In last week's installment, we took a look at the Acapulco of the 50's-80's through the lens of photographer, Slim Aarons. This week we look at Acapulco since then in our living the life of the artist travel series...
Acapulco has gone through growing pains, albeit they have stemmed from the growth of others. The first layer of icing was spread in 1967 when a computer selected the Yucatan Peninsula as an ideal place for a beach destination. Shortly after that, the Mexican government started to pour peso after peso into that part of the country, leaving out Acapulco. As of the late 1980s, Cancun (on the Yucatan) became the tourist mecca for drunk 18-year-old and middle-class Americans, and the development rapidly moved down the coast into Playa del Carmen and Tulum, stacking one large resort next to the other. (Don't get me wrong! Both Playa del Carmen and Tulum are pleasant — just keep reading!). Other destinations began to appear on the radar such as Puerto Vallarta and Ixtapa, so there was further competition.
Image showing Cancun in 1978
Image showing Cancun in 2014
Meanwhile, in the 1980s in Acapulco, they had overbuilt and kept on going in the "second Acapulco" (a stretch of coastline between Old Acapulco and Las Brisas) until it resembled Daytona Beach on steroids. The jet set was slowly leaving. In the 90's, the government built an interstate between Mexico City and Acapulco making the drive a short 3 hours, so it became a hotspot for wealthy Mexican nationals, which gives it a subtle South American/European elegance similar to Punta del Este. But for the few jet-setters who remained, this made it too "pedestrian" and they set sail, following the herd to St. Barts.
Acapulco's Golden-Zone. Check out the building directly in the center. It looks like it was built by the band, Devo.
Fortunately, there are areas in Acapulco that resemble this, and...
Military patrolling one of the worst barrios in Acapulco. Photo: AP
In the 2000s, Acapulco really began to suffer, losing its grip on the remaining foreign tourists. Why? For one thing, the media is not kind to Acapulco. Slim Aarons photography in newspapers and magazines had been replaced with grotesque pictures of murders by cartel members, touting them as happening in the tourist districts, when in reality, only one occurred, and this was because the rival cartel member was hiding out there.
ACAPULCO,MEXICO - AUGUST 1952: Two women check in at the Aeronaves De Mexico airlines in Acapulco, Mexico. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Halston and the Halstonettes in Acapulco during the Braniff press tour, 1976. Photograph by: Lynn Karlin
Braniff International Airways' advertising led by the legendary advertising genius, Mary Wells Lawrence. For reference, Peggy Olson's character from the AMC television show Mad Men was loosely based on Mary Wells Lawrence.
Flights gradually dropped off the radar (the Concorde once flew here, and Braniff International Airways introduced their third rebranding effort lead by Halston and the Halstonettes in a "Three Evenings To Remember In Acapulco" extravaganza—as of 2017, United is the only US carrier flying to ACA) as people stopped visiting. The State Department currently warns US citizens not to visit because of alleged violence from the narcos and won’t allow State Department workers to visit at all.
But for what reason? Is this DEFCOM 1 level of danger justified? Is Acapulco truly the pariah of the Pacific Coast?
We were warned not to go. Friends asked if we had packed riot gear along with our cameras and bathing suits, pleading with us to reconsider, for this adventure might be the one that gets us killed. And honestly, this freaked us out. We even found a list ranking Acapulco next to Chernobyl on the danger scale (side note: there is no radioactivity in Acapulco).
For a minute, before we experienced it, we were even worried that we were perhaps pushing the envelope too far. We thought that maybe we were headed into the super bad neighborhood of all time.
And so, did we take our lives in our hands going into the paradise of yesteryear?
Stay tuned until next week to see what we UNCOVERED...