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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.
This pre-Columbian archaeological complex is among the stand-out sights on Mexico's Pacific coast. Excavated features include a Mesoamerican ball court, sacrificial altar, and clay pyramids, while the on-site museum showcases around 800 smaller artifacts, including an ancient town sign in the indigenous American language, Nahuatl.
The Diego Rivera Muralis a spectacular mosaic sculpture on the exterior of Exekatlkalli (La Casa de los Vientos), where the Mexican artist Diego Rivera once lived with his lover Dolores Olmedo. He spent the last years of his life with her here, and in 1956 created this mural featuring Quetzalcoatl, the Mesoamerican mythical serpent.
Located off the coast of Acapulco and reachable by boat, La Roqueta Island (Isla de La Roqueta) is an ideal spot for travelers looking to relax. Visitors lounge on the golden sand beaches, snorkel and kayak at secluded coves, and hike a network of trails that lead to stunning scenic overlooks. The island also offers a handful of restaurants and a small zoo.
High in the rugged mountains of the northern state of Guerrero, the city of Taxco de Alarcon was once an isolated Spanish stronghold. Today, it is known for its silver mines and the generations of artisans who create some of Mexico's most beautiful jewelry. In addition to the silver shops, take in the town’s architectural and natural attractions.
The heart of any Spanish Colonial city is the central plaza, or Zócalo, and the ancient Mexican port town of Acapulco—despite its modern facelifts—is no exception. The constant swirl of activity, live music on weekends, and vendors selling every sort of souvenir are all here, mixing and mingling with tourists and locals relaxing in the shade during the day.
An excellent example of classic Spanish defensive architecture, the Fort of San Diego (Fuerte de San Diego) was built in 1616 to fight off increasing attacks by British pirates on the trade port of Acapulco. Today the star-shaped fortress houses the Acapulco Historical Museum (Museo Histórico de Acapulco), with good displays on city history.
North of Acapulco, freshwater Coyuca Lagoon, or Laguna de Coyuca in Spanish, spreads across some 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) and is particularly important for migrating birds. Several small islands along the coast act as sanctuaries for colonies of pelicans, herons, storks, and other species. The lagoon is also a popular destination for water sports.
Magic World Aquatic Park is packed with splashy entertainment perfect for the whole family. With the action centered around a pirate ship and seven slides descending into a wading pool, children can embrace the fantasyland experience while the rest of the family enjoys a lazy river, a wave pool, and drinks.
Explore the underground wonderland of one of the world’s largest cave systems at Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park, located in the south of the Sierra Madre mountains. The caves comprise more than 90 chambers, some with ceilings that tower more than 230 feet (70 meters) overhead, and are just a 45-minute drive from the silver city of Taxco.
Waterslides and wave pools are just steps from a white-sand beach at El Rollo Acapulco, a water park that features a dolphin show as well as plenty of wild and wet fun. Grab a tube and fly down a 40-foot (12-meter) tower, zip down a 290-foot (88-meter) wavy slide, or relax as the kids enjoy Isla Infantil (Children’s Island).
With a rich nautical history dating back to the 16th century, Acapulco has a lot to offer with its beautiful beaches, buzzing nightlife, and jungle-clad hills. This port in the Pearl of the Pacific—long a favored resort of the rich and famous—remains a frequent stop on cruise itineraries along Mexico’s Pacific coast.