Best Areas to Stay in Acapulco
Synonymous with beachside hedonism, Acapulco has been a household name since the 1950s. During its heyday, Mexico’s original party town attracted Hollywood glitterati, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor, and for decades it was the most popular beach vacation spot south of the border for American travelers. While its popularity has waned somewhat in comparison to that of rival resorts of Cancun, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta, its beaches are second to none. Besides the city’s most celebrated spectacle of daredevil cliff divers of La Quebrada, as well as boat cruises, assorted water sports, and fishing aside, unexpected surprises await the visitor, such as an ancient petroglyph site high above the city. Acapulco also boasts the most dramatic topography of all of Mexico’s beach towns: wide bays and hidden coves sheltered by soaring cliffs, winding coastal roads with gorgeous views around every bend, and high-rise hotels looming against a backdrop of jungle-green hills.
Acapulco is a spread-out city, stretching around the Bahía de Acapulco (Acapulco Bay) from the Acapulco Tradicional (a.k.a. Old Acapulco or the centro histórico) in the north to Diamante, a string of beaches south of the bay. The two are linked by Acapulco’s 7-mile-long principal bayside avenue, Avenida Costera Miguel Alemán (‘La Costera’) that hugs the coastline. At the south end of the bay, Avenida Costera becomes Carretera Escénica and winds its way up the Brisas del Marqués headland, and then down toward Puerto Marqués, Diamante, and the airport.
Acapulco Tradicional is the oldest part of the city. It encompasses the compact historic heart with its narrow streets, centered on the centuries-old Plaza Álvarez and dominated by the cathedral as well as the busy port, several small beaches, and most of Acapulco’s historic attractions. It’s also where you find La Quebrada, where the spectacle of the famous cliff divers takes place.
Just south of Old Acapulco is the peninsula of Las Playas, a hilly, quiet, largely residential neighborhood with leafy, winding streets. There’s a couple of popular beaches on the peninsula’s south side and Las Playas is easily walkable to Acapulco Tradicional.
Some 7 miles northwest of Acapulco Tradicional is Pie de la Cuesta, consisting of a long, narrow strip of land that separates Acapulco Bay from the Laguna de Coyuca which is rich in birdlife. Though not a part of the city, it’s a popular weekend getaway for Acapulco residents, with numerous inexpensive guesthouses and seafood restaurants.
Acapulco Tradicional is also the beginning of La Costera, the busy avenue that circles the bay. Playa Hornos, just east of Acapulco Tradicional, marks the beginning of the Zona Dorada – a long string of beaches fronted by midrange oceanfront hotels that’s popular with tourists. The best of the beaches is Playa Icacos, halfway along the bay, and that’s where you’ll find the densest concentration of restaurants and nightclubs.
Beyond the naval base at the eastern end of Playa Icacos, the coastal highway makes its way up the Brisas del Marqués headland, home of one of Acapulco’s best restaurants as well as several high-end hotels and luxury villas dotting the greenery-clad cliffs. A short drive beyond and overlooking the sheltered Marqués Bay is Puerto Marqués, a small, chilled-out settlement boasting some wallet-friendly seafood restaurants and a decent sandy beach, flanked by more secluded sandy coves.
Southeast of Puerto Marqués is the spread-out, exclusive neighborhood of Diamante, home to Acapulco’s best luxury hotels, golf courses, spas, condominiums, and private villas, all stretching along a 3-mile long strip of white sand.
The southeast end of Diamante meets Acapulco’s international airport, beyond which lies Barra Vieja. Technically, it’s part of Acapulco proper, but this low-key community is very close to the city and is a popular getaway for foreign visitors and Acapulco residents alike. The seafront boulevard, dotted with a few wallet-friendly beach hotels, runs alongside several sandy beaches before culminating in the seaside village.
Best Places to Stay in Acapulco
Best Areas in Acapulco for…
- Best Neighborhoods in Acapulco for Sightseeing: Acapulco Tradicional, Pie de la Cuesta
Most of Acapulco’s attractions are conveniently located in Acapulco Tradicional, the historic center. The city’s biggest attraction are the fearless clavidistas (cliff divers) who perform daredevil dives into churning ocean waters twice daily off the La Quebrada cliffs. Apart from that, there is the historic San Diego fort, with the excellent Museum of Acapulco History inside, and another museum dedicated to masks used in traditional festivals across Mexico. Located away from Acapulco’s tourist neighborhoods but well worth seeking out if you’re a history buff is the Palma Sola ceremonial and pilgrimage site dating back to 450 BC, with some wonderfully preserved petroglyphs. Finally, if you’re more into nature, then Pie de la Cuesta is home to the large freshwater Coyuca lagoon, complete with the Isla Pájaros bird sanctuary.
- Best Neighborhood in Acapulco for Nightlife: Zona Dorada
Acapulco’s nightclubs and bars, popular with a younger crowd, are concentrated in the central part of the Zona Dorada, particularly along the Playa El Morro and Playa Condesa, and with a few more lining the Costera a couple of blocks north of Playa Icacos. There are also a couple of popular nightclubs off the Costera, past the naval base, on the way to Brisas del Marqués. All luxury hotels in Brisas del Marqués and Diamante tend to have bars onsite, and if you’re looking for a cold beer by the beach, the palapas (thatched beachside restaurants) in Pie de la Cuesta and Barra Vieja are perfect for just that.
- Best Neighborhoods in Acapulco for Food and Restaurants: Zona Dorada, Brisas del Marqués/Puerto Marqués, Diamante
You’re not going to go hungry in Acapulco. Zona Dorada is densely packed with places to eat, particularly along La Costera just north of Playa Icacos. Some of the top wallet-friendly and midrange restaurants showcasing local flavors include Chile, Maíz y Frijol, El Cabrito (where the specialty is roast baby goat), Sabor Guerrero, and Restaurante Terra Luna. Brisas del Marqués is home to some of Acapulco’s best fine dining – both Zibu and Sirocco combine fusion cuisine with stellar cliff views, while Puerto Marqués is home to numerous low-key seafood joints that line the beach. Diamante features numerous, generally midrange restaurants that serve a mix of Mexican and international dishes and cater mostly to an international crowd. Standouts include Paititi del Mar (seafood), La Casa de la Pasta (Italian), La Finca Acapulco (traditional Mexican), and Mizumi (Japanese-style fine dining).
- Best Neighborhood in Acapulco for Families: Zona Dorada, Diamante
The best hotels for a beach vacation with kids with facilities such as multiple pools, kids’ clubs, and several water sports are spread out along the beaches of Diamante. There are several midrange and high-end all-inclusive hotels catering to families in the Zona Dorada as well, but depending on the location, there may be some noise from nearby nightclubs. Diamante is a more tranquil neighborhood. Active families on a budget may consider the midrange and budget hotels in Las Playas – a tranquil neighborhood, with 2 excellent beaches within easy walking distance, as well as all the attractions in Acapulco Tradicional.
- Best Neighborhood in Acapulco to Stay for First Timer: Acapulco Tradicional, Zona Dorada, Diamante
For a first visit to the city, Acapulco Tradicional is hard to beat, because not only is it home to the famous cliff divers, but also because all of its attractions are reachable on foot. However, if you’re looking to split your time between beaches and historic attractions and if you’re after more upmarket accommodation than most of the offerings in Acapulco Tradicional, then the Zona Dorada is a good bet. If what you’re looking for is primarily a beach vacation, then base yourself in Diamante, where Acapulco’s best beaches are located. Diamante is farther from the historic attractions of Acapulco Tradicional, but still very doable as a day trip.
- Most Romantic Neighborhood in Acapulco: Brisas del Marqués/Puerto Marqués, Diamante
For a romantic vacation, it’s hard to beat the intimate luxury and design hotels set high up on the green hillsides of Brisas del Marqués. Fantastic ocean views and intimate seclusion are the big draws here; on the downside, Brisas del Marqués feels rather cut off from the rest of Acapulco. Diamante may lack the atmosphere and relatively remote setting of Brisas del Marqués, but it makes up for it in spades in pure luxury; some of Acapulco’s best high-end hotels are located here. So if you’re looking to really pamper your other half, Diamante is also a good bet.
- Best Neighborhood in Acapulco for a Local Vibe: Acapulco Tradicional, Barra Vieja, Pie de la Cuesta
With the exception of La Quebrada cliffs that attract tourists staying in all parts of the city, Acapulco Tradicional is refreshingly untouristy. Its streets are worth a wander and its historic plaza is good for people-watching. The seaside village of Barra Vieja is popular with Acapulco residents and local surfers and has a relaxed, low-key vibe. North of the city, Pie de la Cuesta is another rustic beach community. While on weekends it bustles with Acapulqueños, during the week, it’s a serene place to be; you can hang out with local fishermen or go birdwatching on the vast freshwater lagoon.
- Safest Areas of Acapulco
While Acapulco has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to crime, all neighborhoods popular with tourists such as Acapulco Tradicional, Zona Dorada, Brisas del Marqués, Diamante, etc, are safe to walk around, particularly during the daytime. After dark, it’s a good idea to take a taxi to your hotel in Las Playas and generally avoid walking anywhere where there are few people. Standard precautions apply at all times: don’t flash or carry lots of cash, expensive jewelry, or electronic gear, and avoid deserted, poorly-lit streets at night; take a taxi back to your hotel if you’re not within easy walking distance and the streets are deserted. Also, watch out for opportunistic pickpocketing and bag snatching in crowded areas and if using public transport along the Costera.
- Unsafe Areas of Acapulco
Visitors are advised to stick to the tourist-friendly neighborhoods along the coast and avoid the residential areas higher uphill. One exception is the archaeological site of Palma Sola, right at the top of the city, which is fine to visit during daytime (but ask your taxi driver to wait).
The Best Neighborhoods in Acapulco for Tourists
One of the most walkable parts of the city, Acapulco Tradicional is a compact grid of narrow streets up from the port area, with the Plaza Álvarez – the city’s main square – at its heart. The square itself is missable, but the La Quebrada cliffs are a must-see. Every evening, Acapulco’s famous cliff divers perform their death-defying dives with lit torches. If you’re a fan of Diego Rivera’s art, check out the Casa de Los Vientos on Calle Inalámbrica 8, where you’ll find the artist’s last works in the form of murals outside the villa. Directly above the port is the Fuerte de San Diego, a historic fort featuring the excellent museum devoted to the history of the city, while near the fort there’s another excellent museum dedicated to Mexican ceremonial masks. The only cultural sight that’s not located in Old Acapulco is the archaeological site of Palma Sola. Some boat tours depart from the malecón (waterfront promenade) near the main square. The dining scene here is local and low-key, and accommodations comprise a few budget guesthouses and hotels.
2. Las Playas
All winding, hilly streets on a peninsula just south of Acapulco Tradicional, Las Playas is short on attractions and big on peace and quiet. On the south side of the peninsula are two attractive, sandy beaches, Playa Calatilla and Playa Caleta, popular with locals. Local dining is limited to a handful of restaurants clustered near the beaches, serving a mix of traditional Mexican dishes and seafood, and there are numerous, mostly budget hotels scattered around this residential neighborhood near the two beaches.
Stretching along La Costera – the principal avenue that spans the length of Acapulco Bay – is the Zona Dorada, a popular neighborhood for vacationers. The main attraction here is the string of sandy beaches that runs all the way from the ferry port in Acapulco Tradicional to the cliffs of the Brisas del Marqués. From west to east, Playa Tamarindos and Playa Hornos feature a couple of good, casual seafood restaurants, as does Playa El Morro further along. Next up, the sandy crescent of Playa Condesa is quiet and sheltered, while the easternmost beach, Playa Icacos, bustles with holidaymakers from the oceanfront hotels that line its long, white-sand curve. Taxis along La Costera are plentiful, and if you want to try a truly local experience, the public buses plying its length turn into discos on wheels after dark.
South of the naval base that marks the end of the Zona Dorada begin the cliffs of the Brisas del Marqués headland, the most scenic and dramatic part of the city. Intimate high-end hotels and luxury villas peek out from the dense greenery high above the ocean. Southwest of the cliffs, the coastal highway descends to Puerto Marqués, a fishing village overlooking the sheltered Marqués Bay. There’s a handful of low-key hotels here, a scattering of seafood restaurants and 2 lovely coves – Playa Majahua and Playa Hermosa, both just south of the village’s main beach.
Between Puerto Marqués and Acapulco’s international airport, spread-out Diamante is the city’s most exclusive neighborhood. The 3-mile white-sand beach is arguably Acapulco’s loveliest, and apart from the convenience of being close to the airport, there are all sorts of other creature comforts here: spas, golf courses, and the lion’s share of the city’s luxury hotels. You need to hire a car to get around.
6. Barra Vieja
Past the international airport and stretching south for several miles from the Tres Vidas Golf Club, culminating in the small, eponymous fishing village, Barra Vieja lies just beyond the official Acapulco boundaries. The long seafront promenade and beach is lined with inexpensive, casual seafood restaurants, where you can dig your toes in the sand and watch local surfers hit the waves. There are just a couple of budget hotels and a couple of boutique hotels in the village proper, and you really need your own wheels to get out here.
Technically not part of Acapulco proper either, but located just 7 miles’ drive northwest of Acapulco Tradicional, Pie de la Cuesta is a rustic beach suburb built on a thin strip of land between the Pacific and the freshwater Laguna de Coyuca. The sunsets and sunrises here are particularly impressive. There’s a handful of oceanfront budget hotels there, as well as numerous palapas (rustic seafood restaurants) overlooking the sea. Nature lovers can take a boat tour on the lagoon to Isla Pájaros, a bird sanctuary, while active travelers can ride horses along the surf.
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