A year in Mexico wouldn’t be complete without a road trip to Acapulco, and this weekend we ticked it off. We set off on the open road (approximately a seven hour trip from Puebla) with the wind uncontrollably knotting our hair and a good dose of excitement rushing through our veins, eager to see what the resort synonymous with the bright and boastful image of Mexican tourism had to offer. Having found fame as the playground of the rich and famous from the 1950s and hosting Mexico’s largest beach, I was full of high hopes and curiosity.
As we entered the state of Guerrero on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the temperature soared, and despite the hot climate all year round, I realised why July is not Acapulco’s peak season, which comes over Christmas. It became clear that we weren’t the only ones making an escape to the coast for the weekend because as we neared the city the traffic thickened and sweated head-to-tail for miles. Here the cars are huge and flashy beasts, and the public buses even more so with strikingly artistic graffiti in metallic shades of every colour blazing down their sides. Convertible or air-con or nothing at all, it’s not that nice sitting in traffic in thirty-four degree heat, but eventually we made it and headed straight for a bar on Acapulco’s main strip, the Miguel Aleman Boulevard.
Tourism has taken a bit of a blow in the last fifteen years thanks to Acapulco consistently being ‘awarded’ second or third place in the World’s Most Violent Cities lists. Perhaps for this reason (and that the panoramic Autopista del Sol highway means it can be reached from Mexico City in three-and-a-half hours), it’s now a holiday destination more popular for Mexican tourists than internationals, who these days tend to flock to Cancun and Los Cabos. Surprisingly, we were still subjected to the “oh my god, a gringa!” and “are you speaking English? Can I have a photo with you?” treatment, which I really wasn’t expecting given Acapulco’s global fame. In the tourist-packed centre there isn’t so much evidence of the notorious drug and gang-war related violence, but if you were to find yourself with nowhere to stay for the night at one in the morning having discovered that all of Acapulco’s hotels are fully booked, and try to get yourself a taxi to Pie de la Cuesta (a town about forty minutes north-west of the city centre), you’re likely discover that the taxis will refuse to take you on account of the danger.
Pie de la Cuesta is much quieter, cheaper and closer to nature than Acapulco Bay, so it’s perfect if rustic beach hut is more your style (and budget) than luxury sky-rise tower. Unfortunately you won’t find its hotels listed on any hostel websites, despite the fact that their prices and amenities are much more akin to hostels than hotels, but as you drive along the beach front all of the valets will try and wave you in, and at this time of year it’s not difficult to find a room and cram as many people as you can in it for a reasonable price. The beach is beautifully tranquil in contrast to Acapulco Bay; the sea is rough but there are plenty of (over-) friendly lifeguards, lovely cafés, and passing vendors offering refreshments. Given its difficulty to book ahead and to get to after dark, I would definitely recommend staying here but making sure that you plan to arrive in the daytime to avoid spending any nights on the beach. It might sound romantic, but Acapulco is definitely not the place to do it. We stayed at Quinta Karla and paid just 650 pesos for the room. They have a free pool for guests and great staff who are happy to bring any food or drink to you on the beach from dawn until dusk.
Acapulco is not a destination for those seeking history and culture, but is rather known for its entertainment and nightlife: the Mexican tourist board itself advertises it as the “largest, loudest and most boisterous resort in Mexico.” Among its attractions, a trip to see the clavadistas (cliff-divers) of La Quebrada draws hundreds of visitors each day with their four nightly shows. The divers first climb thirty metres up a sheer cliff face before praying at the two altars of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Then they choose their spot from which to jump, and crucially await the perfect timing when a big wave is coming, before leaping into an inlet only seven metres wide and four metres deep. Their bravery is awed by the spectators, and they offer signed photos and t-shirts before and after the twenty-minute show.
And so far too quickly it was time to head back to Puebla. Unfortunately our trusty steed named Chrysler couldn’t take the heat (or the weight of our beer-and-happiness-heavied bodies), and we were waiting for four hours at the roadside before being informed that rescue wouldn’t be coming that night but the following day. By the time we had made it to the nearest city, the bus stations were closed and no more buses were running to Puebla. Luckily, the friendly and helpful nature of Mexicans prevailed once again, and we managed to get a taxi all the way back in a trip that would have cost the price of a small house in Europe.
For someone in search of an adventure holiday full of fun activities and parties, Acapulco is the absolute dream with its beach, heat, bright lights and carnival atmosphere. But I personally prefer the calmer end of the holiday spectrum, and would highly recommend staying somewhere on the outskirts like Pie de la Cuesta where you can have the benefits on a budget and travel in to the city without feeling suffocated by it.