Making a Comeback 1-20-2006

Acapulco updates for a new generation

By: Barbara Kastelein

I’ve been visiting Acapulco, Mexico’s grandmother of tourism resorts, regularly since 1995. There’s a lookout point perched on the edge of the Pacific where the perfect moon-shaped bay of Puerto Marques glitters beneath you. I go there often but on my most recent trip my jaw dropped when I saw the view.

Far to the left, where less than two years ago there was only jungle, is a glinting new landscape of hotels, condominiums, superstores, golf courses, shopping centers with deluxe cinema complexes and a towering new entertainment forum creeping up into the cloudless sky.

The hotels and villas stretch far beyond the huge Tres Palos Lagoon, one of two lagoons that mark either end of the classic beach resort, where you can now take boat trips, bird-watching tours and go fishing.

By the beginning of this year, nearly $5 billion had been spent on the new face of Acapulco, and it shows. A further $2.5 billion is planned for the next three years, bringing a cliff-top Banyan Tree hotel, a mammoth Mansion Imperial hotel with wave pool and white, silicon sand and a project called Mayan Lakes.

This is the brand-new Acapulco, “Diamond Acapulco” as it’s called, announcing that the Pearl of the Pacific is back on the map.

Once a hotbed of elegant impropriety, Villa Vera was the swanky hotel famed for the world’s first topless, swim-up bar. Now it’s opening an open-air museum paying homage to movie stars. Large white boards are on display with photos of celebrities that stayed and played there.

While Acapulco’s glory days are undisputed, there were serious doubts as to whether it would have

a future after the creation of Cancun in the mid ’70s. But after a shabby period in the eighties, Christmas hotel occupancy is back to 100 percent.

The tropical city of about a million always had untapped potential, but now Mexican, Asian, U.S. and European investors are aiming to attract discerning, upmarket visitors with a range of chi-chi hotels.

Geographic and climactic advantages have brought it to the notice of Asian investors like the Banyan group, looking to diversify after the 2004 tsunami destroyed a number of their properties on the Indian Ocean.

The ambitious Banyan Tree project includes oriental-style cabanas tapering down Diamond Point to the craggy Cabeza de Leon. Six architects from Singapore are joining a team of Mexican experts in rock-clamping to create a teetering restaurant called Vertigo, reachable by cable car.

Next to it Remanso, a small hotel and residential project, has its show house open to the public already.

Meanwhile, Las Brisas, the notorious dream hotel where everyone travels in pink and white Jeeps, has allocated $1.5 million to extend its signature private pools bobbing with hibiscus into some of the suites.

In Bambuddha, a new hotel near Tres Palos Lagoon, you get family packages, yoga, airport transfers and reiki. For about $100, the owner will take you up in her light plane so you can see all the changes to the city from the air.

The most established Diamond zone hotel, the elegant Pierre Marques built by Jean Paul Getty, is also rushing to remodel. Here, I enjoyed shrimp quesadillas with pineapple and papaya, overlooking the refurbished pool and fountains.

Further along, the Grand Mayan hotel that opened last year, has a four-month-old, Mayan-themed spa, called Brio Spa.

Other hotels in the Gold Zone of Acapulco that have remodeled or are currently in the throes are the Emporio, Copa Cabana, Avalon and Crowne Plaza.

Even La Quebrada, world famous for cliff divers, is seeing a hum of building activity.

Caleta, the picturesque little beach of the ’50s, started its own face lift in 2004 with new eateries lining the beach while dining favorites like Las Cabanas remain.

Fun-loving Acapulco has always appealed to the clients who like adventure as well as mingling with the locals. With the appearance of Diamond Acapulco, you can have the best of both worlds, pristine luxury and affable chaos. Experienced tour operators will help take the edge off the latter for clients who do not speak Spanish, or who do not feel up to the heat, dust and negotiations necessary in solo travel.

Where to Stay

Avalon: 52-744-485-5050

Crowne Plaza: 52-744-440-5555;

Bambuddha: 52-744-444-6406;

Fairmont Pierre Marques: Bed & Breakfast packages start at $195.

Fairmont Princess: Rates start at $130-$200 for moderate rooms. The hotel is also home to Acapulco’s Willow Stream spa.

Hotel Las Brisas Acapulco: 800-223-6800;

Hotel Emporio: 52-744-469-0564;

Hotel Villa Vera Spa and Raquet Club: 888-554-2361