When I was much younger, I used to be a big Elvis Presley fan, and I remember being very impressed with his movie “Fun In Acapulco” (turns out he never even visited the city for filming). It seemed so exotic, a favorite playground of the rich and famous – JFK and Jackie even honeymooned here. Those days are gone now, and Acapulco is definitely showing her age, but a little of the old magic remains in the historic centro area. The beach is lined with high-rise hotels, and a new hotel zone has been constructed just east of the bay but we did not visit those areas.
The US government now warns against non-essential travel here. But faced with either a three day passage to our next port or a one day passage with a stop in Acapulco followed by a two day passage, we opted to stop. There is just something wrong about passing by a perfectly good harbor that allows you to drop the hook and get a good night’s sleep and maybe even see some cool stuff. Besides, we have not encountered anyone other than gracious, friendly people, proud of their country, and willing to go out of their way to help.
Acapulco is a big city with a population of about 1 million. Thanks to a tip from another boat, we found a good anchorage not described in any of our guide books just off a restaurant called “100% Naturale “ located east of the cruise ships docks. They graciously allowed us to tie our dinghy to their dock, and we had lunch there to return the favor (all organic fare – delicious!). You can see the Port Captain’s office (where you must check in upon arrival) and a Mega grocery store from the anchorage. You can also hear horns honking, music blaring and they sounds of laughter as hundreds of people play in the surf a few hundred yards off the boat. We were there during Semana Santa, the week preceding Easter, which is a hugely popular Mexican vacation time.
Since we were there, we took in a few of the tourist highlights. Also visible from the anchorage is El Fuerte San Diego, a seventeenth century stone fort constructed to protect the Manila galleons which lay at anchor in the harbor below. Acapulco was the heart of Spain’s rich trade with the far east, and galleons routinely sailed between Acapulco and the Philippines. From Acapulco, the goods traveled overland to the east coast of Mexico where they were loaded on ships bound for Spain. Inside the fort is a first-class museum which is well worth a visit. When we were there the inner courtyard was filled with fantastic paper-mache sculptures depicting scenes and creatures from the novels of Jules Verne.
And what trip to Acapulco would be complete without a visit to the most famous tourist attraction in the city – the clavadistas or cliff divers. An easy walk from the anchorage this is absolutely not to be missed! Once you reach the top of the hill you can slake your thirst with a cold coconut with a shot of gin and a lime squeezed into it. They take a chilled coconut, hack the top of, give you a straw so you can suck a little juice out, then in goes the gin and lime – tasty!
At your first view of the jump location you think “there is no way”. These guys are the real deal – they come down the stairs through the crowd, climb over the rail and down to the water where they jump in and swim across the narrow, turbulent channel , then scale the rock cliff putting Spiderman to shame. There are no helmets no nets, no safety gear of any kind. You could not do this in America without getting arrested. Once they get to the top, they all pray at a small blue shrine, shake hands, and the show begins. The first diver is a young boy, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, who dives from a location about halfway up, and completes a perfect swan dive. Timing is everything, as a wicked surge comes in and crashes on the top of the rocks at the head of the cove. The trick is to hit the water at the top of the surge so if it goes badly you will be taken out of the cove rather than dashed to death upon the rocks at the head of the cove. Next come the dives from a spot about three quarters of the way up. They jump two, then three at a time. And finally from the very top, from a height of about 115 ft, one does a perfect back flip and enters the water like an arrow. Absolutely amazing. Afterwards we spoke to the last diver (and gave him a generous tip). Dan mentioned that he had seen old movies with the cliff divers (perhaps “Fun in Acapulco”?) and the diver told us they are all required to watch all the old movies and footage to help them learn technique.
If you are ever in Acapulco, do not miss this. It is truly something different, while all those white sand beaches and big hotels are starting to look the same