Explore Acapulco and the Pacific beaches
The 800-kilometre stretch of coast between Puerto Vallarta and Punta Maldonado, where the Sierra Madre reaches out to the ocean, is lined with some of Mexico’s most popular resorts. Acapulco – the original, the biggest, and for many, the best – is a steep-sided, tightly curving bay that, for all its excesses of high-rise development, remains breathtakingly beautiful, from a distance at least. This is the stomping ground of the wealthy, whose villas, high around the wooded sides of the bay, offer isolation from the packaged enclaves below. It’s pricey, but not ridiculously so, and while tourists swarm the congested beaches the city retains a local feel, with the coarse characteristics of a working port.
Puerto Vallarta, second in size and reputation, feels altogether more manageable, with cobbled streets fanning out from a colonial plaza overlooking an oceanfront boulevard. Still, with its party ambience and unbridled commercialism, it is far removed from the tropical village it claims to be: spreading for miles along a series of tiny, rugged beaches, it’s certainly a resort. However, if you travel far enough from the downtown beaches you can still find cove after isolated cove backed by forested mountains. For a less commercial experience, Barra de Navidad, two hours south of here, is a glorious sweep of sand, surrounded by flatlands and lagoons, with a low-key village at either end. By contrast, Manzanillo is first and foremost a port and naval base – despite its lively seaside boardwalk and sail-fishing tournaments its pitch for tourism seems something of an afterthought. Zihuatanejo is an attractive, gentle resort where magnificent villas have popped up on the slopes overlooking inviting swathes of sand studded with palms. Its purpose-built neighbour Ixtapa, the Pacific coast’s answer to Cancún, is far less enchanting, with sterile high-rise developments, shopping malls and an international feel. All along this coast, between the major centres, you’ll find beaches, some completely undeveloped, others linked to a village with a few rooms to rent and a makeshift bar on the sand.
Most people arrive on the fast – and expensive – Autopista del Sol from Mexico City to Acapulco, but the coast road is perfectly feasible all the way from the US border to Guatemala. Between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, it’s a good modern highway, unrelentingly spectacular as it forces its way south, sometimes over the narrow coastal plain, more often clinging precariously to the fringes of the sierra where it falls away into the ocean.
The region is easily traversed by bus and all the major resorts have well-connected airports with direct flights from Mexico City and the US. Remember that if you’ve come south from Tepic, San Blas, Mazatlán or points north along the coast, you need to advance your watch an hour: the time zone changes at the Jalisco state border, just north of Puerto Vallarta’s airport. Prices in the resorts, particularly for accommodation, are dictated largely by season. High season at the bigger destinations stretches from early or mid-December to after Easter or the end of April, during which time the swankier hotels can charge as much as double the off-season rates and need to be booked in advance; in many resorts a surge in domestic tourism means that prices also rise again in July and August.Read More
Paraíso and Boca de Pascuales
Paraíso and Boca de Pascuales
With your own vehicle you can reach Paraíso directly from Cuyutlán, or you could take the Laguna Estero Palo Verde boat tour and get off at Paraíso. However, if you’re travelling by bus you’ll have to return to Armería, from where it’s another 8km to this minute place – really just a few neglected buildings on either side of the dust-and-cobble street. The beach is peaceful though, with banks of crashing surf and a few uninspired enramadas serving essentially the same menu. Only at Hotel Paraíso, right on the seafront (t 312/312-1032; M$250–399), is the feeling of banality and dilapidation dispelled; the older rooms have character, but the new wing is more comfortable, and everyone uses the pool and watches the sunset from the bar. If you camp on the beach, they’ll let you use a shower, especially if you buy a drink.
Smaller still, Boca de Pascuales, 13km from Tecomán, is little more than a bunch of palapa restaurants and a beach renowned for huge waves and challenging surf; this is a river-mouth beach break with some of the nastiest and fastest tubes in Mexico (breaking right and left) – it’s definitely not for the inexperienced. Even swimming can be dangerous, but otherwise it’s a fine place to hang out for a few days. Beach camping is an attractive proposition here, but there are a couple of surfer-friendly lodges, the best of which is Paco’s Hotel (t 200/124-7362; M$400–599), on the way in, offering colourful and cosy rooms, some with air-conditioning (M$50 extra). The best restaurant, Las Hamacas del Mayor (t 313/103-6903, w www.lashamacasdelmayor.com.mx), has been serving top-notch seafood since 1953 and still draws a large crowd, in spite of its remote location. To reach Boca de Pascuales, you’ll first need to take a direct bus from Manzanillo to Tecomán, 20km south of Armería. Minibuses run to Boca from Tecomán’s bus station (7am–8pm hourly; M$6; 20min). Taxis charge M$80. Buses also run from Tecomán to Colima and Lázaro Cárdenas.
Once a small-time, slow-moving beach surrounded by lagoons, Playa Azul has been rather overrun by the growth of Lázaro Cárdenas, 20km away. However, there are still several reasonably priced hotels and a moderate beach, backed by scores of palapa restaurants. But, aside from lying on the sand (the surf and dangerous undercurrents make swimming unsafe) there is really nothing else to hold your attention.
Local buses make the trip from Caleta de Campos to Lázaro Cárdenas several times a day. The only reason to come here, however, is if you’re trying to get somewhere else – it’s strictly industrial, dominated by the huge ArcelorMittal steelworks. If you get stuck for the night, you’ll find several small hotels in the centre.
Día de la Candelaria
(Feb 2). Celebrated in Colima with dances, processions and fireworks.
(Feb 5). A day of bullfights and horse races in Colima.
(the week before Lent; variable Feb–March). Acapulco and Manzanillo are both famous for the exuberance of their celebrations; rooms can be hard to find.
Fiesta de San Patricio
(March 10). Exuberant celebrations in San Patricio-Melaque continue for a week.
(Holy Week). Widely observed: the Palm Sunday celebrations in Petatlán, just south of Zihuatanejo, are particularly fervent.
Cinco de Mayo
(May 5). Celebrations in commemoration of the victorious battle of Cinco de Mayo, especially in Acapulco.
Festival de las Lluvias
(May 8). Celebrated in Mochitlán, near Chilpancingo, the festival has pre-Christian roots: pilgrims, peasants and local dance groups climb a nearby volcano at night, arriving at the summit at dawn to pray for rain. Manzanillo celebrates its Founder’s Day.
Día de San Isidro
(May 15). A week-long festival in Acapulco.
(May 31). In Puerto Vallarta.
Día de la Marina
(Navy Day; June 1). Celebrated in the ports, particularly Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo and Acapulco.
Día de Santiago
(Sept 28). Celebrated in several villages immediately around Acapulco.
(first week of Nov). Colima’s major festival runs from the last days of October until November 8.
Día de los Muertos
(Day of the Dead; Nov 2). Widely observed, with picturesque traditions in Atoyac de Alvarez, just off the Acapulco–Zihuatanejo road.
Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe
(Dec 12). In honour of the patroness of Mexico. Acapulco has fervent celebrations, while in Manzanillo the celebrations start at the beginning of the month. In Puerto Vallarta they continue until the end of it.