Acapulco Renaissance

The famous Mexican resort once again goes high-end

By: By Patricia Alisau

Acapulco Bay, which has triggered renewed interest in luxury hotel development. // (c) Patricia Alisau
Acapulco Bay, which has triggered renewed interest in luxury
hotel development.

Mexico’s grand dame of beach resorts is reinventing herself. This time, it’s a collection of new luxury hotels that are sweeping up the coast, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in more than 10 years.

As the birthplace of the country’s seaside tourism in the 1930s, when the first road from Mexico City was cut through the mountains, Acapulco hopes to redefine itself into something more in line with its new high-end properties.

Mundo Imperial, a sprawling master-planned hotel and entertainment center is already igniting the flame. Like a city unto itself, its hotels, convention and expo centers, theater and a concert hall are already rising from the dust. A swanky new mall called La Isla is being built right next door and will be ready by the end of the year.

The restaurants in the blueprints include a steakhouse, a North African-Mediterranean restaurant plus a seafood place where you choose your own meal from an aquarium. A holistic spa with a dozen live-in suites will feature traditional Chinese medicine. The spa opens in November along with the first of the hotels. The hotel’s 334 guestrooms will come with iPod docks, high-tech, voice-over Internet phone systems and a palette of coordinated earthy brown, black and cream colors. The principles of feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement to increase the flow of positive energy, is being used in the construction of the hotel, spa and other buildings.

"It is the balance of the elements of earth, air, wood, fire and water," Aran Rush, the director of Expo and Foro Imperial at the Mundo Imperial said.

Queried about the impact of this massive project on the port’s hotels, Rush said it’s pushing top-name brands like Las Brisas, Camino Real, Quinta Real, Hyatt and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts to implement multimillion-dollar renovations in the light of new competition.

Acapulco tourism officials estimate that at least 3,000 new hotel rooms will be operating in a year, adding to the 18,000 already in existence. Located in the Acapulco Diamante area of Acapulco between the Las Brisas Acapulco and Tres Palos Lagoon along the coast, Mundo Imperial seems like the cornerstone of what’s to come. The 120-room Banyan Tree Punta Diamante with Asian-inspired cabanas cascading down a hillside and a restaurant called Vertigo, accessible by cable car, debuts in
December. In addition, a 120-room W Las Brisas by Starwood, 54-room property by Grupo Habita from Mexico City and Aqua Acapulco by Grupo Posadas will break ground. The Casa Yal’ma Ka’an, with seven beach cottages, which just became a member of Mexico Boutique Hotels, also joins the luxury line-up.

Alberto Andrade, general manager of Mundo Imperial, summed up the rapid growth in the area nicely.

"For a while [Acapulco] was lost because there were other interests like Los Cabos, Huatulco and Cancun. But it’s coming back," Andrade said.

What’s coming back, too, is the interest in Acapulco’s nature reserves like at Barra Vieja, an outpost of a beach at the far end of Acapulco Diamante. It’s where I boarded an old, eight-passenger excursion boat for a 45-minute tour of Tres Palos Lagoon. Bordered by miles and miles of mangroves sheltering wild herons and "diving ducks," poised at the banks for a shot at catching a fish, the lagoon also attracted locals who were fishing with nets.

The hour-long drive to Barra Vieja took me past small, squat, rustic mom-and-pop inns and restaurants, what seems like a million miles from the high-rise hotels along the Costera. It’s a favorite hangout for urban dwellers for a day at the beach or just to try the pescado de la talla fish dish for which the area has become famous. Competition is fierce among the restaurants and family recipes are closely guarded secrets. The red snapper comes with a crust of spices and, for a bigger wallop, customers order the diablo version, packed with chilies.

Any visit to Acapulco should also include Old Acapulco, which sprang up in the 1500s when the Spanish Viceroys decided it would be a good port for trading with the Far East. It’s one of the oldest port towns in the country and, therein, lays its charm. The Fortress of San Diego has a museum with samples of the trade goods and other historical exhibits while the Mask Museum next door is one of the best in the country with hundreds of handmade wooden masks used in religious celebrations by the region’s indigenous peoples. A new exhibit features the Costa Chica, inhabited by descendants of African slaves who were brought to Mexico to work the plantations.

Probably the most legendary attraction are the cliff divers, young men who daily dive off the La Quebrada cliffs in a daring plunge to the sea. The most famous nighttime attractions, hands down, are the lavish, Las Vegas-style discos and clubs. The new Pure Night, which holds 3,000 revelers, opened in Acapulco Diamante as part of the wave of fresh developments to redefine the resort.