Acapulco… how to describe it? Big. Crowded. Hot. Dirty. Full of garbage. Expensive.
And home of one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Several of the best travel advisers on the planet, 2 different taxi drivers in Zihuatanejo and 1 in Morelia, advised against visiting. “Acapulco es muy feo”, they all said. That’s a quote, Acapulco is very ugly. We heard how the cruise ships don’t go there anymore because of all of the crime, and how many of the people in Zihuatanejo are from Acapulco but don’t want to go back. “It’s dangerous” they said.
Despite the advice of the cabbie community, we spent 2 nights in Acapulco. There is no direct bus from Zihuatanejo to Puerto Escondido (our next destination), and the 5 hour ride just to Acapulco is enough travel for one day.
JFK and Jackie O honeymooned here. I bet if we were to have the Kennedy honeymoon budget, Acapulco may have a certain charm to it. Sitting in the back of an air-conditioned limo, sipping champagne, you may not even notice that traffic is at a standstill because of all of the construction. When the chauffeur dropped you off at a private dining event looking over the city, you could enjoy the view without noticing that the beaches were littered with garbage or that there was a layer of grit over every possible surface.
Acapulco conjured up childhood memories of the famous cliff divers, so I had to go see them. I found a hotel that was only $19 nearby La Quebrada, where the Clavadistas leap into the sea, timing there jump with the waves to avoid crashing into the jagged rocks below. The lobby of our hotel had a posted showing J Lo filming a music video on site. With advertising like that, it had to be nice, right? Except that our room had no toilet seat or hot water. It was not horrible… after all, it was $19. Jackio O may have stopped by to see J Lo in action, but she certainly wouldn’t have used our bathroom
The Clavadistas weren’t really what I recalled from childhood, but these things seldom are. Several of the older divers were certainly overweight. Regular training and exercise didn’t appear to be high on the list of job expectations. The dive site itself is incredibly beautiful, jutting out into the sea with the waves crashing into the cliff face. It was crowded with local tourists, always a good sign, although this made it difficult to see. It turns out that wasn’t a bad thing. Perhaps a consequence of watching Olympic diving and snowboarding, and the X-games with people doing flips with snowmobiles and motorcycles, I expected a bit more talent in the diving. Sure, jumping 30 meters off a rock into the crashing sea and living to tell about it is a lot. I would never do it myself so serious respect to these guys. But don’t be upset if I don’t buy a T-shirt after the show if you half-ass it, don’t do any flips or spins, and still land sideways with a painful sounding slap. That isn’t even you on the T-shirt, its a younger, slimmer version of you.
The hotel was also located 2 blocks from the old town square, which has been a favorite hang out of ours in other Mexican cities. When we arrived, it was packed full of Mexican tourists. A few local clowns were putting on an act that had the whole crowd laughing. Food vendors were selling grilled corn and mystery beverages. It was a nice scene, full of families having a good time. The main church was of a style that I hadn’t seen before, but being Sunday evening there was a service with packed audience so we didn’t get to explore inside. Many of the town’s taxi drivers congregated here, with their collection of vintage blue and white VW beetles.
After a restless night on a lumpy bed, we decided to move to the other part of town. Acapulco is roughly divided in 2, the old part that was big back in the day, and the new part that is full of high rise resort hotels. This had the side effect of boosting our hotel cost up to $37, but we got a toilet seat for that, along with a broken air-conditioner. The hotel advertised that it had WiFi, so when we asked the manager about it of course he said, “Oh yeah, we have it. Go down the street two blocks, there is a paper store. You can get on the internet there.” The room was definitely a step above the previous night, and we slept well with the giant sliding doors open for a nice breeze.
It turns out that the city planners for this part of town assumed everybody would spend all of their time in the resorts. Aside from the local Starbucks, which also has working WiFi, there wasn’t much to see by exploring organically. We strolled along the main street that follows the bay, trying to find a way to the beach. Bar. Bar. Night club. Bar. Scary looking stairway that smells of urine. Bar. Bar. We found one bar with a sign that said “Beach access.” Wow, look at this, the beach is totally empty! And then we saw all the garbage that had been washed ashore, with a bit more floating about on the incoming waves. 30 seconds later, we were back up on the main street
Every restaurant we passed appeared empty and faded, like the staff didn’t really expect anybody to dine there. As a general rule, we try not to eat in places that aren’t busy, which meant all of these places were off limits. I don’t really want to eat “fresh seafood” when I’m the only person to dine there that week. The bars were mostly empty as well, and the clubs were all closed during the day (and it was a Monday.)
Since the old part of town seemed to have more general activity, we decided to head back there via bus. More buses should be like this one… neon lighting, club music, disco ball and stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling, a giant painting of the face of Jesus on the back wall. For the next 30 minutes, we had all of the great experiences of the Acapulco nightlife without ever stepping into a club, before stepping off into the town square. With fond memories of the cliffs from the night before, we walked back up the hill to see them during the daylight hours, and they were equally as beautiful. Up the road a bit further is the Sinfonia de Mar, an outdoor amphitheater that faces the sea with a 180 degree view. They could host a small concert here at sunset every day of the year, and it would be sold out, but 20 or so of us enjoyed the space for free. Perhaps Acapulco could use the proceeds to hire extra garbage collectors
As sunset approached, the parking lot filled up with a crowd of local families. There were a few vendors selling ice cream and grilled corn, but they were really low key, not at all aggressive like they were back in town. And as a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit, two young guys were selling beer and mixed drinks out of a cooler in their trunk. Despite the low prices, we just stuck to the water we brought with us.
As the sun sank into the ocean, for the first time in my life I saw a sunset completely devoid of any type of land. No longer able to see the sun, the horizon pulsed with light with the action of the waves. Absolutely amazing. Had we listened to all of the recommendations not to visit Acapulco, we would not have witnessed this amazing sight.
Fortunately for all, there are many other places on the planet where you can see amazing sunsets. Don’t visit Acapulco. It’s a dump
Bus ride from Zihautanejo to Acapulco: $170 pesos per person ($13.70)
Admission to see the Clavadistas: $40 pesos per person ($3.20)
Cover charge for a big club: Unknown
Fare for riding a disco bus: $6 pesos per person ($0.50)
Beer from the trunk of a car: $15 pesos ($1.20)
Taxi ride to/from the bus station: $50 pesos ($4)
Flan Latte from Starbucks: $41 pesos ($3.30)