Acapulco - The Basics
Everyone - even if they've not the remotest idea where it is - has heard of Acapulco, but few people know what to expect. Truth is that, as long as you don't yearn to get away from it all, you'll find almost anything you want here, from magnificent beaches by day to clubs and discos by night. That said, however, the manicured and sanitized hotel zone, where everything is geared towards North American package tourists, can be thoroughly off-putting, as can some of the restaurants and clubs, which exhibit a snobbery seldom seen elsewhere in Mexico. In the old town the grime, congestion and exhaust fumes are the most apparent aspects of the city's pollution problem, which peaks in the rainy season when everything from plastic bags to dead dogs get washed off the streets and back alleys into the bay.

What Acapulco undoubtedly has going for it, however, is its stunning bay: a sweeping scythe-stroke of yellow sand backed by the white towers of the high-rise hotels and, behind them, the jungly green foothills of the Sierra. And, though there are hundreds of thousands of people here throughout the year - the town itself has a population approaching one and a half million and even out of season (busiest months are December-February) most of the big hotels remain nearly full - it rarely seems oppressively crowded. Certainly there's always space to lie somewhere along the beach, partly because of its sheer size, partly because of the number of rival attractions from hotel pools to para-sailing and "romantic" cruises. Hawkers, too, are everywhere. Most of them are easy enough to handle - there's no need to go shopping in Acapulco, simply lie on the beach and a string of goods will be paraded in front of you - but they can become irritating and at times heavy. For women, and women alone in particular, the constant pestering of would-be gigolos can become maddening, and for anyone the derelict downtown backstreets can be dangerous at night - remember that this is still a working port of considerable size and in the midst of all the tourist glitz real poverty remains: don't leave things lying about on the beach or too temptingly displayed in hotel rooms.

Though there's little to show for it now beyond the star-shaped Fuerte de San Diego and a few rusty freighters tied up along the quayside, Acapulco was from the 16th century one of Mexico's most important ports, the destination of the famous Nao de China, which brought silks and spices from Manila and returned laden with payment in Mexican silver. Most of the goods were lugged overland to Veracruz and from there shipped onwards to Spain. Mexican Independence, Spain's decline and the direct route around southern Africa combined to kill the trade off, but for nearly 300 years the shipping route between Acapulco and the Far East was among the most prized and preyed on in the world, attracting at some time or other (if you believe all the stories) every pirate worth the name. In one such raid, in 1743, Lord Anson (the "Father of the British Navy") picked up silver worth as much as 400,000 sterling from a single galleon and altogether, with the captured ship and the rest of its cargo and crew, collected booty worth over a million even then. With the death of its major trade, Acapulco went into a long, slow decline, only reversed with the completion of a road to the capital in 1928. Even so, but for tourism it would today be no more than a minor port.

Arrival and Orientation
Most buses arrive at the Central de Autobuses on Ejido, 3km northwest of the zocalo, from where you can pick up buses marked "Centro" or "Caleta" to get to the area where the cheaper hotels are located. Estrella de Oro buses from Mexico and Zihuatanejo arrive at their own terminal, 3km west of the zocalo, again connected by "Caleta" city buses. Both stations have a guarderia. The airport, 30km east of the city, is linked only by expensive taxis and the Tranportaciones Aeropuerto shuttle service. If you intend to leave by plane it saves money to buy a return ticket for the shuttle when you arrive. Acapulco divides fairly simply into two halves: the old town, which sits at the western end of the bay, with the rocky promontory of La Quebrada rising above it and curving round to protect the most sheltered anchorage; and the new resort area, a clump of hotels and tourist services following the curve of the bay east. A single seafront drive, the Costera Miguel Aleman - usually just "Costera" - stretches from the heart of the old town right around the bay, linking almost everything of interest. You can reach everywhere near the zocalo on foot, but to get farther afield, frequent buses (look for "Cine Rio/La Base," "zocalo" or "Caleta directo") run all the way along Costera. From the east these travel past all the big hotels, then turn inland onto Cuauhtemoc, where they pass the Estrella de Orobus station and the market before rejoining the Costera just before the zocalo. "Caleta" buses continue round the coast to Playa Caleta. Finding places along Costera can be tricky, as the numbering system is completely meaningless: 50 could be followed by 2010, which is next door to 403. The best landmarks, apart from the big hotels, are (moving east from the zocalo) Parque Papagayo, the roundabout with the Diana Glorieta statue and the CiCi waterpark. An additional difficulty is the construction of a new ring road, which is disrupting some bus routes. The descriptions given here are as accurate as possible, but check routes locally when traveling by bus.

Information
Most of the things you need cluster around the zocalo. The post office (Monday-Sat 8 a.m.-8 p.m. for most services, Sun 8 a.m.-l p.m. for stamps) is on Costera, two blocks east of the zocalo, just past the Banamexbank (exchange Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m.), which has the best rates and hours. Nearby on Costera there's a casa de cambio but rates are poor. If you miss the bank it is far better to head to the hotel zone along Costera, where several places offer good rates for United States and Canadian dollars and much worse ones for European currencies: try Consultoria Internacional (Monday-Thurs 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-9 p.m.) near the Fiesta Americana hotel.

Acapulco has two tourist offices: the Guerrero state tourist office (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. & 4-7 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; 74/86-91-64), Costera 4455 at Nifios Heroes, just before Parque Papagayo, and the city office (daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; 74/84-44-16) at Centro Acapulco, a block west of CiCi. Unless you strike lucky and encounter an enthusiastic staff member, you're likely to come away from both with little but an armful of brochures and Acapulco's free magazines - Info Acapulco, Adventure in Acapulco, and the glossy Acapulco Magazine - all full of thinly disguised advertising. For more edifying reading matter, try the book swaps at some of the budget hotels , browse through the selection at the bigger hotels and at Sanborn 's, just west of the zocalo, or check the second-hand books in the postcard shop on Azueta near the junction with La Quebrada.
You can reach the tourist police on 85-04-90.

Listings
Airlines Aeromexico (74/86-70-24; airport: 66-91-09); American (74/84-04-61; airport: 66-92-60); Delta (74/66-94-82); Mexicana (74/84-68-90; airport: 66-92-60); Saro (74/81-27-92); Taesa (74/84-45-76; airport: 66-93-93).

Car rental A car is more of a liability than a help in Acapulco but for heading along the coast or shooting up to Taxco it may be worthwhile. Try Avis (74/85-89-47); Budget (74/81-05-92); Dollar (74/84-30-66); Express (74/84-00-32); or Hertz (74/85-89-47).

The American Express office (Monday-Sat 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; 74/69-11-22), at Costera 1628 between Parque Papagayo and Diana Glorieta, will hold mail, but has awful exchange rates.

Long-distance and collect phone calls can be made from Telpius (daily 7 a.m.-10 p.m.), just east of the post office.

Consulates Canada, Club del Sol Hotel (74/85-66-00); France, Costa Grande 235 (74/82-33-94); Germany, Ant6n de Alaminos 46 (74/84-74-37); UK, Las Brisas Hotel (74/84-66-05). Also Austria, Spain, Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden: consult telephone directory or the tourist office.

Laundry Ghost Cleaners, Jose Marchia Iglesias 9, near the z6calo (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-2 p.m. & 4-8 p.m., Sat 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.).

Medical emergency Cruz Roja (74/81-41-00 or 01); Emergency IMSS Hospital (74/86-36-23 or 87-00-75); Sociedad de Assistencia Medico Turistica (74/85-59-59 or 85-58-00) in Condominium Capri on Costera near Acapulco Plaza, and in the Camino Real hotel.

Pharmacy Plenty of 24hr places in the hotel zone along Costero; Super Flash, Costera and 5 de Mayo, just east of the fort.

Travel Details
Buses Bus services all along the coast are frequent and fast, with the possible exception of the stretch between Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas and there are almost constant departures on the major routes heading inland. The southern sector - Acapulco and Zihuatanejo - is served largely by Estrella de Oro (first-class) and Flecha Roja (second-class). In the north there's more competition, but since everywhere of size - except, for the moment, Puerto Vallarta - has a unified Central Camionera, this is rarely a problem. Tres Estrellas de Oro, Transportes del Pacifico and Omnibus de Mexico are the first-class standbys, while Autobuses de Occidente, TNS and Flecha Amarilla are the most widely seen second-class outfits. The following list covers first-class services and some local second-class services. On most routes there are as many, if not more, second-class buses, which take around 20 percent longer.

Acapulco to: Chilpancingo (hourly; 2hr); Cuernavaca (7 daily; 6hr); Guadalajara (3 daily; l7hr); Lazaro Cardenas (8 daily; 6-7hr); Manzanillo (5 daily; 12hr); Mexico (60 daily; 5-9hr); Puerto Escondido (10 daily; 7hr); Puerto Vallarta (2 daily; lOhr); Salina Cruz (7 daily; 12-l3hr); Taxco (4 daily; 4hr); Tijuana (3 daily; 35hr+); Zihuatanejo (every 30 minutes; 4-Shr).

Barra de Navidad to: Cihuatlan (every 30 minutes; 15 minutes); Colima (1 daily; 2hr 30 minutes); Guadalajara (10 daily; 6-7hr); Manzanillo (3 daily; lhr 30 minutes); Puerto Vallarta (2 daily; Shr).

Chilpancingo to: Acapulco (hourly; 2hr); Mexico (hourly; 3hr 30 minutes).

Colima to: Barra de Navidad (1 daily, 2hr30 minutes; 15 minutes); Comala (every 15 minutes; 20 minutes); Guadalajara (hourly; 3hr); Lazaro Cardenas (6 daily; 6-7hr); Manzanillo (every 30 minutes; lhr 30 minutes); M6xico (12 daily; 1 lhr); Puerto Vallarta (1 daily; 6hr); Tecoman (every 15 minutes; 45 minutes).

Lazaro Cardenas to: Acapulco (8 daily; 6-7hr); Colima (6 daily; 6-7hr); Guadalajara (3 daily; 6hr); Manzanillo (9 daily; 6hr); Mexico (5 daily; 1 l-l4hr); Morelia (10 daily; 7-8hr); Patzcuaro (1 daily; 7hr); Puerto Vallarta (3 daily; l2hr); Uruapan (5 daily; 6hr); Zihuatanejo (hourly; 2hr).

Manzanillo to: Acapulco (5 daily; l2hr); Barra de Navidad (3 daily; lhr 30 minutes); Colima (every 30 minutes; lhr 30 minutes); Guadalajara (every 30 minutes; 5-6hr); Lazaro Cardenas (9 daily; 6hr); Puerto Vallarta (11 daily; 5-7hr); Tijuana (3 daily; 38hr).

Puerto Vallarta to: Acapulco (2 daily; lOhr); Barra de Navidad (2 daily; Shr); Colima (1 daily; 6hr); Guadalajara (at least hourly; 6-7hr); Lazaro Cardenas (3 daily; 12hr); Manzanillo (11 daily; 5-7hr); Mazatlan (2 daily; 8hr); Mexico (6 daily; l4hr); Tepic (every 30 minutes; 2hr 30 minutes).

Zihuatanejo to: Acapulco (every 30 minutes; 4-Shr); Ixtapa (continuously; 15 minutes); Lazaro Cardenas (hourly; 2hr); Mazatlan (6 daily; 7-8hr); Salina Cruz (2 daily; 17-l8hr).

Trains
The main rail line in the region links Manzanillo to Colima and Guadalajara. The tunnels are currently being renovated so the present schedule may change once this work is complete sometime in 1996. For the moment the single daily train leaves Manzanillo at 11:10 p.m., arriving at Colima at 1 a.m. and at Guadalajara at 7:35 a.m. Returning, it leaves Guadalajara at 8 p.m. arriving Manzanillo at 4:15 a.m. A second line links Lazaro Cardenas and Morelia, the daily train leaving at noon and arriving in Morelia at midnight. Planes This section of Mexico's coast is well served by flights, with international services to Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo and domestic flights to various points in between. Guadalajara and Mexico are accessible from Manzanillo, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Acapulco; Acapulco also has flights to United States cities including Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles.