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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Acapulco

Acapulco was once Mexico’s premier beach resort, and American presidents and Hollywood film stars populated its golden sands. Its popularity dwindled as Cancun and Playa del Carmen catapulted to fame, but today, the Pearl of the Pacific is on the cusp of a renaissance. Beaches lapped by turquoise waves are still a top draw, but you’ll find intriguing cultural attractions, too, from the Fort of San Diego (El Fuerte de San Diego) and the Mural Diego Rivera to the Zocalo, the central plaza that’s the beating heart of Acapulco. If you can tear yourself away from the coast to explore via a guided tour, it’s worth it: This is your chance to experience Acapulco’s wildlife and natural habitats. Take a day trip to the Coyuca Lagoon (featured in movies such as Rambo and Tarzan), watch baby turtles scurry back to the ocean at Vallarino Turtle Camp, snorkel with tropical marine life at La Roqueta Island, or take a tour of the Municipal Market followed by a Mexican cooking class. Acapulco really comes life after dark, with a wealth of evening activities that accentuate the bold local culture. Take in a gourmet meal as you watch the fearless La Quebrada Cliff Divers plunging into the Pacific, or feast on tacos and sip cold beer while viewing a lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) match.
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La Quebrada Cliff Divers
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Acapulco's iconic attraction, made famous in Elvis flicks, Ray Austen stunts, and every cheerfully scrawled holiday postcard sent home ever since, are La Quebrada Cliff Divers. Beginning in the 1920s, these brave young men and women began leaping for the crowds some 45 craggy meters (150 terrifying feet) into a wave-crashed inlet just 4 meters (13 feet) deep. And that's if they time it just right.

The ritual begins with a prayer at the shrine to La Virgen de Guadalupe, carved into the cliff-top platform. Then, the divers carefully calculate when their target will have enough water to soften their fall. Finally, they leap. First in the afternoon, and as the sun sets, again. The final dive of the night plunges past torches into a sea of fire (lit with flaming gasoline), no easy feat.

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Diego Rivera Mural (Exekatlkalli)
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Formerly known as Exekatlkalli (the "House of the Winds") the Mural Diego Rivera was once the home of Dolores Olmedo, the final lover of Mexican master artist Diego Rivera. He spent the last years of his life with her here, and in 1956 created his final mural. It is an outstanding piece, made of mosaic tiles, and depicts at its center Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent of the Aztec religious pantheon. Other figures include a frog (a reference to Dolores' pet name for him) and a hammer and sickle, symbolizing his continued commitment to communist ideals. There were plans to turn the Mural Diego Rivera into a museum, and for several years the interior was conserved, including several sketches and paintings by Rivera. However, the house was recently sold, though the Mural Diego Rivera, outside, remains in public view, the cultural pride of Acapulco.

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Fort of San Diego (Fuerte de San Diego)
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Though you chose Acapulco for its beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife, the Fort of San Diego (or El Fuerte de San Diego) provides a fine, air-conditioned dose of cultural enrichment perfect for the entire family. The fortress itself, though small, is an excellent example of classic Spanish defensive architecture, built in 1616 to repel increasingly brazen attacks by British pirates on the deep-water port. Its five photogenic stone arms topped with turrets, once protected galleons that connected the Americas to Asian ports. Today, they are filled with objects from that era, a part of the Museo Histórico de Acapulco. The permanent collection is solid, and the museum also exhibits shows traveling from elsewhere in Mexico.

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Zocalo
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The heart of any Spanish Colonial city is the central plaza, or Zócalo, and the ancient port town of Acapulco - despite its several modern facelifts - is no exception. The swirl of activity, the live music on weekends, the vendors selling every sort of cheap (and some very nice) souvenirs are all here, mixing and mingling with tourists and locals relaxing in the shade.

Like all central plazas, Acapulco's Zócalo is presided over by a Catholic church, in this case Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. Its unusually domed and stellar interior, bookended by two of the least traditional bell towers you'll find in Mexico, were originally part of a movie set, later redeveloped into a parish church and declared a cathedral (temporarily) in 1959. It is the perfect centerpiece to Acapulco's resort-chic collection of Mediterranean, modernist, and other original buildings.

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La Roqueta Island (Isla de La Roqueta)
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Sun worshiper and deep-sea divers flock to the shores of La Roqueta Island, where travelers gather to snorkel, kayak and lounge in the balmy Acapulco heat. A handful of restaurants and a small zoo keep non-beach bums entertained, but visitors agree it’s the island’s golden sand beaches, brilliant blue waters and incredible ocean views that make this a popular stop for tourists.

Though regulars warn the beaches of La Roqueta can get crowded, most agree the busy shores are actually perfect for people watching. And the island’s cool, laidback vibe still makes it easy to relax and unwind—even in high season. Travelers can chill out on beach chairs or saddle up to the rafts of local seashell salesmen in search of the perfect souvenir, while more adventurous sorts can hike a network of trails that lead to stunning scenic overlooks or cliff jump from one of the island’s rocky peaks.

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Acapulco Cruise Port (Terminal Maritima)
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With a rich nautical history dating back to the sixteenth century, Acapulco’s port is located in a deep semi-circular bay. The city stretches five miles along the beach, dotted with marinas hosting yachts and other small watercrafts.

How to Get to Acapulco The main square of Acapulco is a five-minute walk from the cruise terminal. Access between the town and inland is via a four-lane road through a tunnel and over the mountains bordering Acapulco.

One Day in Acapulco To get the most out of your time in Acapulco, try a City Tour. You’ll learn about Acapulco’s colorful history as a go-to spot for many of the world’s elite. Or experience the acrobatic feats of Acapulco’s famous and fearless Cliff Divers from the comfort of the luxurious La Perla Restaurant. Nature appreciators will love the Coyuca Lagoon. Its lush vegetation and picturesque views have inspired its feature in many famous films.

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Coyuca Lagoon (Laguna de Coyuca)
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Eager for an escape into untamed nature, just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from bustling Acapulco? Cruise north toward peaceful Coyuca Lagoon, a world away from the high-rise hotels and crowded beaches. The freshwater lagoon spreads across some 72 square kilometers (28 square miles), and is particularly important for migrating birds. As your boat slides past the lush jungled shore - featured in movies such as Rambo, Tarzan, and The African Queen - you will come upon several small islands that act as sanctuaries for colonies of pelicans, herons, storks, and other species.

Most tours include a fabulous seafood buffet featuring the bounty of both the sea and lagoon. If you've got cooking facilities at your hotel or villa in Acupulco, ask your guide about stopping in the tiny town of Embarcadero to pick up the freshest seafood possible.

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