WORDS BY JILL GLEESON, PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAS BRISAS ACAPULCO
Of course Acapulco has sun, surf and sand – basically all of the usual pleasures travelers demand of Mexican resort towns. But this bustling city of some 800,000 on the country’s Pacific coast seduces with something spots like Cancún and Cozumel can’t offer: a taste of old-school, movie-idol glamor.
The Hollywood-Acapulco connection goes back to the mid-20th Century. After Castro’s ascent shut down the good times in Cuba, jet setters needing a new place to play discovered Acapulco. Stars including Cary Grant, Ava Gardner and Liza Minnelli spent the next two decades turning the city into their personal pleasure garden, eventually making way for an invasion of 1970s luminaries like Ursula Andress, Robert Wagner, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Joan Collins.
Although many of the celebrities who once flocked to Acapulco have long departed this mortal coil, the city they fell so hard for retains its luster. From Las Brisas, the legendary resort celebrating its 60th anniversary in March, to nightlife that ranks among the best in the world and unique diversions like the famed cliff divers of La Quebrada, Acapulco still offers many of the same exotic delights that kept Tinseltown’s elite coming back for more a half-century ago.
Any stay in Acapulco should begin and end at Las Brisas, hailed as the “Pink and White Paradise” for its Valentine-esque color scheme. Ensconced on 40 hilltop acres high above the legendary Acapulco Bay, Las Brisas is one of the world’s most romantic resorts. The story goes that Liz Taylor, the iconic movie star who experienced enough love and heartbreak to fill several lives, honeymooned there following seven of her weddings. Certainly, she left her handprints in pink concrete after a stay at the resort, a tradition also observed by other famous guests, which have included Sophia Loren, Johnny Carson, Clint Eastwood, Buzz Aldrin and, more recently, Madonna and Kevin Costner.
No doubt Taylor was drawn to Las Brisas by its casitas – secluded and meticulously appointed little bungalows, many of which boast their own private pools overlooking the bay. There may not be a better spot for canoodling anywhere than within one of these pools at night, when the lights of the city sparkle below like the jeweled promises of lovers yet unbroken.
If guests are actually able to tear themselves away from their casitas, Las Brisas also offers a nicely equipped spa and a beach club. The latter features two saltwater pools lined with rock and fieldstone that open onto the bay as well as an expansive, magnificently landscaped, free-form freshwater pool. La Concha, the beach club’s restaurant serves superb seafood and tropical drinks.
Speaking of cuisine, while La Concha and Bellevista, the resort’s sleek fine-dining eatery, are good enough that guests need never leave the property for a meal, they should. Acapulco is graced with establishments so glitzy and extravagant it seems not only possible but also likely you might turn your head to discover the ghost of Frank Sinatra, who hid out in Acapulco when he was on the run from the mob, feasting beside you.
Among the city’s most spectacular restaurants is Zibu, which improbably blends Mexican and Asian flavors to brilliant effect. The environs – a modern, candle-lit terrace tucked under a massive, two-story-high palm-thatched circular ceiling – are just as mouth-watering as the food. Or nosh with the beautiful people at Becco al Mare, a multi-level Italian restaurant with two bars, an extensive wine cellar and a dining room the size of an ice rink and just as gleaming – all the better to see and be seen.
Visitors in love with tales of the Tinseltown stars of yore might want to stop by Los Flamingos, once owned by John Wayne and Tarzan’s Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller invented the potent and dangerously delicious cocktail, the Coco Loco, at the hotel, and it’s still served there today in hollowed-out coconuts decorated gaily with hibiscus flowers. Or take a peek at Villa Vera, the property where Lana Turner lived for three years, Elvis Presley stayed while filming Fun in Acapulco and Zsa Zsa Gabor once created a stir by jumping naked into the swimming pool.
Just be sure to leave time to catch one of the iconic La Quebrada cliff-diving shows, the city’s most famous tourist attraction and one nearly guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Since 1934, divers – many for whom it is a family business – have been leaping headfirst from the rock face into the sea. They jump from as high as 115 feet up and must time everything perfectly. Should they miss an incoming wave, the water below could be as shallow as six feet – not nearly deep enough to prevent catastrophic injury.
For visitors who want to keep their days in Acapulco action-packed, there are plenty of markets to browse in Acapulco for treasures like silver jewelry, woven blankets and pottery.
Art lovers will find an exquisite Diego Rivera mural left like an afterthought in Cerro de la Pinzona, the area where he lived for a few years before his death in 1957. Meanwhile, The Fort of San Diego, built in the early 17th Century to defend cargo ships from pirates, now houses the expansive Historical Museum of Acapulco, with 10 exhibition halls. But if soaking up the lemon-yellow Mexican sun appeals, La Roqueta Island is the best spot for kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkeling. A 30-minute boat ride from the mainland, it is blessed with calm, clear waters, a reef teeming with tropical fish and a lovely beach. Or, you might want to simply laze by your private pool at Las Brisas, like Liz Taylor, Jackie Onassis, Alain Delon or any of the number of celestial bodies who have frequented the “Pink and White Paradise” over the years. After all, you may not be a star, but in Acapulco, you can live like one for a bit.
Las Brisas, which offers 251 casitas (cabins), 204 private pools and 80 Jeeps to ferry guests over the property, can be surprisingly affordable. Rates vary widely depending on room type and season, but in January, they begin at about $151 per night for a casita with a private pool. For more information, visit brisas.com.mx/hotels/acapulco.
Aeroméxico flies out of JFK to Mexico City, where flights connect to Acapulco. Rates vary widely, but with promo pricing in January, they can be less than $600.
For more information, visit aeromexico.com.
With so much to do in Acapulco, it’s a smart move to contact Acapulco tourism before your trip for help planning it. From the best beaches to the coolest clubs, they’re the people who know the city’s ins and outs. For more information, visit visitacapulco.travel.