In the 1950s and ’60s, Acapulco was Mexico’s tourism jewel. The first Mexican destination to attract large numbers of tourists from beyond the border welcomed Hollywood superstars, British royals, and global elite. Acapulco was a Rio de Janeiro of the north, a place that catered to sun-worshippers, hedonists, and anyone chasing paradise.
The downturn came, however. And it was quick and harsh. Negative press about violent crime, poor service, and disappointing accommodations drove tourists away. The lack of interest caused airlines in Canada and the United States to stop their commercial flights to the destination.
At its trough, international arrivals directly to Acapulco was as low as 50,848 in 2014 (though the city’s tourism board says there were a number of uncounted tourists who arrived by car from Mexico City and elsewhere in the country). While the destination invested heavily on turning things around, the tourism renaissance it has hoped for has been slow to arrive. Many other beach locations — including those within Mexico such as Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun — have captured the attention and market share Acapulco once dominated.
The return to large-scale prosperity, though, seems imminent. Seeing opportunity, Apple Leisure Group, one of the world’s largest consortiums in the hospitality industry, is investing $35 million through its hotel division, AM Resorts. The plans call for more luxury hotels, added infrastructure for cruise ships, cutting-edge attractions, and a focus on the culinary flavors of Guerrero, Acapulco’s state.
“I grew up here. I drank Yoli soda, a drink that’s unique to here, when I was a kid. Acapulco is an important tourist destination for me and for this country for many reasons. It deserved to get more attention than we have given before,” says Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group, whose cruises, packaged vacations, and other tourism products draw 3.2 million passengers to the country each year.
For adrenaline seekers, there’s no need to wait for Apple Leisure Group and AM Resorts to complete their projects. Acapulco already has some unique thrills. Xtasea is a breathtaking zipline experience that propels those with the courage to try it across the Bay of Puerto Marques, zooming from one mountain to the next at speeds that can climb 70 miles per hour (120 km/h). Customers can select to ride from one of four positions, including being positioned in a hammock, journeying in tandem with a friend, seated in the ride’s traditional posture, or flying like Superman on the longest open-water zipline in the world.
Despite the fact I’m not a fan of heights, deep water, or amusement-park speed, I signed up for Xtasea. It was neither the scariest zipline I’ve ever been on nor was it uncomfortable (except for a landing that was a hard impact on my shoulders and neck because of the face-down position). For about 90 seconds, Xtasea gives you the thrill of gliding like a seagull about 330 feet (100 metres) above the water. You can see the scenic beauty of Acapulco’s coastline from a vantage point that’s impossible in any other way. The speed varies based on each zipliner’s weight and hand position, and the wind speed over the bay. For the first 10 seconds or so, the ride descends over a rocky treeline before revealing the stark blue of the sea, a moment where you instantly feel calm and a glorious sense of wow. It’s far more peaceful than I expected and would appeal to more than adrenaline junkies.
The zipline meets the world’s highest standards of safety for adventure rides. The staff ensures you’re strapped in and harnessed to the thick cable on which you travel from one cliff to another. You’re instructed to keep your hands close to your body while crossing the water to maintain an aerodynamic position and then to lift your hands to your collar to slow down and brace for the finish. Should you move your arms or your body during the ride, you may get stuck dangling over the waves, as a member of my party did. An Xtasea employee hurried out and calmly reeled her back in, giving her a few more minutes of marveling at the view like a snorkeler who had magically been elevated straight up from a swim.
At the moment, Xtasea is a key marketing asset for Acapulco. Another is Eduardo Palazuelos, a superbly talented chef who in April opened Restaurante Mario Canario in a tiki-style hut off of a main road in the city. The new endeavor complements Palazuelos’s work at Zibu, a stellar fine-dining establishment with a view of the bay that can only be rivaled by what you will see on the Xtasea ride. At Zibu, Palazuelos serves sensational and sophisticated flavors with ingredients and techniques from his home state of Guerrero. A seafood soup is delivered in a coconut shell that Palazuelos tops with a velouté dispensed tableside. It is comfort food in paradise: sweet shellfish and coconut mingling with a delicate spice in a presentation that is both clever and obvious. The molten chocolate cake, served with a side of spiced ice cream, just may make you delirious. The cake arrives in a burn-to-the-touch ramekin and with a souffle-like top. Poke your spoon into it and the covering collapses into the soft chocolate cake with the mildest hints of fruit, stone, and spice. If a red wine like Syrah could be solidified and baked it might turn out like this treat.
At Restaurante Mario Canario, the chef delivers plate after plate of Mexican casual food done with adept skill. It’s a cornucopia of good stuff: fish quesadillas, octopus in salsa, ceviche slathered on a toasted cracker, skewered shrimp laden in a diablo sauce, and a battalion of tacos (crab, chicken, short rib) that will defeat any instinct you have of forgoing gluttony.
With Xtasea, Palazuelos, the venerable cliff divers of La Quebrada, and a shoreline that is timelessly world class, Acapulco has some exceptional highlights to develop a foundation for its next boom in tourism. The AM Resorts investment is certain to propel that renewal. For those who want to avoid the masses and the increased prices that demand always brings, the time to dive into Acapulco just may be now.
MORE ABOUT VISITING ACAPULCO
Getting There: The city has direct flights from major cities in the United States. In Canada, it has direct flights from Toronto and Montreal, and is working on adding one from Vancouver for this coming winter. The airport is modern and the main roads to it and the primary hotels are well maintained.
Where to Stay: Hotel Princess is a large resort on the beach with spacious rooms and balconies. Operated by Mundo Imperial, the hotel features gardens, two golf courses, and multiple restaurants.
Crime: The statistics in Acapulco are grim. In 2018, 874 people were killed in the city. Most of the violent crime is related to gangs and drug wars. Although some tourists have been victims, crime against tourists, especially in high-traffic areas, is rare. The investment plans by Apple Leisure Group and AM Resorts that were revealed in April at Mexico’s national tourism conference, Tianguis Turistico, offer a bright hope in addressing the challenges the city has faced for more than a decade.
Currency: Americans and Canadians enjoy favorable exchange rates with the Mexican peso; $1 USD equals 17 pesos and $1 CAD equals 12 pesos. Several items can be purchased at a less expensive price when paying in pesos vs. foreign currency.