Back in the 1950s, Acapulco was the favourite destination of the glitterati - and now, like an old movie star making a comeback, it's fast regaining its A-list allure
As I took the flight down from Mexico City to Acapulco, I wasn’t sure what to expect of this once gloriously glamorous city. I longed for my aircraft to be travelling through time as well as space so that I would land in the alluring Acapulco of the 1950s jet set – where Elizabeth Taylor married her third husband, JFK and Jackie honeymooned, Frank Sinatra crooned, Elvis swivelled his hips, and the elusive Howard Hughes died. But Acapulco had lost its star quality long ago - overpopulation, pollution and general overkill meant 'the pearl of the Pacific' hadn't been on the celebrity circuit since The Love Boat was decommissioned in the early 80s.
On the drive from the airport to the very lovely Fairmont Pierre Marqués hotel (originally built by millionaire John Paul Getty as a private retreat), I felt sure I was going to be disappointed. Shopping malls, a giant Wal-mart, and tacky advertising billboards lined the way, with not a bit of movie-star magic in sight. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. My first sight of the Pacific from the hotel’s large and quiet beach - as a fruit-cocktail-coloured sun melted onto the horizon, the silhouettes of surfers glided on the skyline and baby green turtles bravely fought their way down the sandy slopes to the sea - gave me one of those heavenly holiday moments that are remembered forever. Maybe this place still has some stardust after all.
It didn’t take me long to discover that Acapulco is a place of stunning natural beauty. The meandering taxi ride up lush mountainside, from the secluded Puerto Marqués Bay to the posh residential area of Las Brisas, took me to the beautiful Capilla de la Paz (Chapel of Peace). The 130ft white cross set against the cobalt blue sky makes for a striking first impression but even better is the unrivalled view over Acapulco Bay that you find when you wander round to the back of this charming non-denominational chapel. You won’t find a better place to take the perfect picture. The dazzling image of the city spilling down from the Sierra Madre to the huge crescent-shaped bay, haloed with masses of white beach and rocky cliffs, makes it obvious why this was the preferred playground of the 20th century’s beautiful people. You'll also find the beautiful Hotel Las Brisas here if you are looking for a lush romantic hideaway; intimate casitas with private pools will allow you to lounge and love in superstar-style seclusion - if I was coming here with my husband this is definitely where I would be staying!
Next it was off to the other side of town, to La Quebrada to see the incredible death-defying cliff divers. These guys, and one girl, who are paid just $5 a day by the local tourist board, brave a drop of up to 148ft, into a measly 12ft of churning seawater, for your entertainment pleasure. Unique, exciting and a little bit scary, this show is a Mexican must-see. And the best place to catch it is the El Mirador Hotel (+52 744 483 11 55), where you can watch the show and have two cocktails for around £10. Take a good look at the walls while you're there; they are papered with faded black-and-white photos of a half-century of icons, with everyone from actors to astronauts, Bond girls to champion boxers. The place is positively swimming in nostalgia but, like an old Hollywood star, is in need of a facelift and relaunch.
It is strange that the El Mirador, as one of Acapulco's main draws, hasn’t invested in a little nip and tuck, as the rest of the city is opting for some serious smartening up. OK, downtown is more Hard Rock than Rock Hudson, but the beach is great fun. Body boards, beach volleyball and general play in the clear blue waters make up the main pastimes. There are tons of great little eateries to be found in amongst the Cancun-style bars. My favourite was a chain called 100% Natural; they offer yummy organic meals and super-refreshing goldfish-bowl-sized smoothies at very reasonable prices (www.100natural.com.mx/).
Before dark, make sure to take the winding road south back towards Las Brisas to watch the sun set from Acapulco’s flashiest new district. The mountainside road is punctuated with loads of chic restaurants, bars and clubs that wouldn’t look out of place in South Beach or Monte Carlo and are loaded with old-school glamour – try Kookaburra (+52 744 446 6039) for a view and service you won’t forget in a hurry.
Apparently, today's A-listers prefer to keep a low profile by hiring luxury villas and partying by their private poolsides rather than dancing the night away at one of city’s mega-clubs - but the new generation of jet-setters are being spotted here more and more regularly as Acapulco looks set to make a comeback.