Saturday, September 15, 2012

Divers, pearls and untamed beaches – Acapulco

Divers on the cliff
 Having long discounted the idea of traveling to Acapulco because of its reputation as a place whose time had come and gone, we revisited that idea this summer as a result of a new property joining the collection of properties we have access to through our membership with Registry Collection. The Fairmont Heritage  with its 3,000 square foot villas was just too tempting to pass up. 
Acapulco has developed a new area for tourism, called the Zona Diamante. It is just north of the airport, which makes it very easy to get to, and south of the congestion of town. This presents some pluses and minuses…. For example, if you want to go out to dinner in town, it is a long drive (20 minutes or more depending on where in town and the amount of traffic). The coast is open to the Pacific, which makes for big crashing waves, but removes any concern about possible pollution if swimming in Acapulco Bay.

We liked the fact that the area was removed from town and very peaceful, but would have definitely spent more time in Acapulco Centro had it not been such a long drive with so much congestion. The main road which goes from Diamante, up and over the hill that creates the Las Brisas area (think high-priced restaurants with nice views of the sparkling lights of Acapulco bay) and then loops around the bay, has an incredible number of buses (noted as La Costera buses), which stop arbitrarily at any point in the road to discharge or accept passengers. There are also way too many cabs, 90% of them volkswagen bugs and most of them empty, which drive with the determination and ruthlessness of kamikaze aviators. Add to this, the Polizia Vial, whose main goal in life seems to be to collect money from foreign tourists for imagined infractions, and you get the picture of what a trip into town in like.

View from our balcony - Grand Mayan
The lobby - Grand Mayan
We spent the first week at the Grand Mayan, a property we are very familiar with having stayed at the one on the Riviera Maya on multiple occasions. The Acapulco property is older than the one on the other coast, and while still in pristine condition, we prefer the resort on the Riviera Maya because of the new pool sanctuary area they have built there. However, in Acapulco, the rooms face the Pacific, and because we are RCI members we are always treated well, and get one of the best units on the top floor. 
The first day at the Grand Mayan I woke early. It was still dark but the lights of the resort and a cruise ship on the distant horizon sparkled in the pre-dawn morning.  Massive dark clouds that made sky and sea blend together dimmed the first breaking of dawn. Large crashing waves, rolled endlessly towards the beach, a residue of some distant overnight storm. The sound of the waves carries through the glass of the floor-to-ceiling windows, their distant roar a soothing backdrop to all activities. 

This stretch of coast goes on for miles, and is conducive to long walks on the beach, which we did, swimming when we got too hot, but the ocean was churned up with monster waves, the water opaque with sand. Still the Pacific was warm and inviting, and we kept a sharp eye out for the small stingrays swimming in with the waves, following the schools of tiny fish.  I even had something fish-like and large crash into my leg as a wave tossed us about, but I was not stung, so I guess I was not determined to be a threat. We discovered that the beach is full of wedge shell clams. Dig a little with your toe and when the wave washes out, a long trail of tiny clams glitter on the sand. Not having seen such bounty since days on the Mediterranean when I was much younger we dug for clams and I made ‘spaghetti a le vongele’. 
Courtyard entryway

The second week we moved to the Fairmont Heritage and were blown away by how wonderful the villas are there.  The homes are palatial, with an incredible attention to detail; each room carefully decorated so as to be elegant and welcoming at the same time. There is a courtyard entryway, a private pool, a fountain off the living room, a media room, an outdoor shower … the list of amenities goes on and on. The walls of the powder room on the ground floor is inlaid with glass tiles, and the hallway off the main entry is inlaid with a stone mosaic.

And best of all, from our living room, and our bedroom on the floor above it,  which both have glass from floor to ceiling – we can see and hear the Pacific.

The resort is quiet, with a small number of villas, clustered around a gorgeous pool,  right on the beach. It seems to be populated exclusively with families, and we are the only Americans here. Since ownership is required in order to stay, people appear to be vested in the property with most families being Mexican and affluent. We find them welcoming yet distant. 

Hurricane Ernesto had made landfall on the Yucatan peninsula earlier in the week and slowly meandered its way across Mexico. While Guerrero was supposed to be exempt from its effects, we saw rain and clouds for several days. It made for a peaceful break from sun and surf, with the large villa to putter around in, and lots of time for reading, listening to music and watching movies. 

The heavy rain seems to come at night, drenching the land. In a place that boasts 360 days of sun a year, nothing seems quite built for this type of rain, and we laughed at the yellow rain slickers covering the ticket machines that control entry to the Walmart parking area.  

The beach in front of the resort is raked daily, yet it has a deserted and wild feel to it.  Walking on the beach while the boys were occupied with a game of Kadima I have the beach practically to myself. My few companions on the stretch of sand between our resort and the next one are locals who are casting a line into the surf and coming up with a fish that looks a lot like a catfish. Contemplating the coastline I am struck by how different it is from other areas we have been in Mexico. It has none of the jewel-like qualities of Cancun with its stunning white sands and bright blue waters. It is not the island heaven of Cozumel or Isla Mujeres, and has none of the gentleness or blue-green clarity of the Caribbean on the Riviera Maya. Nor is it the dazzling, highly oxygenated crashing blue and white of the Pacific in Cabo and Mazatlan. Here the sand is closer to brown, and the waves churn up the sand and take its color. The buildings on the coast are not particularly beautiful in any way.  The Fairmont Acapulco Princess, built 50 years ago, is one of the sister properties to the Heritage, and I can see it in the distance, the waters in front of it dotted with many swimmers braving the waves, but only in the shallows. Yet the sand here is incredibly velvety under my feet, and the water that rolls up around my ankles is warm and inviting. The vendors that walk the length of the beach tirelessly touting their wares, are friendly and chatty, happy to practice their English.

Speaking of the vendors, I was surprised by the beauty and price of the pearls that they sell. The pearls are fresh-water baroque, and I don't know their source, but they are incredibly inexpensive. Individually knotted, with a pretty silver (colored) clasp, a 19 inch necklace can be had for around $10 (with bargaining). Big egg-shaped baroque pearl earrings cost around $4. We have never seen pearls like this for sale in any of our travels in Mexico, so it seems to be something of an Acapulco phenomenon. 

Would I go as far as saying that Acapulco is the pearl of the Pacific coast? Probably not :-) 


  1. That pool sure does look cloudy! Call the pool boy.
    glass and stone mosaic

  2. Hi,
    A great article about beach is a very detailed, realistic and superb analysis, of this issue, very nice write up, Thanks.
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