Acapulco Survival Tips for First-Timers
I spent two months in Acapulco over winter 00/01. As the title suggests, if you’re going to Acapulco for the first time, there should be some useful information for you here.
Although tourism is Acapulco’s No. 1 industry, there is not a tourist office here. It was destroyed in the 1997 hurricane and has not been replaced. Therefore, there is no place to get free maps or local bus schedules/routes etc. You should bring a guidebook with good maps and you may also want to buy a city map, especially if you want to visit streets off the main drag (called the Costera).
A good detailed map called the Guia Roji (Red Guide) is available from any Sanborn’s outlet (there are several here) and at times in the book department at Wal-Mart. The cost was 40 pesos when I was there (Winter 00/01) for 2 months. It’s quite large so you may want to get sections of it photocopied so you can carry these around with you.
There is a tourist ‘assistance’ office in front of the convention center at Costera 4455 but it doesn’t have any maps. It’s mainly there to handle tourist problems or complaints. They also hand out brochures for local tourist restaurants, nightclubs and attractions.
The best way to get pesos is at ATM’s. They’re everywhere. When I was there, the best exchange rate was offered by Banc Crecer. Ask your bank before you leave home what their fee is per withdrawal. Mine only charges $2. If your bank’s fee is more, you may want to reconsider using ATM’s. You should also transfer sufficient funds into your checking account as this is the account that the ATM will likely access. If you have more than one bank card to access your account, bring two of them in case one doesn’t work. It’s best to withdraw larger amounts to save on withdrawal fees. The ATM usually gives large bills, i.e. 200 peso notes, so you may want to go into the bank and get smaller bills, as you may have trouble getting change with large bills. Canadian dollars, in good condition, are easily exchanged here at banks.
If you’re staying in the Icacos beach area, the best place to get stamps and mail your letters and post cards is at the Mail Boxes Etc outlet across the street from Sanborn’s (in the Oceanic 2000 complex) and about one block west of there. You can also get photocopies made there. I never did find the main post office when I was there. It had moved.
Bookstores, Newspapers, Internet Cafés
There are no used pocket book stores here to buy or exchange used pocket books, so bring sufficient reading material. Sanborn’s is a good place to buy English books, pocket books and magazines.
Acapulco does not have an English language newspaper. A Mexico City English newspaper is available from Sanborn’s or from vendors on the beach who charge more. If you want to buy one from Sanborn’s, go in the morning as they’re often sold out later in the day.
The cheapest internet café I found in my area (Icacos beach) was the BTU place about 3 blocks behind Comercial Mexicana on Av Cristobal Colon. They charge only 30 pesos/hour (cdn$5). They had 6 workstations with new machines and it was air-conditioned.
Cliff divers, Bay Cruises, Pie de la Cuesta (Sunset Beach)
The cheapest place to watch the cliff diver show is from the outside multi-level mirador in front of the Plaza Las Glorias Mirador hotel (cost: 12 pesos/person). The best view for photographs is on the level in front of the bathrooms. The night shows are more spectacular as the divers dive with torches. There are no local buses that go there so you will have to walk up the steep hill from the Zocalo or take a VW beetle taxi from there and back (cost: about 15 pesos).
If you want to take a bay cruise, you may as well buy your tickets from a beach vendor as the cost isn’t any cheaper at the dock. When you buy your ticket from a beach vendor, you only pay a deposit of 40 pesos, which is his commission, and the balance is paid when you board the boat. If you’re buying several tickets, you may be able to bargain a lower commission with the vendor. For example, the cost for an 11am cruise on the Bonanza boat is 180 pesos/person, a 40 pesos deposit and the 140 pesos balance payable when you board. But we bargained with our vendor and only paid a 20 peso deposit for each ticket, making our tickets only 160 pesos each. The ticket is good for any day, you just go down to the dock on the day you want to go. Keep in mind that weekends are much busier.
If you want to go to Pie de la Cuesta, you can take a local bus (3.5 pesos) from the bus stop across the street (bay side) from Sanborn’s downtown location near the Zocalo. Be sure to take a Pie de la Cuesta bus marked ‘Playas’ or ‘Luces’ if you want to go to the beach or lagoon. If you’re coming from the east end of the Costera, you can catch these buses at the Pie de la Cuesta/Central Market corner of the Costera (Mendoza) west of Hornos beach without having to go all the way downtown. (There’s a half circle at this corner for east bound vehicles making left turns and an overhead sign indicating Pie de la Cuesta.) All returning Pie de la Cuesta buses, however, stop at the bus stop in front of Sanborn’s.
If you’re staying for the sunset (Tres Marias beach restaurant is a popular place), catch a returning bus immediately after the sun sets as there are fewer buses in the evening. Be warned, however, that there have been reports of post-sunset buses full of tourists being hijacked by armed robbers on this route, so be careful. Don’t bring extra money or wear any watches or jewelry if you’re planning on taking one of these buses back. You may also want to leave your camera in your room. The only other alternative is taking a taxi back, at least to Caleta or the Zocalo, then you can take a regular bus home from there. If you’re taking a taxi, be sure to ask a local (not a tourist) how much it should cost to your destination and make sure you confirm/bargain this rate with the taxi driver.
All of the beaches are much more crowded on weekends when area Mexicans come for the weekend. If you want to use a public beach versus the beach at your hotel, you’ll have to pay to rent chairs and umbrellas. The going rate when I was there was 15 – 20 pesos for a regular plastic chair or umbrella, and 25 – 30 pesos for a lounge chair, if they have any. Be warned that they will try to overcharge you, especially if you look like a new arrival. Ask other people on the beach how much they paid before you bargain with the renter.
If the hotels aren’t busy, i.e. the first three weeks of January, you can probably use their beach chairs and umbrellas by giving the hotel beach chair guy a tip for bringing your chairs to your chosen umbrella or palapa, i.e. 10-15 pesos/chair, and bring your own beach towels. The beach slopes quickly on all Acapulco bay beaches and there’s usually an undertow, so be careful. There are some vendors on all of the beaches here, but most of them have been moved to large ‘mercados’ along the Costera.
The best beach, in my opinion, is Puerto Marquez beach on Marquez bay. The beach slopes quickly here too but there’s rarely a need to go in for a swim to cool off as there’s a nice breeze off the bay. And the air is cleaner. (There’s a lot of smog in the city.) The restaurants lining the bay here also rent chairs, tables and umbrellas for about the same price.
My favorite part of the beach was in front of the pink Martha Elvia Restaurant at the near end of the strip. They had lounges with pads (a luxury) for rent. There are a few more beach vendors here but they’re quite friendly and not pushy. To get there from the city, take any local bus heading east that says Pto Marquez. It will drop you off almost anywhere along the one-way beach front road. The bus terminal is at the far end of the beach at the end of the one-way street going the other way. They leave to go back to the city about every 15 minutes.
My least favorite beach was Revolcadero as it’s quite windy and dusty there and swimming there is very dangerous. One of the beaches on this long strip, Gloria beach, is populated by French Canadians. There’s a Quebec flag flying on the beach and the beach restaurants there have French Canadian menus with French Canadian specialties like poutine. To get there you take a local bus heading east that says Pto Marquez or Coloso. Then you get off at the Marquez corner (a major interchange) and get on a combi (minibus) that says Bonfils.
If you don’t mind being way out there, there are also budget accommodations at Pie de la Cuesta, however, there were reports of many mosquitoes there in the evenings. If you don’t want to do a lot of climbing, avoid hotels on Caleta and Quebrada and choose one that’s within 2 blocks of the Costera. Beyond that, you’ll be on the mountain sides.
Word of caution – if your hotel has in-room safes that use key locks versus combination locks, don’t use them. There were several first-hand reports of money being stolen out of locked in-room safes in hotel rooms. Therefore, if it’s an option, it’s safer to put your extra money and valuables in the safety deposit boxes at the front desk.
If you want to rent a long-stay apartment or condo for two or more months, which is what I did, there are many opportunities to do that in Acapulco. However, it’s difficult to find rentals unless you have a local contact. I found my private rental agent through one of the friendly/helpful chatters on the Acapulco Chat board. Or you can try to find a local real estate agent on the internet such as English-speaking Guillermo Canales Estevez at Esteban International Realty (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Although rents will be higher, if you don’t want to do a lot of climbing, choose a place within two blocks of the Costera and avoid the upper reaches of Costa Azul, Caleta and Quebrada. Be sure to ask your agent or contact exactly where the property is located. You can then confirm the suitability of the location with someone on the chat board. (Many of the chatters spend every winter in Acapulco or are ex-pat Americans or Canadians who now live there.)
Places to Eat
There are literally hundreds of restaurants here. I didn’t go out to eat often but I can highly recommend a few places.
Los Rancheros is very good and not very expensive, with great night views of the bay from their elevated deck (great chicken fajitas, 75 pesos, but can of Pepsi 18 pesos!). It’s on the Scenic highway past the Hyatt. You can take any eastbound local bus that says Pto Marquez or Coloso to get there.
There are also two good inexpensive beach bar/restaurants with great bay views on the Condesa beach strip across the street from the Romano Palace hotel. One is El Sombrero (great red snapper, chicken/shrimp fajitas for 78 pesos) and the other is Panchos (great chicken brochette with baked potato, 70 pesos).
Another good restaurant with a great view and lots of character is the Los Flamingos in Quebrada. It’s John Wayne’s old hangout so there’s lots of old pictures on the walls. Then there’s the popular Jimmy’s Cantina near Wal-Mart in the Icacos beach area (wonderful chicken and shrimp brochettes).
One restaurant I don’t recommend is the restaurant at the Hyatt hotel by the pool. Their prices are atrocious, the servings very small, the food cold, and the service abysmal.
The Italian/pizza restaurant on the Zocalo is also very popular and cheap. There are several good and cheap fish restaurants lining Caletilla beach and out on Pie de la Cuesta. Note that every Thursday is pozole day in Acapulco. Most restaurants serve pozole (thick soup with garnishes) during siesta in the early afternoon on that day and many also provide live music.
Almost all restaurants and bars in Acapulco have a happy hour (2 for 1) but it’s not really a bargain, especially for Canadians. Most places charge 40 pesos for 2 drinks/beers. At 20 pesos each, this works out to about US$2 for Americans but about CDN$3.25 for Canadians.
In addition to several locations of Comercial Mexicana, Gigante and Bodega supermarkets along the Costera, there’s also the popular Wal-Mart superstore that has a large grocery section, deli, and bakery. If you’re collecting air miles, Wal-Mart and Comercial Mexicana take credit cards.
Clubs and Bars
There’s no shortage of nightlife in Acapulco, however many clubs rarely get going until midnight. One of them is Salon Q, a popular Latin dance club next to the Oceanic 2000, and has a cover charge of 180 pesos which includes an open bar. If you’re older and want to go dancing before midnight, try the popular lobby bar at the Romano Palace Hotel where there’s a small live band and small dance floor.
For some local color, go to the popular Tropicana Club (not the hotel) on the beach near the Pie de la Cuesta turnoff. Most of the guests here are Mexicans, most of them 30 or older. There’s a small cover charge (10 pesos), the DJ plays Mexican/Latin dance tunes starting about 9:30pm, and the live band starts around 11pm. The dance floor is quite small and always packed.
There a modern air-conditioned multi-theater cinema in the Oceanic 2000 complex in the Icacos beach area that shows current movies in English with Spanish sub titles, cost 28 pesos for the movie, 19 pesos for a medium popcorn and coke.
There are several large ‘artesania mercados‘ for tourists along the Costera in the Condesa Beach area, but be warned, the vendors there are very aggressive. I preferred to do my souvenir and silver shopping with the vendors on the beach rather than go through the trauma of going to one of those mercados. The huge Central Market is rather grungy and harder to get at. Take a local along with you if you want to go there. There’s also a good-sized market near the bus stop near Caletilla beach in Caleta. There’s lots of Taxco silver here but beware, even if it’s stamped, some of it is not pure silver so bargain hard and pay accordingly. The pure silver items are usually a lighter silver color whereas the alloy silver items are darker.
If you sew and want to buy cheap fabrics, go to Telas Parasinas on the west end of Av Cuahtemoc. It’s by far the biggest fabric store I’ve ever seen! I bought 20 pieces of fabric, many pieces only 1 meter long, for only 500 pesos. The department store next door also has a good selection of fabrics. Although it’s rather grungy and more dangerous (don’t wear any jewelry and hang onto your purse and wallet), you may want to check out Av Cuahtemoc where the locals do their shopping. (Take the Cine Rio bus to get there, walk the two blocks or so to the Costera to catch a bus back.) Bootlegged CDs are available from street stalls there for about 50 pesos.
Transportation from and to the airport
If you’re not arriving on a charter flight, you basically have one ‘regulated’ choice to get into the city, a shared colectivo Suburban. You buy your ticket from the window just outside the terminal door and they cost 75 pesos/person. There will also be taxi drivers looking for a fare back to the city, who will approach you as soon as you step out the door.
If you’re one or two people, the colectivo is your cheapest option and it takes you to your door, regardless of where it is in the city (unless your going to Pie de la Cuesta), so avoid the taxi drivers. If there’s 3 or more of you, the colectivo will cost your group at least 75 x 3 = 225 pesos, so if you can bargain a fare with a taxi driver for less than that, that’s your best option. The standard fare for a taxi trip from the Icacos beach area to the airport is 120 pesos, so judge your fare accordingly. If you’re going further away, i.e. to the center or Caleta, expect to pay about 300 pesos.
If you just have a small bag or backpack, you can take a combi and local bus into town. Just walk out to the bus stop on the road outside the terminal and take a combi (mini-bus). Get off at the Marquez corner and take one of the local buses waiting there for the rest of the way into town. That will cost you 3.5 pesos x 2 = 7 pesos.
If you’re going to the airport with luggage, your best option is to take a taxi from the taxi stand at your hotel or a nearby hotel. Their airport rates are usually posted in the hotel lobby so no bargaining is necessary. If you’re going to the airport with just a backpack or small bag, or if you’re just going to the airport to meet a flight, you could use the local bus. Take any eastbound bus marked Pto Marquez or Coloso, get off at the Marquez corner, then get on an airport combi (minibus) for the rest of the trip. It drops you off on the road just outside the terminal building. That will cost you only 7 pesos (3.5 x 2).
Long Distance Buses
If you want to take a trip out of town, i.e. Taxco (highly recommended) or Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, the best first class bus company to use in town is the Estrella de Oro line. Their modern bus terminal is located on the corner of Av Cuahtemoc and Wilfrid Massieu. Any local bus that says Cine Rio, Rena or Zapata will get you there. Just get off at the corner of Av Cuahtemoc and walk left across the street to the bus station. (If you want to take the bus home on your return, walk around the corner to Wilfrid Massieu to catch one of the three above buses heading the other way toward the Costera.)
Estralla de Oro has several ticket selling places in the city including their depot in Wal-Mart. Passengers on their first class buses get to select their seats on the bus when they purchase their tickets. Be aware that they only sell one-way tickets to these two destinations and they also don’t know the exact return times, which is very frustrating. You should check the departure times when you get there and buy your return ticket before you leave the terminal.
Be aware, also, that although the buses leaving Acapulco are newer Mercedes buses with functioning air-conditioning (bring a jacket or sweater), the returning buses are often older ones with non-functioning air-conditioning. When I was there this past winter, the one-way fare for Taxco was 120 pesos and 90 pesos for Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa.
Walking – As in most Mexican resorts, pedestrians do not have the right of way here and there are no pedestrian traffic lights, so crossing the wide, busy Costera is quite difficult, especially if you’re not fleet of foot. Even crossing at the few corners with traffic lights is dangerous because vehicles are allowed to make u-turns at those corners on your green light. I found it best to jay walk, like most locals.
The local buses here are very efficient and cheap and run from about 5am to about 11pm. It took me a while to figure out the bus routes but I eventually mastered it by trial and error. There are bus stops, but most drivers will pick you up or drop you off almost anywhere, especially along the Costera.
There are two types of buses, the cheaper 3.5 peso non-air-conditioned buses (white with blue or orange stripes), and the 4 pesos air-conditioned buses which are yellow and gold. The yellow buses only travel the Costera between the naval base (marked ‘Base’) on the east end to Caleta on the west end of the bay. They run about every 15 minutes whereas the other buses are available almost constantly. Their destinations are always marked in white on the windshield. The main destinations you will be concerned about, starting on the west end of the bay, are:
If you’re not sure where to get off, tell the bus driver where you’re going and he will tell you, sometimes grudgingly, when to get off. (The bus drivers aren’t very helpful or friendly here.) If there are any, buttons to signal the driver you want to get off at the next stop are usually out of reach, so it’s best to get up and stand by the door just before you want to get off.
There are basically three types and there’s lots of them. There’s the usually-cheaper VW beetle taxis. There’s hundreds of these on the street at any given time. They can only transport three tourists comfortably.
Then there’s the more expensive and larger blue and white, sometimes air-conditioned “hotel” taxis that work out of taxi stands near the major hotels. They’re the best option for going to the airport and your only option if there’s more than three of you.
Then there’s the yellow and white shared taxis that go to the suburbs (i.e. Coloso, Colosio, Rena, etc). They charge a flat rate of 7 pesos/person and are often packed to the rafters. A Coloso or Colosio bound one is not a bad option if there’s 4 or 5 of you going to the beach at Pto Marquez or Bonfils. Bargain the rate with the driver first. Chances are he’ll only charge you the usual 7 pesos/person or 35-40 pesos for the trip. You may also be able to do this to go to the airport but I never tried it.
The taxi drivers here are quite vicious and assume it’s their God-given right to charge tourists double the rate that locals pay or more. If you have to take a taxi, ask a local first how much it should cost to your destination and have the correct change. Then you have two choices. You can bargain the fare with the driver before you get into the taxi and hopefully arrive at a rate that may be close but definitely higher (or wave him off and try another one), or you can do what we did – we didn’t discuss the fare at all with the driver before we got into the taxi.
When we reached our destination, we got out of the car, closed the door, then reached in through the open window and handed him the ‘right’ fare and immediately walked away. They were not at all happy with this amount and yelled at us and called us bad names (in Spanish). But we just ignored them and kept walking, feeling justified that we paid him a fair price. But beware, this method won’t work if you give him the money ‘before’ you get out of the taxi. He may very well take off and drop you off somewhere else!
Area excursions – Taxco, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa
If you like quaint colonial cities or are a silver freak, you must go to Taxco which is only 266 kms away or about four hours by bus. You can make it a day trip but it would be rushed. If you want to see a mind-boggling amount of silver, plan to attend the silver street market held every Saturday. In this case, a Friday night stay is highly recommended so you can get an early start at the market on Saturday morning. Some of the stalls start closing in mid-afternoon.
Another good place to get your silver cheap is at the many stalls in the underground Santa Prisca market where the wholesalers are and where the silver dealers from all over Mexico buy their silver. They will usually sell retail too and their prices are fixed so there’s no need to bargain, except for maybe larger, more expensive pieces. The entrance ramp is on a side street just off the Zocalo, close to the Hotel Melendez.
If you have time, take the cable car (teleferico) ride up to the upscale Monte Taxco hotel for the wonderful views, cost only 30 pesos/person. You can take an ‘arcos’ combi (VW minibus, 3 pesos) to get to the cable car terminal near the old aqueduct arches. When you’re ready to head back to the Zocalo, take a combi that says ‘Zocalo’. There are many quaint old hotels in and near the Zocalo. We stayed at the pretty Hotel Melendez twice and paid 330 pesos for a double room on a weeknight and 385 pesos a double for a larger room (no. 19) with a huge private terrace on a Friday night. The hotel is wonderful but there’s a disco across the street so you don’t get much sleep, even in a room at the back. You must certainly avoid taking a room at the front facing the busy/noisy street and disco!
I can recommend two good and inexpensive upstairs restaurants here that are on or near the Zocalo, both with great views. One is Mario’s Pizza (pizza, spaghetti) and the other is Alfredo’s. The bus station is within walking distance of the Zocalo but it’s hilly and easy to get lost in the maze of streets and alleys there, so it’s best to take a taxi (VW beetle) for only 10 pesos.
We also went to Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa by bus for an overnight trip, although this could be done in a day trip if you don’t mind spending 10 hours on a bus in one day (it’s about 5 hours away by bus). The shopping in smaller and quaint Zihuat is quite good and the Maritimo craft market is a wonderful place to spend a couple hours. There are frequent local buses that ply the short route between Zihuat and Ixtapa (about 4 pesos) so you can dash over to Ixtapa for a quick peek. We stayed at the Hotel Suzy, a small, clean Mexican hotel on a side street close to the beach, cost 300 pesos double, no a/c. JJs, an American restaurant across the street is a good place to eat. We thoroughly enjoyed our spaghetti and mariscos supper (55 pesos) and the friendly owner at Daniel’s inexpensive beach restaurant.