels and soaking up Acapulco's party atmosphere are among the fun things to do here.
If you're looking for things for couples to do, hire a driver/guide to take you to the Chapel of Peace (La Capilla de la Paz) for the most spectacular views in town. The nondenominational chapel stands on top of a steep hill overlooking the southern end of Acapulco Bay. A 130-foot-tall, stark white cross towers above the simply designed, open-air chapel, a landmark that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The best time to go is in the evening, when the sun setting over the bay offers a memorable photo op. The chapel is located in the exclusive Las Brisas residential neighborhood, so along the way you'll also pass lovely homes clinging to the hillsides.
Wander around old downtown Acapulco, which is culturally very different from beachside Acapulco. Plaza Juan Alvarez, the Zócalo, is a very traditional Mexican square where people meet and socialize and vendors sell souvenirs. The square is anchored by the Cathedral of Our Lady of Solitude , which has a decidedly Moorish appearance; the building was first intended to be a movie theater.
On Calle Inalámbrica, a short cab ride from the plaza in the La Pinzona neighborhood, is the Dolores Olmedo House. Famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera lived in the house the last 2 years of his life and created the fanciful seashell murals that cover the wall surrounding it. The “Casa de los Vientos” (House of the Winds) was converted into a cultural center and small art museum in 2013 with financial backing from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
Star-shaped Fort San Diego , a longtime Old Acapulco tourist attraction, overlooks the city's harbor. Within the fort is the Acapulco Historical Museum , where you can learn about Acapulco's seafaring history and its importance as a 16th-century trading port between the Americas and Asia.
Looking for fun things to do with kids? Take them to El Rollo Acapulco , a water park with rides like the Sky Coaster and the Tornado, performing dolphin and sea lion shows, and a huge wave pool.
Of course the beaches that line Acapulco Bay are the claim to fame for this vacation destination. They have a backdrop of lofty mountains and green foothills that seem to plunge right in to the ocean. One of the most popular and centrally located is Playa la Condesa . This is hot body central, crowded with young singles flaunting skimpy bathing suits. It's great for people watching, whether on the sand or parasailing above the water. Vendors peddling cheap trinkets roam the beach, and nearby Costera Miguel Alemán is lined with bars and restaurants that are fun places to go with friends.
Farther south is Playa Puerto Marqués , where the narrow mouth of the bay keeps the waves gentle. The road to the beach is lined on one side with shops selling swimsuits, toys and coconuts and on the other with casual, thatch-roofed seafood restaurants. You can rent an umbrella (which you'll want to have for protection from the strong sun), and there's good snorkeling around the rocks at the mouth of the bay.
Pie de la Cuesta (“foot of the hill”) is a 6-mile stretch of sand about 10 miles northwest of Acapulco. The beach borders the open Pacific; on the other side of Mex. 200, the coastal road, are the calm waters of Coyuca Lagoon, its shoreline edged with palms and mangroves. If you don't have a car, arrange taxi transportation through your hotel for this day trip.
The small village of Pie de la Cuesta is a jumble of mom 'n pop motels and seafood shacks. The crashing breakers and treacherous ocean currents make swimming unsafe, and there are no lifeguards. This is, however, one of the great places for couples to go for a muy romantic place to watch the sun set. Families line up chairs, vendors mill around selling snacks, and all eyes turn toward the horizon at the appointed time as the sky blazes with color and the Pacific turns to pale gold.
Sleep? Forget about it—put on your dancing shoes and get ready to paint the town red, because after dark it's all about Acapulco's famed nightlife. The discos of yore may be called dance clubs these days, but the glitz, elaborate laser light shows and pounding beats pouring from state-of-the-art sound systems are essentially the same. Palladium Acapulco , on Costera Miguel Alemán in the trendy Las Brisas neighborhood, is one of the hottest places to go; it has huge glass windows that look out over Acapulco Bay.
The most celebrated nighttime attraction is cliff diving at La Quebrada . This natural rock wall high above downtown Acapulco has been the pre-eminent spot for local divers to show off their daredevil talents since 1934. These fearless young men stand on a ledge illuminated by a spotlight before diving into a narrow cove far below, a dangerous feat that requires split-second timing. The traditional place to view this spectacle is from the La Perla restaurant at the El Mirador Acapulco hotel, where you'll have to pay a cover charge or have dinner in order to get a seat.
Dining out is one of Acapulco's principal pleasures, so spiff up a little (no jacket or tie required, but no jeans or baggy shorts either) and splurge on dinner at one of the nice local restaurants. The view of the bay at dusk, when lights begin twinkling, will definitely put you in a festive (or romantic) mood.
Hotel restaurants offer a reliably good fine-dining experience. The outdoor tables at Bellavista , in the Hotel Las Brisas Acapulco, have a to-die-for view overlooking the Pacific. Lobster is the house specialty.
Acapulco enjoys one of Mexico's most beautiful oceanfront settings, so loosen the purse strings a little and stay at one of the hotels with a view. The Hotel Las Brisas Acapulco isn't on the beach, but the water vistas from the vantage point of its hillside location are still spectacular. You'll be taken to your room or the hotel's private La Concha Beach Club in a pink-and-white jeep.
Rooms on the upper floors of The Grand Mayan Acapulco overlook either the ocean or the city and its backdrop of mountains (keep in mind that ocean-view rooms receive full sun). The property features five interconnected swimming pools, and full massages are available on the beach.
One of the city's grand dames, the Princess Mundo Imperial at Revolcadero Beach is removed from downtown's bustle. Designed to resemble an Aztec pyramid, the Princess is a luxurious retreat surrounded by towering palm trees and lush grounds, and the sparkling swimming pools are decked out with waterfalls. Historical footnote: Reclusive business tycoon Howard Hughes lived in the hotel's penthouse suite until shortly before his death in 1976.
By AirAcapulco International Airport (officially Juan N. Alvarez International Airport) is about 23 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of the city off Boulevard de las Naciones. Major carriers frequently fly into Mexico City, where connections can be made to Acapulco.
United offers seasonal nonstop flights from Houston. Providing service from Mexico City are Aeroméxico, phone 01 (800) 021-4000 (toll-free long distance within Mexico); Interjet, phone 01 (800) 011-2345 (toll-free long distance within Mexico); and Volaris, phone (55) 1102-8000. Charter flights from Canada are available seasonally.
Best Day is an airport shuttle/taxi service that transports visitors from the airport to the city's hotel zone along Boulevard Costera Miguel Alemán. The 30-minute ride in a shared minivan (colectivo) costs about $18-$22 (U.S.) per person; a non-shared minivan starts at about $60, depending on the destination. Phone 01 (800) 237-8329 (toll-free long distance within Mexico) or (800) 593-6259 (from the United States).
By CarFrom Mexico City, toll highway Mex. 95-D, the Autopista del Sol (Sun Highway), is by far the quickest and best option. Between Mexico City and Cuernavaca the funnel highway is Mex. 95-D; just south of Cuernavaca, the Sun Highway splits off from old Mex. 95-D, proceeds south to Chilpancingo and Tierra Colorada, and then on to Acapulco International Airport. Total driving time for the 240-mile stretch is around 4 hours.
The four-lane, largely traffic-free highway twists and turns through beautiful valleys and around mountainous curves. Signs denote scenic stops. About halfway to Acapulco a suspension bridge 600 feet above the Mexcala River affords a spectacular view; acrophobes will probably want to keep their eyes shut.
The one drawback to traveling this well-maintained route is the cost. There are frequent toll plazas along the route, and the total charge runs about $80 (U.S.). Tolls must be paid for and gas must be purchased in pesos. The highway is economically out of the question for the average Mexican driver; most of the traffic is luxury buses, long-distance trucks and tourists willing to pay for convenience.
Mex. 95, an older, free highway, begins at Mexico City and proceeds south through Cuernavaca, Taxco, Iguala and Chilpancingo to Acapulco, roughly paralleling toll Mex. 95-D. It's scenic, but also very winding.
Acapulco is a long way from the United States; from McAllen, Tex., one of the closest U.S. border points, the distance is nearly 900 miles.
By BusFirst-class (ejecutivo) buses operated by Tres Estrellas de Oro make daily runs on the Autopista del Sol between Mexico City's Terminal Central de Autobuses del Sur and Acapulco; the trip takes 5 to 6 hours and costs about $30 (U.S.) one way. This bus line also provides service to Taxco, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. Buses coming from Mexico City on Friday and departing Acapulco on Monday are often very crowded.
By Cruise ShipDue to ongoing Mexican drug cartel violence and wary American tourists, many major cruise lines have omitted Acapulco from their Pacific Mexico itineraries. Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and the Norwegian Cruise Line still occasionally visit, docking at Puerto Acapulco near the old downtown area. Your ship's excursion manager can book you on a tour of the city. Onshore visits typically include Fort San Diego, across the street from where cruise ships moor, and La Quebrada, where the cliff divers perform.
City LayoutAcapulco is divided into three sections. The oldest part, appropriately referred to as Old Acapulco (or “Tradicional”) fills a peninsula that forms the western side of Acapulco Bay. This is where locals as well as U.S. and Canadian retirees attend to their daily business. It's compact, bustling and has a very Mexican feel, a definite contrast to the more tourist-oriented parts of the city.
The downtown waterfront contains the docks and fishermen's wharves, reminders of Acapulco's continuing importance as a commercial port. This is where both cruise ships and smaller fishing boats dock. Historic Fort San Diego is in this area. Old Acapulco also includes Caletilla and the other city beaches as far east as the first hotel high-rise.
Boulevard Miguel Alemán runs through the Dorado (or Golden Zone) section of the city. This wide boulevard following the northern shore of Acapulco Bay is also called the Costera and was named for the former Mexican president who was responsible for initiating much of the city's resort development. Luxury hotels, restaurants, shops, family-oriented attractions and beaches like Playa Hornos and Playa la Condesa are located in the Golden Zone, which continues as far as the Las Brisas hotel, east of the junction with Mex. 95 (the highway to Taxco and Mexico City).
Beyond this point is the newest section, Punta Diamante (the Diamond Zone). Here the coastal drive is called the Carretera Escénica and continues along Acapulco Bay toward Puerto Marqués and, farther on, the airport. Another group of luxury hotels, like the Hotel Princess Mundo Imperial and the Pierre Mundo Imperial, are clustered in the Punta Diamante area.
As in many other parts of Mexico, streets change names frequently and street signs are difficult to locate. Orient yourself by using the Costera as a reference point—the great majority of Acapulco's accommodations, restaurants and nightspots are on or a short distance off it.
Rental CarsHertz is one of several rental car agencies with offices in Acapulco. Be sure you fully understand the terms of any rental contract. Some luxury hotels provide jeeps for their guests.
Note: AAA members enjoy discounts through Hertz for vehicles booked in the United States. Consult your local AAA club or phone Hertz, (800) 654-3080.
BusesBlue-and-white buses with “Costera” printed on the side travel up and down Boulevard Miguel Alemán, connecting beaches and various points of interest. The fare is inexpensive (5 pesos), but the ride is often bumpy and hot, and these buses are usually crowded as well. Maps at covered bus stops along the Costera illustrate routes to major hotels and tourist attractions. If you're taking the bus to an outlying area like Pie de la Cuesta or Puerto Marqués, find out when and where to board the last bus going back into town. Stay alert while on the bus and beware of pickpockets, who sometimes target foreign tourists.
TaxisYellow-and-while colectivo taxis travel along the Costera and charge 10 pesos per person. Fares charged by blue-and-white “tourist” taxis typically begin at around 50 pesos. Taking a sitio taxi associated with your hotel is more expensive but also much safer, especially after dark. Lists showing rates for sitio taxis are usually posted in the hotel lobby. Hail cabs cruising the streets at your own risk, as robberies can occur.
ParkingOld Acapulco has narrow streets and is better suited to walking than driving. It is illegal to park anywhere along Costera Miguel Alemán. Since everything is spread out, use city buses or take a taxi where you want to go.
Guides/ToursA guide is not really necessary in Acapulco since the focus for most vacationers is on the beach, nightlife and eating out. If you do hire one, make certain he or she is a reputable, bonded guide licensed by the Guerrero State Department of Tourism. Freelance guides can usually be found in the lobbies or at the entrances of the more expensive hotels.
Local tour operators offer organized city tours, day trips to Taxco or evening nightclub tours. Tour desks are at the larger hotels. Acuario Tours is a representative agency. The office is in Old Acapulco at Costera Miguel Alemán #186-3; phone (744) 469-6100.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
13 meters (43 feet)
Dial 911 and ask to be connected to an English-speaking operator.
English-speaking “tourist police” outfitted in white and light blue uniforms patrol streets in tourist areas and can provide assistance to visitors. Phone (744) 485-0490.
(provides assistance in locating vehicles or missing persons, or to those in need of public services): (744) 481-1100. The office is at Boulevard Costera Miguel Alemán #3221.
Hospital Privado Magallanes, Calle Wilfrido Massieu Perez #2, (744) 485-6544; IMSS (Mexican Social Security Hospital), downtown at Av. Cuauhtémoc #95, (744) 469-0270; Red Cross (Cruz Roja), Calle Andrea Dorian #1 (off Boulevard Costera Miguel Alemán), (744) 481-3385. Many hotels have an in-house doctor or a contact physician on 24-hour call.
Local Phone Calls
Public phones take prepaid Ladatel/Telmex phone cards, which can be purchased at any convenience store. The smallest card value is 30 pesos; local calls cost only a couple of pesos, depending on the time the call is made. Insert the card chip side up and then dial your call; an LED display shows the remaining value of the card after the call is finished.
Sanborns, a Mexican restaurant chain, has English-language books and periodicals. There are locations at Boulevard Costera Miguel Alemán #3111 (several blocks south of the El Rollo Acapulco water park), Boulevard Costera Miguel Alemán #1260 (in the vicinity of Playa Calinda) and at Boulevard Costera Miguel Alemán #209 in old downtown Acapulco.
Boulevard Miguel Alemán #4455 Acapulco, GR . Phone:(744)484-4416
Most banks along the Costera, both in the downtown area and the hotel zone, are open Mon.-Fri. 9-5 (some also Sat. 10-2). Casas de cambio (currency exchange houses) line the Costera in the vicinity of the big hotels; these are open daily and often until 8 p.m. ATMs are plentiful and accept international credit cards; withdrawals are in pesos.
In recent years Acapulco has experienced high-profile incidents of drug cartel-related violence, some of which have occurred in or near tourist areas. If you leave your hotel, stick to areas frequented by visitors (the beaches and tourist-oriented businesses along Boulevard Costera Miguel Alemán). The old downtown area is also safe during daylight hours. Tourists often are targeted for petty theft; stay alert if you happen to be in a crowded public place, like a market. Never carry large sums of money or personal valuables and always keep your hotel room key card with you, preferably in a hidden pocket or other safe place.