Were Frank Sinatra to lay his Ol' Blue Eyes on Acapulco Bay today, it's a safe bet he'd be pretty keen to fly, fly away someplace else. The years have not been terribly kind to the Mexican beach resort that once attracted Rat Packers, Hollywood starlets and various Kennedys to its shores - what was once a bucolic beach town of 50,000 has morphed into a seething metropolis plagued by poverty, violence and natural disasters.
Sound like the sort of place you'd like to go on vacation? Most Americans no longer think so – barely 10,000 passengers arrived on the lone nonstop flight from the United States (United Express, out of Houston) last year. Cruise lines don't call so often these days, either. It's their loss, honestly – Acapulco remains one of Mexico's most enjoyable places, a rowdy antidote to the country's often-default conservatism.
The city's magnificent location on the Pacific Ocean hasn't changed, either - that famous bay, the mountains towering over, the city sprawled every which way. It's an appealing blend, one that still manages to hook in plenty of travelers, many of them from Mexico City, just three and a half hours up the road. Overall, however, tourism numbers remain far too low, considering how much the city depends on visitors. Bad news for the locals, good news for travelers who bother to show up: Acapulco can be remarkably good value, particularly when it comes to hotels. Here are four very good examples.
Check into an episode of Mad Men from $109
The Hotel Boca Chica, a modernist gem tucked into an older residential area, would make a perfect set for an episode of AMC's hit TV show. But this shrine to a bygone era isn't stuck in the past entirely, thanks to a period-sensitive upgrade and oversight from Grupo Habita, known for unique little hotels throughout Mexico. The location, not far from the cliff divers at La Quebrada, isn't for everyone - it's not the most upscale of areas - but I spent a happy few days here and grew quite comfortable hanging around the neighborhood. The property is secure, offering a private dock and swimming area, but here you're also adjacent to busy Playa Caleta, which provides some great photo opportunities.
Get a private pool in the sky from $142
Another mid-century beauty, Las Brisas is a pink-and-white relic perched high above the drama. You'd be pardoned for wondering if anything had changed at all in the hotel's sixty-ish years of operation. (The answer is yes - there were renovations, completed in 2008, but the decor is still very much a throwback.) The hotel itself isn't the thing – the front desk staff was hopeless during my visit, the restaurant retains a morgue-like quality. Leap past these hurdles and get to what's really important: Those views. Most rooms offer their own private pool, where you can splash around on a sweltering summer afternoon with the entire region at your feet. When you can book affordably, Las Brisas is an absolute must.
Do it like J. Paul Getty from $132
The refined, low-rise Fairmont Pierre Marques is definitely a more typical beach resort, catering to international travelers. Still, there's a subdued elegance about the place, which comes as a breath of fresh air on Acapulco's slightly-faded Playa Revolcadero. Inaugurated in the 1950s on the site of J. Paul Getty's oceanfront retreat spot, the hotel sits amid rather lush tropical gardens, giving a feel more of Old Hawaii than you might expect in this corner of Mexico.
Crash some rich guy's beach pad (well, sort of) from $229
There's nothing retro-anything about the Hotel Encanto, an intimate property that at first glimpse appears to be the private ocean villa of an exceedingly wealthy individual. Except that it's not - packed in here are 44 guest rooms, a restaurant, a spa and one of the more impressive pools you'll likely ever splash in. An exceedingly minimal look is given a pleasing warmth in this privileged setting, high above the ocean and away from, well, pretty much everything. Half the rooms offer small, private pools, but no matter which suite you book, you're kind of winning at life.
How to go
United Express serves Acapulco nonstop from Houston in just 2.5 hours. Alternately, frequent connections are available in Mexico City.
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