Like a fading movie star staging a dramatic comeback, Acapulco has liposuctioned harrassing vendors off its beaches and now flashes a new downtown facelift. But she has heavy competition from her younger sister.
Six miles south of downtown Acapulco, the Queen Bee's demure young sibling hides bashfully behind coconut palms along the highway from the airport. Her charms include 30-mile-long Revolcadero Beach, where powdery sand leads into clean open ocean, inviting long walks and quiet moments watching sweeping, unobstructed sunsets.
Acapulco South's vast, uncrowded beach offers soul-satisfying tranquility, while providing easy access to downtown Acapulco, which is a must to visit. The Queen Bee has always put on quite a show. For local color, night life, and fine restaurants, she still gets top billing on the Mexican Riviera.
Personally, we love the old gal most for her character lines -- her flea morkets and her history. Her last world fame was based on movie-star glamour, starting in the fifties with the purchase of Hotel Los Flamingos by the "Hollywood Gang," led by John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Johnny Weismuller and other superstars of their era. With this kind of free publicity, the big hotel chains and cruise lines didn't take long to jump on the bandwagon.
Over the years, millions came, hoping to see Cary Grant watching the cliff divers. The Queen Bee was on top for a long time, but the world has changed. It's become crowded.
Many still come to downtown Acapulco to sun, to shop, to be near the famous discos and in the action. Most vacationers today, however, want something more than a sunburn, a trinket, and a night on the town.
They seek escape from traffic, highrises, and crowds.
And nothing soothes the frazzled urban spirit like gazing at a beach which stretches to the horizon, being caressed by fragrant tropical breezes, and lulled to sleep by the sound of gentle waves.
Acapulco South, the younger sister, offers visitors serenity with open arms. In the person of the Acapulco Princess, at age 25, she's a world-class beauty -- poised, classy, and sweetly seductive.
While this 480-acre, AAA Four-Diamond resort has been a favorite of royalty, sports stars, film crews and savvy travelers since it opened in 1972, untold millions of visitors have missed it in their rush to downtown Acapulco's glitter. Rates starting at $110 make the Acapulco Princess very affordable -- you just have to know it's there.
Five miles north of the airport, before crossing the Sierra Madre foothills into Acapulco Bay, your taxi driver will turn left through the row of palm trees lining the road. Magically, as though these ordinary, dusty palms were Alice's looking glass, the highway's scrub landscape and ticky-tacky signs vanish, and you find yourself in a world of velvety green fairways and cool lagoons. Ahead, the Princess's main tower rises in the shape of an Aztec temple.
Inside the tower's sunlit atrium lobby, vivid Mexican colors and exotic tropical plants surround you, and ancient Aztec heiroglyphics speak silently to you from the walls. These foreign impressions mingle invitingly with the familiar, as you look outside and see huge free-form pools complete with waterfalls, swim-up bars, and even fun rope bridges.
As befits any Five-Diamond resort, the Princess' rooms are immaculate, everything works, all hotel water is purified, the steaks are flown in from Iowa, and of course your French Toast is piping hot when room service delivers it (with a sprig of flowers).
The Princess makes serenity look easy, but achieving award-winning perfection in a Third World country requires hurculean behind-the-scenes efforts. This is the domain, and passion, of Hugo Maldenado, Director of Operations.
"We seem serene here only because we're totally self-sufficient. Like a little city, we have our own power supply and water reservoirs. We have our own dry cleaning plant, our own print shop and machine shops. We have our own construction company with 200 employees working full time building and rebuilding." Hugo is actually being modest by not bragging that the Princess is Acapulco's largest employer, with 2200 on staff.
With two golf courses, eleven tennis courts and five pools, you'll never run out of activities in this self-contained paradise.
You'll also never feel contained. The Princess shares Revolcadero Beach with the Pierre Marques resort, the Vidafel hotel, and a few condos, but density is very low. The immensity of the Pacific is the dominant presence here. Before you, the broad, smooth beach stretches out of sight, longer than a marathon, calling walkers and joggers to breath its tangy salt air and experience the joy of open spaces.
Or you can just stay put, unwind and lose yourself to the rhythym of the tides, the moon, and the sun. But sooner or later, you'll want to interrupt your blissful honeymoon with Acapulco South and pay your respects to her older sister.
Downtown Acapulco's a Grand Dame of many moods, and still a breathtaking beauty. To sample her charms, you must at least shop the flea market, watch the cliff divers, enjoy one of her fine restaurants, and experience one of her famous discos.
While packaged day excursions are available, you'll save money by ordering picnic lunches from the resort and negotiating with a taxi driver to take you to "La Quebrada" (where the cliff divers put on their show), with a stop along the way at "La Mercada de Artefanias" (the Arts and Crafts Market).
The fare from the South Acapulco resorts to La Quebrada runs about $12. Starting with that price, get agreement in front about the additional cost of the side trip to the flea market and how long he'll wait for you there. At the mercado, we suggest you start your bargaining at half the asking price, and take your driver's suggestions with a grain of salt (if he herds you too forcefully into a particular stall, you can figure he's getting a kickback).
Plan ahead to be sure you reach La Quebrada in time for the cliff divers' show, which starts at 1PM. The closest views of the 130-foot dives are down in front, in the sun, for about $5. The cost is higher, of course, if you wish to watch in shade and comfort from La Perla restaurant while enjoying drinks or lunch.
Anywhere in town (even at La Perla), remember to drink only bottled water and refuse ice cubes. And save your swim for the open ocean in Acapulco South. Escalating population and industry have overwhelmed urban bays all over the world. If California can't clean up its largely-open Santa Monica Bay, can anyone expect Acapulco's largely-enclosed bay to be pristine?
With nightfall's magic, though, the Bay turns into diamonds on black velvet, its ring of high-rises becomes a sparkling necklace, and the Queen Bee becomes a star again. Of her many fine restaurants, you'll certainly want to pick one with a view.
Our favorite is Ristorante CasaNova, a serenade in marble and glass created by veteran Acapulcan hotelier Arturo Cordova and his charming American-born wife, Patricia. Here, Vitello Piccata rivaling Rome's finest can be ordered with one of Arturo's discoveries, a Monte Xanic Chenin Blanc so perfect that you'll want to buy a case to take home.
As midnite approaches, Downtown Acapulco becomes a temptress, whispering with sweet hot breath to stay with her and share her secrets. Let her lure you a little further toward downtown, to view the full arc of her bay through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall of Extravaganza, her premier disco nightclub, where you'll rub elbows with jetsetters from around the world. (We suggest you take taxis as you need them on your evening jaunt; plenty are available at Acapulco's major night spots.)
Downtown Acapulco, the worldly older sister, will leave you that night with exciting memories. And when South Acapulco's languid, flower-scented morning arrives, you'll be happy to wake in the company of her quiet younger sister.
You'll fly home content, knowing you've experienced all the best of the Mexican Riviera.
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