Acapulco & Puerto Vallarta, Pacific Coast, Mexico
Acapulco sports one of those celebrity names that tourists to Mexico feel the need to experience at least once, though sadly the reality is the city has gone downhill since it was the Hollywood playground of choice in the 1950’s. However, Acapulco still has magnificent hotels, some fine sights and beaches, awesome cliff-divers (40m/120ft) and a frenzied nightlife.
Acapulco bay at night, the perfect match for a Margarita or two. Photo by Jim.
As usual in Mexico buses are a good value and sometimes bizarrely comfortable way to get from city-to-city. From Mexico City to Acapulco takes about 5 hours, costs not much and provides movies, scenery, drinks and snacks en route.
Flight time is just 45 minutes but getting to/from airports and checking in absorbs quite a bit of time and naturally it costs a lot more than a bus.
The negative aspects of Acapulco include drug violence perpetrated by local cartels (tho’ usually not directed at tourists), corrupt and grasping police, frequent and persistent hawkers on beaches, commonplace thievery and garbage in the bay!
The local police can be especially problematical if you are driving a decent car. There’s a good chance that you will be stopped for an imaginary traffic offence and fined on the spot. In addition traffic can be heavy and aggressive, and parking and street names are both difficult to find so leave the Corvette at home!
Best Things to Do and See in Acapulco
La Quebrada Cliff Divers head for their perch for a spot of night action. Photo by Prayitno. These are professional high divers performing daily shows from 35 metres (115 ft) perch above the sea. Perfect timing is vital as the water depth varies from 6 to 16 feet depending on the tide and waves.
• Watch the incredible cliff divers of La Quebrada, either from a small platform by the cliff for a small fee or dine at the La Perla restaurant where the view is perfect. Dives are at 1PM and two or three times in the evening.
• Get a glance at local life in the Zocalo town square (all Mexican town squares are called Zocalo! ). During the day it’s cool, calm and pleasant with cathedral, fountains, trees and restaurants of varying sizes. At night the Zocalo perks up considerably and becomes the local go-to place with street entertainment and all sorts of eating and drinking possibilities.
• Take a trip up to the lovely, modernist Capilla de la Paz (Chapel of Peace) 1200ft up on a hill overlooking Acapulco, with great views of course but also an attractive garden and interesting sculptures.
• Visit El Fuerte de San Diego (aka Museo Historico de Acapulco) in Colonia Centro, an historic 18thC Spanish fortress turned museum, a well-designed operation with some fascinating historical information (in both Spanish and English) on indigenous tribes, pirates, with sculptures, paintings, maps and other artefacts, as well as panoramic views over Acapulco. The museum is inexpensive but does require quite a lot of walking.
• Take a boat trip/water taxi/harbour tour out to Isla de la Roqueta from Caleta Beach. Once on Isla de la Roquet there are some decent walking trails and good snorkeling and swimming spots.
• Check out Diego Rivera’s intricate mosaic en route to the El Fuerte fort or La Quebrada. It’s attached to a private estate and very unusual but will be best seen accompanied by an explanation from someone in the know, or it’s going to be a WTF scenario.
The slightly overbuilt central Acapulco beaches. Photo by Eneas de Troya.
Apart from partying by night and swimming/sunbathing by day include boat cruises, scuba diving (onto wrecks and sea mountains) and snorkeling, sailing and windsurfing, paragliding, and fishing, particularly sailfishing. For the kids there’s a huge aquapark with slides, dolphin shows and so on, while adults can enjoy a few ancient monuments, museums, a botanical garden, several world-class golf courses and horseback riding.
Part of a lengthy Diego Rivera mosaic on Rivera’s house wall, close to Hotel Casablanca. Part of the mosaic represents Maya most important deities, Quetzalcoatl, the ‘feathered serpent god’. Photo by Jim.
Taxis are the easy transport solution as they’re reasonably cheap, particularly the old, no aircon VW Beetle type. However, they are unmetered so it’s essential to negotiate a price before even entering the vehicle. If you ask your hotel to call you a cab it will definitely cost you considerably more than one hailed on the street. That being said, late at night that may be the sensible way to get a safe ride.
Shared Cabs circulate between major destinations for a flat fee and are very good value. Their livery is usually white and yellow and they will clearly display their destination.
Buses are an interesting, even entertaining option as Acapulco buses have been privatised and they are very competitive, not only with prices but also their colour schemes, sound systems, lighting setups and speed etc. You don’t even need to wait at a stop, just walk in the right direction and wait for some over-decorated wagon to career over to you and offer you a smokin’ ride. If not then check the front window of passing buses for your destination and give the right one a wave.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico’s premier LGBT beach destination.
Puerto Vallarta is a long-standing Pacific beach resort with its cobbled streets, handful of fine colonial style buildings, extensive beaches, a fine newly extended boardwalk, plentiful marine life, the Sierra Madre Mountains as a backdrop and a vibrant culture – which has become increasingly touristy and gay-friendly over the last few years. Some publications consider Puerto Vallarta to be the number one LGBT destination in Latin America, especially as flights from USA West Coast and Canada are so convenient. The focus of the gay action is, appropriately, Zona Romantica.
Cruising Playa de Los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta. Photo by Melikamp.
The city is home to four beaches, while to the north and south – easily accessible by bus – are a dozen more stretches of varied sand that are more or less developed and deserve some exploration.
Vallarta’s two most popular beaches are Playa Olas Altas (High Waves Beach), which is ironically the best swimming beach and does not generally have big waves but does have a good selection of beachside restaurants.
The other is the delightfully named Playa Los Muertos (Dead Man’s Beach), the city’s biggest beach and LGBT magnet, particularly down the south end, no pun intended.
It’s best to avoid beaches near river mouths as the waters there are frequently muddy and very occasionally either polluted by sewage or visited by crocodiles. Jellyfish are also a hazard from time to time.
A typical oceanside pool and gardens of a mid-to-upmarket Vallarta hotel. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.
Puerto Vallarta climate
Slightly cooler than baking Acapulco, with average highs in the tourist season from November – May are 84F-86F (29C-30C) and lows about 63F (17C), with almost no rain at this time.
Things to do in Puerto Vallarta
There’s a good range of activities from scuba diving, deep sea fishing, dolphin/sea lion encounters and whale watching (mid-December to end of March) to sailing and kite-surfing in Banderas Bay and the usual noisome jet skiing and parasailing. But don’t waste your time looking for good surf here!
On land activities include horse-riding, hiking into the sub-tropical forest of the Sierra Madre mountains, ziplining across canyons or tree tops, rappelling down waterfalls, crossing jungle bridges and splashing through streams and natural river pools.