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In Mexico, Acapulco Without . . . Acapulco

By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 22, 1998; Page E02

Acapulco's name may no longer carry its 1960s cache, and the resort's dogeared downtown strip may have lost its luster, but just over the ridge is a vacation haven where the hotels are set amid sprawling tropical fantasy lands of multilevel swimming pools, the rooms offer views of lush green jungles rather than concrete, and the lobby walls aren't plastered with faded photos of has-been Hollywood stars.

For more than two years as residents of Mexico City, we snubbed Acapulco as a destination for anything other than hurricanes or banking seminars. We took the Aztec translation of the word, Acapulco, literally: destroyed or conquered.

But when British houseguests returned from a three-day visit to nearby Punta Diamante (Diamond Point) gushing that they were so smitten they'd never even left the hotel, we decided to investigate.

As a bonus, the tourist low season--which continues until mid-December--means room rates are slashed in half, the beaches are pleasantly deserted, and the best table in any restaurant is almost sure to be available.

Most guidebooks don't even include Punta Diamante on their maps of Acapulco. It's the place that runs off the page along with the arrow that points vaguely to the airport south of town. The Mexican government has big development plans for Punta Diamante, but economic problems, a few scandals and a Pacific Coast hotel glut have kept most of the building proposals on hold.

Crest the spine of the mountain 15 minutes south of the Acapulco strip and a long neck of white sand stretches to the horizon, pounded by surf on one side and caressed by palm groves and the verdant landscaping of a sprinkling of luxury hotels on the other. In many parts of the world, the hotels would qualify as tourist attractions.

The Camino Real Acapulco Diamante hotel ambles up a hillside overlooking an intimate bay and the jungle that covers the slope of the Punta Diamante peninsula on its opposite shore--the vista from all rooms in the hotel. The open-air marble lobby is filled with wicker that begs you to slouch with a sunset cocktail. A waterfall cascades from the upper-level pool into the even larger pool below. It was easy to see why our British friends couldn't tear themselves away.

For total decadence, the Acapulco Princess looms above the palm trees farther down the beach. Its massive buildings, dripping with flowering vines on every level, are designed to resemble Mayan temples, with far more amenities than even Mayan royalty merited. The hotel's extravagantly landscaped 480 acres include eight swimming pools, waterfalls, rope bridges and a lavish 18-hole golf course.

The cliff sides between Punta Diamante and the southern edge of Acapulco provide restaurant settings for some of the most romantic sunset and evening vistas on the planet. To sip a glass of wine at Table No. 1 on the edge of the open-air Madeiras Restaurant is to be transported to another world. Here you can see the best of Acapulco without going to Acapulco. The sweeping shoreline of Acapulco is as magical by night as it is garish by day. At dusk, it is as though a blanket of shimmering white Christmas lights has been laid over the entire mountainside, snuggling right up to the edge of the perfectly carved harbor.

On another evening we arrived at the nearby thatch-roofed Kookaburra Restaurant in time to watch a sunset that filled the sky with molten gold and copper. We then turned our attention to the sensations on our dinner plates, medallions of shrimp in a tamarind sauce. Eating, of course, is another major indulgence of the area. If you're not adventurous, you don't have to leave your hotel to find an excellent meal. Seafood is the staple, and the menus are merely suggestions. We found most chefs eager to take special orders for regional specialties such as grilled red snapper or giant prawns.

Continuing our mission to avoid as much of Acapulco proper as possible, but willing to venture farther afield than our British friends, we plunged through the downtown strip with its Planet Hollywood, Tony Roma's, Hard Rock Cafe and Wal-Mart and drove 12 miles north of the city to the semi-remote stretch of beach, Pie de la Cuesta. Carpeted in bronzed bodies in the high season, in the off-season it is a nearly deserted swath of wave-pummeled white beach. Business was so pleasantly slow that the waiters at the open-air restaurants had to be roused from their hammocks to start the flow of beers and margaritas in time for the big sky sunset.

To complete the picture of the perfect idyll, young boys ambled the beach offering frisky horses for $10 an hour. As we cantered through the sea foam into a rose-tinged sunset, the neon discos of the Acapulco strip seemed a galaxy away.

The Camino Real Acapulco Diamante (1-800-722-6466) charges $132 per night for a standard room for two people including buffet breakfast, welcome drink and one hour of tennis. At the Acapulco Princess (1-800-223-1818), rates are $146 a night for a standard double. Both rates are good through Dec. 19. There are direct flights from Houston and Phoenix or via Mexico City. Or it's a three-hour scenic drive from Mexico City on an excellent toll road, which costs about $80 round trip in tolls.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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