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Acapulco and Huatulco: A Mexican Beach for Every Mood

by Elaine Sosa

Acapulco

The earliest revelers at this 24-hour-a-day, international playground were the Nahua Indians, who arrived around 3,000 BC, predating even the Aztecs. What they found in Acapulco was a beige-sand stretch of beach around a horseshoe bay rimmed by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. Although explorers of lore duked it out for this prized port over the centuries, it took the galavanting Prince of Wales to put Acapulco on the map, in the 1920s. Liz Taylor married one of her many husbands here, while Jackie and Jack and Bill and Hill chose this lively resort, with its nearly year-round sunshine, as their honeymoon destination. Although many beachgoers have gravitated toward Cabo San Lucas and Cancun when thinking Mexico in recent years, in-the-know folks who want choices galore still consider Acapulco the ultimate seaside resort.

Where to stay

Draped on a hillside overlooking Acapulco Bay, the Sheraton Acapulco couldn’t ask for a nicer location. With 212 rooms spread among thirteen buildings, you’ll need a site plan to find your way from the lobby to your abode, but that’s half the fun. A series of steps connect the entire property, and if you’re not in shape when you get here, you soon will be. That said, a handy-dandy tram is provided for those who’d rather take it easy. Once in your room, your eye will turn to the backlit conch shell which acts as a headboard over your ample bed. Cozy and compact, most rooms at the Sheraton face out to the sea and provide all the creature comforts you’ll need, including a well-laid-out marble bath with a power shower to remove every last trace of sand from your feet. Stepping back outside, you can take a dip in one of two pools, have a swim in the waters of nearly-private Guitarron Beach, lunch at the seaside Jardin del Mar (the campechana costena, a sublime seafood salad, is a must), entrust your kids to the pool’s Activities Director or read beneath the swaying palms which dot the property. Come to think of it, you might as well do it all. Sheraton Acapulco (011-52-74) 81-22-22 or (800) 325-3535. Rooms from $170 to $450, double occupancy; group and package rates available.

Catering to those who crave a quiet day at the beach (or two or three), the Camino Real is an oasis of calm on splendid Puerto Marques beach. Walking into the lobby of this airy 156-room hotel is instantly calming, a series of couches and chairs with a direct, open-air view to the sea. Every room has a sightline to the sea as well, and the beds are thoughtfully positioned to allow you to wake up and gaze outward to the waves. Two coved beaches let you sunbathe in near privacy, while the hotel’s three pools are a serene dream. A hike up to the Raw Bar rewards you with the catch of the day, cooked to your specifications, and if you overindulge, you can work it off later in the hotel’s spacious gym. You won’t be in the heart of Acapulco’s action at the Camino Real, but that’s just the point at this sybaritic resort. Camino Real (011-52-74) 66-10-10 or (800) 722-6466. Rooms from $260 to $450, double occupancy; group and package rates available.

If you like golf and love activity, the Acapulco Princess is the place for you. Spread over 480 acres, this mega-resort counts over 1,000 guest rooms among its three towers, the main one being an Aztec-inspired "temple" which is teeming with people morning, noon and night. Built in 1971, the hotel’s decor is living proof that everything old is new again. The carpets in the corridor are flower power meets mod, while the chairs in the spacious lobby are a blend of bamboo and bright colors. Your room is also a riot of color, with a large, double-sink bathroom that’s a traveler’s treat. It’s unlikely, though, that you’ll spend much time in your room, because the action at the Acapulco Princess is happening outside. Slink down to one of five pools and you’re likely to hear a band which sounds surprisingly like Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66, while a succession of Texas glam girls vie for the best rays. Have your waiter bring you a chilly pina colada, the better to sway to the infectious beat. That sun will get mighty hot, so you might want to take a stroll through the ample shopping arcade, have a spot of lunch at the breezy Chula Vista restaurant (there are seven restaurants on the property) or pretty up at the resort’s beauty salon. Golfers will be in paradise here, too, with two 18-hole courses from which to choose, and tennis courts, both indoor and out, are plentiful as well. You’re a bit off the beaten path at the Acapulco Princess (it’s much closer to the airport than to town), so you’re likely to get pretty familiar with this colorful place. Acapulco Princess (011-52-74) 69-10-00 or (800) 223-1818. Rooms from $160 to $365, double occupancy; group and package rates available.

Where to eat

At Madeiras, an expansive place where walls are at a minimum, the view’s the thing. Situated high above Acapulco Bay, a twilight meal allows diners to watch the city lights come into full view, creating a twinkling fantasy. Far better to look outside than in here, since the restaurant’s color scheme is a somber brown. Ask the waiter to grace your breezy, candlelit table with a cooling cocktail, followed by an appetizer from the Mexican/international menu. The crepas de huitlacoche are mushroom-y crepes bathed in a sweet red pepper sauce, while the ravioli tres quesos are plump and cheesy pasta squares in a delectable basil sauce. The lomo de puerco, tender pork medallions accompanied by a sweet potato puree, is a hearty dish, so lighter diners might prefer the huachinango Quetzal, red snapper and shrimp in a heavenly black bean puree. Top it all off with a slice of caramel flan, as smooth as the mood music playing in the background.

A more contemporary dining experience is the seaside El Olvido, along Acapulco’s main boulevard, the Costera Miguel Aleman. Bright blue pillars which resemble rubbery flotation devices encircle the room, although the best seat is on one of two outdoor terraces. Let the soft sea breezes caress your face while you indulge in the black bean cream, a smooth soup laced with sauteed chorizo and slivered tortilla chips. Fish is the way to go here: choose between the red snapper filet in a velvety fruit sauce or the sauteed sea bass in a warm avocado sauce and you won’t be disappointed. The waiters greet every request with "it’s a pleasure," making your dining experience here just that.

Satisfy that egg craving at Sanborns, which is no ordinary breakfast place. Think multi-purpose shopping emporium, since Sanborns is happy to sell you records, books, jewelry, film, clothing, cosmetics and assorted gewgaws during your visit. With three locations along the Costera Miguel Aleman, stop in at the Sanborns just off the lobby of the Calinda Hotel and soak up the ocean view. Begin with a plate of fresh fruit, then proceed to devour the best huevos rancheros in town. If you like things really spicy, the huevos a la Mexicana are made for you. Don’t forget to pick up Mexican sensation Luis Miguel’s latest CD, Romances, on your way out -- he just won a Grammy for it.

Those who want a little fun with their food need only say three words: Carlos ‘n Charlie’s. This member of the well-known Carlos Anderson restaurant group is loud, lively and loads of fun, and the food’s good, too. Start with some creamy guacamole and a margarita that’s a foot tall -- and that’s the small one. The music will get louder the more you drink, and it’s not you. The folks in charge want you to dance on the tables, or at a minimum join in the conga line which continuously weaves its way around the room. You’ll definitely work up an appetite, so order the oink peep moo, a barbequed platter of ribs, chicken and steak. The tortilla soup, nachos and grilled fish are also worthy bites. If you make a fool of yourself at Carlos ‘n Charlie’s, no one will tell, since the staff here has seen it all.

What to do

Well, you’re at the beach, so a little sun, sand and surf have to be on the agenda. The beaches along Acapulco Bay tend to be narrow in width, but they are possessed of a soft beige sand which is delightfully clean. Many of the better hotels ( among them the Sheraton and Camino Real) are situated on natural coves which make their public beaches nearly private. Since many beaches here have a strong undertow, it’s best to check conditions before diving in. Horseback riding is available along the beaches of Puerto Marques, while waterskiing is ideal in serene Acapulco Bay...the Costera Miguel Aleman is Acapulco’s main drag, a miles-long boulevard chockablock with hotels, restaurants, shops, discos, joggers, strollers and posers. The heart and soul of this 24-hour-town beats right here, so check it out...if you’re in search of a bargain, visit the Mercado de Artesanias, a teeming bazaar on the Costera Miguel Aleman. Silver from Taxco, baskets, pottery, you name it -- and the price is right. Three t-shirts for a dollar? Despite the low prices, the haggling is half the fun...Solera de Acapulco is the place to go if you want to bring a few bottles of tequila home with you. Down the street from the Mercado, the friendly staff is happy to make suggestions within your price range. Connoisseurs of good sipping tequila should ask for Siete Leguas or El Tesoro de Don Felipe, easily at half the price you’d pay back home...while in Acapulco, order your cocktails at one of the many beach bars along the Costera Miguel Aleman. This slice of neon nightlife is al fresco frivolity at its best. Pay a visit to Disco Beach, El Sombrero or Ole Mammy -- they’re a hoot!...the best of Acapulco nightlife has to be the disco scene. Think Studio 54 by the shore, because that temple of New York nightlife has nothing on these places. The granddaddy of them all is BabyO, a tri-level dance palace where the pulsating dance rhythms are as heady as the sound and light show. Don’t even think of getting there before midnight, because no one else will. You’ll also be dancing till dawn (if you can), because the doors stay open till 8 AM. Andromedas, Extravaganzza and Palladium are also worthy contenders in the disco dance. Is that John Travolta in the distance?

Huatulco

Whereas Acapulco is a party town, Huatulco brings to mind a sleepy Mexican village, and in this era of mega-resorts, there’s something to be said for that. A series of nine pristine bays at the southern end of Mexico’s Pacific coast, Huatulco is a resort waiting to happen -- or is it? Once envisioned as the successor to Cancun, the area is really no more than a few hotels, a sprawling Club Med and a gaggle of fishing boats waiting to parade you around the bays. For those in search of a peaceful beach retreat, the Oaxacan shores of Huatulco are the place to be.

Where to stay

Huatulco may not have much, but it does have one of the dreamiest hotels around in the Quinta Real. Part of a small, yet exclusive, Mexican hotel chain, the Quinta Real is designed for luxurious rest. The property is a sea of white, a series of low-slung buildings graced with curvy corners and thatched roofs. Yellow hibiscus and swaying palms dot the grounds, lending an air of comfort and calm. Every room is a suite facing the sea, a mix of beige and peach tones with a king-size bed looking out on the ocean blue. The living area sports a roomy chaise perfect for reading, while the ample deck offers more reading room and a telescope for peering into the distance. The bathroom? Spacious, colorful and with an exquisite sunken tub (yep, ocean view, too). While you will strongly consider staying in your room while you’re here, a visit to the pool is a must, rimmed as it is with beach chairs covered in the softest of towels. Kids are surprisingly scarce here, so work on that tan and catch up on (what else?) your reading. If you get hungry, have a light bite poolside, but save some room for an evening meal at the hotel’s restaurant, where the food is memorable. Quinta Real (888) 561-2817. Rooms from $250 to $400, double occupancy; group and package rates available.

If you don’t want to feel like the Lone Ranger, come to the Sheraton Huatulco, where you’ll never be alone again. Or so it will seem. Kids run around the property, parents gab, lovers kiss and everyone jumps into the pool for the most enjoyable aquaerobics around. The pool is huge, and the games of beach volleyball are played on a cute white sand beach. Back inside, your room is cool and functional, and the hotel boasts three restaurants and a couple of bars, all vying to show you their Mexican best. Grab a margarita and practice your espanol. Sheraton Huatulco (800) 325-3535. Rooms from $160 to $350, double occupancy; group and package rates available.

Where to eat

You’re probably going to eat at your hotel while visiting Huatulco, but consider this: have several meals, and certainly the special ones, at the Restaurant at the Quinta Real. Why? Because it’s the best, by far. This boutique hotel group puts as much emphasis on food as they do on rooms and other amenities, so you’ll get what you expect and then some. The circular dining room has a white dome overhead and arched windows all around which offer a splendid view of the sea. Sunny yellow fabrics compete with Moorish flourishes, lending an air of quiet elegance. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here, and lunch a nice way to take a break from the noonday sun. Order the sopa de tortilla, a delicious soup which is topped with fresh avocado, cheese and hot chilies. A plate of spaghetti bolognese is yummy fun. If you come for dinner, take a seat on the outdoor terrace, the better to enjoy cooling breezes and a view of the cozy bay. Begin with the ensalada Real de Quatorce, a medley of greens in a light vinaigrette. The camarones Arispe are jumbo prawns in a kicky sweet and sour sauce, while the langosta is fresh lobster paired with a creamy pink crabmeat sauce. Meat eaters should dig into the filete de res, a juicy steak topped with a mushroom-laden, green peppercorn sauce. End your meal with the tres leches, a Mexican version of strawberry shortcake which is simply divine.

What to do

This is the land of unspoiled beaches, so spend some time on one of Huatulco’s many stretches of fine white sand. Like sugar? You bet. Not many people around either, so bring your book and some sunblock and relaaaaaax...if you want to get acquainted with the area, hire a boat and cruise the bays. The nine bays which make up the Bahias de Huatulco are for the most part unpopulated -- ask your captain to stop in at the Bahia de Organo for some quiet beach time or the Bahia de Maguey for some freshly-grilled fish. Paraiso Huatulco (local tel. no. 10-200) can arrange for a boat and captain (many boats seat up to ten) at a reasonable rate; allow at least half a day for a bay cruise...these waters are prime for fishing, so if you’ve got a sense of adventure and want to reel in the big one, local captains know where to go...there’s a "town" here, too, and it’s called La Crucecita. Grab a cab and have ‘em drop you off at the town square, or zocalo. The church is the biggest landmark you’ll see, and it won’t take you very long to see everything else. Be sure to stop in at Panificadora Alejandro on Flamboyan Street for great pastries, and if you’re really hungry, pay a visit to El Sabor De Oaxaca on Guamuchil Street for a huge platter of Oaxacan specialties. The many shops are filled with Oaxacan arts and crafts, and there seems to be a beauty salon, or estetica, on every block, so you can shop till you drop and look good while you’re at it.



Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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