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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Our Mexico adventure continues on the road from Escondido to Acapulco
Two days stay in Puerto Escondido has come to an end and we are again moving closer to the end of this Mexico adventure. Today we are moving from Escondido to Acapulco, which is about 413 km on highway 200.
Acapulco – picture perfect, but reality is different
Our route from Escondido to Acapulco – coastal Highway 200
I heard this trip should take about 6-7 hours. People who say 6 have probably driven this road a lots. Tourists definitely need more time. We left Escondido at 8:40 in the morning and arrived in Acapulco’s Zocalo by 16:30 (almost 8 hours). Be prepared for about 150-200 topes (speed bumps) and some heavy traffic once you get close to Acapulco.
Short stop in Manialtepec Lagoon
Shortly after we left Puerto Escondido (10 km) on the main highway, we were driving by a lagoon on the left side of the road. The Manialtepec Lagoon (Laguna de Manialtepec) has kayak rentals and boat tours for observing spoonbills, storks, pelicans and cranes, and a variety of migratory birds as they feed in the mangroves. A little further, about 56 km west of Puerto Escondido on the same highway is the town of Zapotalito, the Chacahua Lagoon and National Park (Laguna de Chacahua). We stopped at the lagoon for a few moments and could tell this is another place worth a visit. The lagoon is open to the ocean part of which has been designated a preserve since 1937.
Very colorful small hotels by the road
Group of cyclists on the highway 200
Route 200 leaves the coast after Manialtepec Lagoon and heads inland towards the town of Pinotepa National. At San Jose del Progresso, a road leads into Chacahua, another beach, with palapa restaurants and lodging. After San Jose del Progresso the highway heads deeper inland and into the mountains to Pinotepa National.
This is not a scenic road as views of the ocean are rare. The villages yield some interesting churches but otherwise the road to Acapulco is long and bland. Did I mention to watch for Topas? The road reaches Acapulco near the airport and continues along the beaches to the city of Acapulco.
The worst stretch was just as we were approaching Acapulco (from east) as they are still digging up the road for some way. I was advised to make a right turn onto the toll road signed “Mexico”. But I missed it, thanks to a poor signage! So, instead we went straight over the Las Brisas hill on Escenica road into downtown Acapulco.
Traffic shock in the city
On arrival to Acapulco we were immediately engulfed in its heat and humidity, but that was the least of our problems. TRAFFIC! Driving in Acapulco is quite a bizarre experience that is better to avoid if you can and this is coming from the guy who drove all over the world in many different countries and cities. This was something, I’ve not seen before. It was so clogged that nobody was moving, and even though I was driving like racing on my bike, which means I had to fight for every inch of the road, it was really crazy! Lawless! But we made it to downtown without any incident (BIG success!), and once I passed Zocalo, we stopped to take a breeder and think where we’re going to look for a hotel. I was really in need for a beer by that time…
Picture can’t show how these drivers were moving thru traffic
We continued our ride on the Costera Miguel Aleman Avenue until we spotted several hotels near by. We were somewhere in between La Pinzona and Las Playas area in the western part of the city. I spotted one hotel on the top of the hill and we stopped there. This hotel (Caleta) had available rooms and within 5 minutes we checked in.
Hotel Caleta – on top of the hill
Hotel Caleta is on the Western Edge of Acapulco, on top of a small hill, away from the main strip of discos and bars (though cab fare to the main strip is only 20-30 pesos), on a family-friendly point, called Playa Caleta. Beautiful beach on an inlet between main Acapulco Bay and Isla. Hotel itself was breathtaking from the outside. But closer look from the inside, tells you a different story. Hotel is completely falling apart, and it reminded me on Cuba buildings, that don’t have any maintenance done since the late 50s. This hotel in its heyday was a great hotel for its location and its huge terraces. Now, the place is just deteriorating and not much maintenance is going on. The gardening is well kept but the hotel itself needs a lot of major work.
Hotel Caleta – Picture perfect from the outside
It gives you a feel of “old Mexico” and does not resemble traditional Los Cabos resorts, for example. Our room was very comfortable, though sparsely decorated. One bed was broken, but we could use second bed, so this didn’t matter to us. Balcony was a huge shaded terrace that was larger than the entire room, and was overlooking the bay and two hotel pools on the west side. The shower was O.K. and there was cable TV with a good selection of channels in English (we didn’t watch TV). They still use traditional room keys and not electronic cards, like most western hotels do.
Beautiful view from our terrace in the hotel
Caleta beach – view from the hotel pool
Vera and Zdenko by the pool
Two swimming pools, one fresh water and one salt water, with very nice decks for laying out, and bars next to each of the pools. Hotel Caleta provided the perfect relaxing place to be in Acapulco! Best of all you have a small path beating down to Caleta beach, which is the best beach in Acapulco for children, especially youngsters; gentle waves, no currents and the rest of the beach will be full of other kiddies for them to play with.
Front desk staff was very pleasant, but none of them spoke any English. All in all, this hotel was the best part of our stay in Acapulco!! It provided a beautiful and relaxing place from which to explore the city. Staying in the hotel provided me with beautiful beaches nearby and breathtaking pools stacked at the edge of the Pacific. Going out was easy, as cabs and buses are plentiful and cheap. We used buses that come very often and cost is only 5 pesos per person.
Hotel is very close to the public Caleta beach
Final hotel tip: weddings, events etc take place on the bay side of the hotel, which can be noisy and last well into the night. If you want peace and quiet, get a room towards the Caleta bay end of the hotel. You’ll also be away from the noisy pool area. The higher the room, the further from the mosquitoes you are.
The best way to see Acapulco – local buses
In the evening we took a bus and returned to main Costera Miguel Aleman and Zocalo. There are many buses for local trips along the coast and they are very affordable. Destinations are printed on the front window of each bus. There is no need to be at one of the buses regular stops in order to get on. Just wave your arm or look at the driver. He will stop and encourage you to get in. The buses cruise around blaring out traditional Mexican music, or more often some rap music, racing each other to each bus stop as they compete for passengers. All of this makes for an unforgettable ride.
Driver and his helper chat during the ride
We didn’t eat at the hotel restaurant. Instead we walked down the hill and there were several restaurants by the Caleta beach. We walked into La Cabaña restaurant which had a huge patio overlooking the beach (and live music, which unfortunately stopped when we arrived). Restaurant was offering a very tasty food, reasonably priced throughout the day. We would also come here next day for a breakfast that should not be skipped, because of the fresh pastry served here.
La Cabaña restaurant
La Cabaña restaurant is the best in the area
Best seafood specialties… jummy.
Acapulco is the oldest and most beautiful seaport on the Pacific slope of Mexico and also the most popular seaside resort for tourists. It is pleasant winter or summer, for it is far enough south always to be warm in the winter and the breezes from the Pacific almost invariably keep it cool in the summer. It has a vibrant nightlife, postcard-perfect beaches, an amazing array of local food, and visitor-friendly locals.
Beautiful panorama of Acapulco
The city is divided into three main areas surrounding the Bay of Acapulco. On the west side is the old city, with its Zocalo and market. Acapulco Dorado (Golden Acapulco) occupies the central and east sides of the bay. This is the main tourist area where hotels and nightclubs abound. More upscale resorts are located in the newer Acapulco Diamante (Diamond Acapulco) area to the south of Acapulco’s main bay. The Costera Miguel Aleman is the main drag and runs all the way around the bay.
Colorful restaurant in Acapulco
The BAY is 4 miles long and 2 miles wide, and as there are mountains all around it, the vegetation is both tropical and mountain and is as varied as the scenery. Acapulco is Mexico’s premier beach resort areas. There are beach areas where you feel you are far away from the city in an un spoilt natural haven. Acapulco is also a very popular honeymoon destination.
Safety in Acapulco
As long as you steer clear of the Things to Avoid and are generally aware of your surroundings, Acapulco is not very dangerous for tourists. However, petty theft is very common, so keep an eye on your possessions at all times, especially on the beach. If you need help, look for police along the main strip wearing dark shorts, white shirts, and dark hats (and not carrying guns). Perhaps the best advice is to avoid other Mexican police at all costs!
Spell trouble – Police
You have no doubt heard horror stories about the Mexican police and Mexican jails. They hold true in Acapulco. If you feel that you need to go to the police for some reason, it’s probably a better idea to go to your Embassy instead. The ones in blue uniforms are more likely to hassle you just for being a gringo, if you stray from the main strip at night. Try to avoid them especially when driving, as they will go after you, stop you and hassle you until you bribe them to let you go. It did happen to us on the day when we were leaving the city towards Mexico City. We were stopped for no apparent reason, had to pay 500 pesos and they even gave us instructions how to get thru to the famous Acapulco tunnel and leave the city as fast as possible. Way to kill what’s left of the tourism!!
What to Do in Acapulco
Primarily, Acapulco is a place to loaf. It offers the usual pleasures of a smart seaside resort. Only one day that we have planned to spent in Acapulco, we decided to spent it somewhere on the beach. So, again we jumped on one the buses with our backpacks loaded with all the necessities for the day, and left hotel early in the morning. Our destination – playa Hornos.
Playa Hornos is one of the oldest beaches in the city. Sometimes it is also known as Playa Papagayo, because it is located in front of the recreational park with the same name. It is one of the best known and most visited beaches because there are sun shades and lounge chairs available for people who want to spend their time leisurely. Its waves are calm and shallow. Every year Playa Hornos hosts the celebrated traditional Sand Figure Contest. This beach is easy to get to by the Avenue Costera.
Acapulco Hornos beach
Hundreds of vendors on the beach is an annoying problem
Lots of local tourists on the beaches
Day on the beach
We spent the whole day on the beach and sat under the umbrella and two chairs, that were promised to be free if we purchase drinks. We did, but at the end of the day they came and wanted to charge 100 pesos for it. We argued but in the end paid 50 pesos. That episode left us with bad taste about it and we would not return to the same place again. In addition, there were way too many vendors walking by, offering many different things and we had to say “no, gracias” too many times during the day.
Big church on Zocalo
Zócalo – Zócalo, Acapulco’s town square, lies on the western side of La Costera. It’s cool, shady and peaceful during the daytime. There are two fountains and many mature, multi-trunked trees that are a sight in themselves. The Zócalo tends to expose more local culture than other, more tourist-centric, areas. Zócalo contains Acapulco’s cathedral, as well as many restaurants ranging in size from sidewalk bistros and tiny street-corner kitchens. Many of the smaller restaurants will provide full dinners for as little as 35 pesos. The Zócalo at night is worth experiencing. Between 8:00 and 11:00 pm the place is flooded with locals & chilangoes. Clowns entertain the crowd for tips. One was dressed as some sort of aztec warrior/statue thing.
Beautiful local performer getting ready for her performance
Evening show on the Zocalo
Famous Acapulcoo cliff divers
No visit to Acapulco is complete without watching the cliff divers perform their impressive jumps into the shallow stream of water of dangerous tides that forms in the bottom part of La Quebrada. They have been doing it since 1934. One look at the city map, and I figured that if we take a bus from our hotel to Zocalo, we can than walk to the area where the local guys are jumping into the water from high cliffs.
La Quebrada area
La Quebrada – divers jump from these cliffs
So, we did just that. I can tell you it was an interesting walk thru the non-touristy part of the city. We climbed the hilly streets and once at the top we could see the place where the famous La Quebrada cliff divers jump from. But of course, we didn’t get there at the show time, so we took several photos and returned back to the Zocalo.
What to Buy in Acapulco
There are good small stores and many vendors’ stands in and around the plaza and along the beach. The GOLD CHAINS and EARRINGS made by the local goldsmiths are extremely attractive. ORNAMENTS MADE OF SEASHELLS are a feature of the Acapulco market.
The POTTERY is attractive, as it is everywhere in Mexico and, of course there are the inevitable BASKETS, BLANKETS, and what not.
Acapulco is in the state of Guerrero – along with Sinaloa and some of Michoacan, a state where opium poppy and marijuana is grown, and a state where the “Hatfield-McCoy” feuding has gone on for many years. The criminal activity has on occasion invaded Acapulco, and has caused many a traveler troubles outside of Acapulco. In particular, driving at night and wandering / camping in remote areas is to be strongly discouraged. Daytime driving on the expensive toll highway is generally quite safe, and these are patrolled by the “Green Angels” roadside assistance service.
Vera and I didn’t enjoy this city. It looks nice on the post cards, but the traffic, deteriorated tourism, annoying vendors on the beaches and corrupted police, made our stay not pleasant. I will not return here…