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It's a little known fact, but Hollywood producer, casino owner, aviator, defense contractor, billionaire Texan and American icon Howard Hughes spent his last days in Acapulco, Mexico.

The official story goes that Howard Hughes died on an airplane en route to Houston. However, this seems suspect for two reasons.

First, why would Hughes suddenly and uncharacteristically want to return to his boyhood home?

Secondly, and more importantly, former staff of the Acapulco Princess have recounted publicly that Hughes died at the hotel and witnessed his lifeless body being removed.

It's likely the story of Hughes dying in the air was concocted to add to the majesty of Hughes’ legacy – the aviator and great American dies in the air on his way home to his native Texas.

Before his death, Hughes had been bouncing around the world as his physical and mental condition deteriorated, moving to the Bahamas, Vancouver, and London among other locations before settling in Acapulco, apparently due to the easy access to narcotic prescription drugs, especially codeine. During his autopsy, X-rays showed that numerous hypodermic needles had broken off in his arms.

Former Princess staff recalls that Hughes rented the top two floors, blacked out all of the windows, and made such a mess that the hotel had to renovate the upper floors. But this was no frat party gone wild. Hughes, at the time of his death, was scarcely human refusing to wear clothes and allowing his hair and fingernails grow uncontrolled year after year after year.

Howard Hughes

Who was Howard Hughes?

It’s hard to imagine a man more intertwined with the fabric of 20th century America than Howard Hughes. Hughes was born in Texas where he declared at an early age that he wanted to be the world's best aviator and movie producer. In 1924, he moved to Hollywood, California and quickly began making films. His1928 film The Racket and his 1931 film, The Front Page, were both nominated for Oscars. Hughes also gained notoriety for Hell's Angels in 1930, Scarface in 1932, and his most famous film, The Outlaw from 1941, starring Jane Russell.

During his Hollywood heyday, Hughes the playboy was seen with Hollywood’s top actresses, among them Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, and Ava Gardner.

Hughes was also famous for feats in the world of aviation. Most memorable was his massive H-4 Hercules, known pejoratively as the "Spruce Goose." After World War II, Hughes transformed his company Hughes Aircraft into one of the U.S.’s biggest defense contractors, pieces of which were eventually obtained by McDonnell Douglas, later Boeing, and Raytheon. (In 1972, Hughes even secretly helped the CIA recover a Soviet submarine which had sunk near Hawaii.)

By the late 1950's, Hughes the playboy had transformed into Hughes the neurotic. He began exhibiting clear symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and became the world's most famous recluse. Hughes was reportedly terrified of germs and was addicted to codeine and other painkillers. It has been claimed that Hughes wore Kleenex boxes as shoes and insisted that paper covered every object he touched. One hypothesis asserts that Hughes had contracted syphilis in his younger years and that much of his bizarre later behavior could be attributed to syphilis-induced insanity.

Hughes famously moved for a prolonged period to Las Vegas's Desert Inn, which he was forced to buy after the management had threatened to evict him. He later went on a shopping spree acquiring Castaways, New Frontier, Landmark, the Sands and the Silver Slipper. Hughes was instrumental in the history of Las Vegas as he was a major catalyst in its transition from a Mafia-ridden organized crime capital to the modern corporate-dominated, family-oriented sin park that it is today.

Hughes died in Acapulco at the age of 70, officially of renal failure, but more likely from a serious case of prolonged wealth, notoriety and power.

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Legend of Acapulco


The mystery of Acapulco is heightened by a local legend, first told many centuries ago in the dwellings of the indigenous Yope, and retold many times over, down to the present day. The shield of Acapulco is said to represent this story, but the link between the drawings and the narrative is a bit abstract. Perhaps that just adds to the mystery.

Many, many years ago, long before the spade-bearded Spaniards arrived at these shores, a small tribe of Yope Indians lived peacefully on the coast, fishing the azure waters, harvesting coconuts, tamarinds and mangos, and living the pleasant and peaceful life of a tropical beach culture. The beach life style was not destined to last forever. A tribe of warlike Nahuas came along to disrupt it. They chased the peaceful Yopes away from the beaches and into the hills, where life was much harder. The Nahuas then settled down to the easy life on the beaches where the Yope had been.

Not too long after the arrival of the Nahuas, a son was born to the chief. He was given the name Acatl, which means reeds. The Chief proudly entrusted him to Quetzalcóatl as his protector. The Nahuas were more restless than their predecessors, so after a while, they set off again in search of something new and different. By this time, young Acatl had turned into a handsome warrior and, as was customary among the Nahuas, headed off in search of a bride. While on the road he met and fell in love with a beautiful girl who was the daughter of a Yope chief.

By coincidence, this beautiful princess, Quiahuitl by name, was the daughter of the chief of the very tribe his father had defeated years before.

When her old man discovered the identity of his future son-in-law, he was filled with hatred and resentment. He not only refused his permission for the marriage, but he cursed the young warrior, asking the gods to punish him. Poor Acatl, miserable, returned to the place of his birth to grieve. He brooded and sobbed so much that eventually his tears became a river, which soaked his fine physique to such an extent that he melted and turned into a muddy pool. Eventually reeds grew up around this pool and were referred to as his children.

Now Quetzalcoatl eventually heard how cruelly his protégé had been treated and as punishment to the Yope Chief turned his beloved and perfectly innocent daughter, Quiahuitl, into a cloud. She floated aimlessly for a long while until eventually she came across a muddy pond with reeds growing round it.

Bitter and twisted as she was by now, she flew into a hideous rage as she recognized her lost lover's children swaying in the breeze. They should, of course, have been her children. She transformed into a torrential downpour that wrenched poor Acatl's children from the ground and left them to die in a crumpled mess. It did, however, do a good job of entwining the lovers forever in a place that came to be known as "Acapulco" -- Nahuatl for the “place where reeds were destroyed.”

This tragic tale of jealousy, intrigue, selfishness and infanticide is indeed a plot worthy of any afternoon TV drama.

Pre colonial History of Acapulco

Pre-colonial history may be no more verifiable than the “Legend of Acapulco” because the Spanish invaders – to their eternal shame and condemnation – destroyed all the records they could lay their hands on. Experts estimate that the area around Acapulco had been inhabited for 5,000 or so years before the Spaniards arrived early in the 16th century. That there was prehistoric life here is hardly surprising, in light of the agreeable climate, the lush vegetation, abundant fauna and the generosity of the sea. The material evidence consists of the usual array of bones and other artifacts, shells and seeds, all arranged so as to make human presence a certainty. The earliest communities probably had only a few inhabitants and were sparsely distributed because each needed a large territory for hunting, fishing and gathering. The high ridges around Acapulco protected these small communities from much contact with the outside world.

Palma Sola

The earliest inhabitants carved petraglyphs in nearby rocks, like Palma Sola (see photo). This relatively small pre-Columbian site may be eclipsed by more important digs elsewhere, but it is truly worth a visit. It showed that life was at least calm enough to give the locals enough freedom to do a little something other than just working to stay alive.

Around the time of King Solomon in Judah (three thousand years ago), a drastic change took place in Acapulco. A new people, which now are called the Nahua, entered deep blue bay and gave it its name.

Their society was more structured than that which it replaced, and from artifacts it seems as if they were related to the Olmecs, who dominated on the Gulf of Mexico side of the country.

Then, probably around 1200 AD came the Méxica (pronounced “MEH-she-ka”). They were distant relatives of the local residents. Each group had come from one of the seven original tribal divisions of the Nahuas, said by legend to have left the “place of the seven caves” (“Chicomoztoc”) to live in “Aztlán,” a kind of paradise. The Méxica had migrated away from Aztlán, and were instructed by their god, Huitzilopochtli, to adopt the name Mexica. In spite of this, Spanish soldiers, and then later the scholars, used the name “Aztec” (inhabitants of Aztlán) to describe the Méxica. This misnomer has been the source of great confusion. Some descendants of these indigenous peoples are still sensitive about it and reject the use of "Aztec" when applied to the rulers of central Mexico.

Unlike the Olmecs and coastal Nahuas, the Méxica were a warrior society that survived by means of conquest, enslavement and tribute. They established a large and flourishing empire in the central parts of modern Mexico, from sea to sea, with a large and well-functioning bureaucracy and system of centralized government. The dominion of the Méxica reached its height in the mid- to late 1400's. They divided what is modern day Guerrero State into seven territories, introducing a system for collecting tribute and imposing decisions of a central government on local leaders. It is said that Acapulco never came under the direct control of these people, but rather were governed by local political bosses. Without a doubt, Acapulco’s culture was strongly affected by the Tarasca, Mixteca, Zapoteca and Méxica civilizations.

The Arrival of the Spanish

Colonial Acapulco

Ten years after the last expulsion of the moors and the Jews from Spain, and ten years after the discovery of the New World, Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico with a large contingent of Spanish soldiers. Once ashore, he burned all the vessels in his fleet, signaling that for this group of conquistadores, there was no way to go back home. It was 1502. By 1521 the Spanish would have conquered all the indigenous peoples.

The advancing Spaniards stumbled across Acapulco Bay (more correctly, La Bahía de Santa Lucia). It as a perfect natural harbor for Spanish ships on the west side of the continent. Not only is Acapulco sheltered from all but worst hurricanes, but also it has a deep channel. Moreover, it was also the largest natural port on the Pacific coast. For 300 years, Acapulco reigned as the “pearl” of the Pacific. By 1534 the Spanish had discovered silver in nearby Taxco, attracting more and more settlers to the area. Acapulco’s natural harbor made the Asian trade possible, even though it took 12 days or more to cover the rough road between Mexico City and Acapulco. Acapulco was thus the point of departure east to China and the Philippines, and the western terminus of the road to Veracruz, from which ships would depart back to Mother Spain. From Acapulco ships went as far as Alaska in the north and to Peru and Chile in the South. The biggest problem remained the rough road to Mexico City, making Acapulco isolated but also semi-autonomous for many, many decades.

By the mid 1650's the galleons would depart to the orient for a full year’s round trip journey for trade goods – silks and spices and other luxuries. Much of this treasure would find its way to Spain, but Acapulco enjoyed its share of luxury goods, too, especially as the locals became more wealthy and genteel. Annually the Governor General would accompany the Viceroy of New Spain in the difficult descent from Mexico City to Acapulco, just to welcome the incoming vessels from the Orient. The ships’ cargo included silk and ceramics, jewels, ivory, cloves, pepper, tea, and cinnamon.


Sir Francis Drake  Thomas Cavendish

Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, England and Spain vied for hegemony on the high seas. Each rushed to create colonies in the New World in a race for wealth and political power. Mariners from each country found it a lucrative practice to prey upon the trading vessels of their rival, stealing the treasure and disrupting the trade. Some of these volunteers were commissioned by the crown; others – many others – were just working for themselves. These were the “pirates,” (or privateers), who have been so romanticized in story and song.

The two most bothersome English pirates were Francis Drake (later knighted) and Thomas Cavendish.

Drake was a pirate with a commission from the English crown, and a portion of his prizes went to enrich the monarch. Cavendish was a “privateer,” in that he was pestering the Spanish with the blessing of the English, but he was basically working for his own account.

The English pirates, in smaller, more nimble craft, could easily arrest the bulkier galleons, killing the crew (or capturing them into slavery) and stealing all the cargo. They equally enjoyed invading port towns like Acapulco and sacking them of everything valuable. Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California was a favorite place for the pirates to hide, out of sight of the galleons, until they came close by land. Acapulco’s bay is also hidden from view of the high seas, but sometimes it was protected by a detachment of Spanish infantry, unlike the more desolate Cabo. In 1615, Viceroy Diego Fernandez de Córdoba built a fort in Acapulco, mainly for protection against the ambushes and escapades of the pirates. This magnificent bastion, Fort San Diego, still stands in the Traditional Zone. The local residents and all the stores of trade from the Orient would fit inside the fort, safe from the raiders. The powder magazine was built in a separate and smaller fortified structure, away from the main fort, as a precaution against fire. The star-shaped Fuerte de San Diego is a great attraction, having been recently restored. It has many exhibits about different aspects of Acapulco’s history.

Part of Acapulco’s colonial history involves slave trade. Slave trading was a routine practice of the Spanish, and so Acapulco became a center of slave trade, along with all the other mercantile activity. The slaves were imported to work in the mines for silver and gold, and continued to be bought and sold well into the 19th century. Many, however, escaped, and took up residence in the mountainous parts of the coast south of Acapulco, called the “Costa Chica,” where descendants of African slaves still live.

Even though the trade with the Orient tapered off and eventually ended, Acapulco still continued to grow and prosper under Spanish rule, but always somewhat to the side, as it was so inaccessible to the big authorities who stayed in Mexico City and on the Gulf Coast.

Acapulco and Mexican Independence

Acapulco and Mexico's Independence

Mexican Independence. (Note: the “Revolution” refers to the period from 1910 to about 1921, when a populist uprising overthrew Porfirio Diaz, a Mexican dictator, and established a government that at first aspired to be a democratic regime. That is different from “Independence,” which refers to the national uprising a century earlier, in which insurgents demanded independence from Spain. As many Mexicans at the time remained loyal to the crown, this conflict had some aspects of a civil war, and continued off an on for over 11 years. In the US, the “American Revolution” and "War of American Independence” are interchangeable terms. To the Mexican ear, “revolution” and “independence” describe two entirely different events.)

Spain lost most of her colonies in the Western Hemisphere in a brief period between 1800 and 1820, more or less. Mexico -- then known still as the jewel of "New Spain" – increasingly yearned for independence from the Spanish Crown. Spain's political influence, wealth and military strength had all waned during the 18th century. The old structure fell apart definitively when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain in 1808. The colonies saw this as a perfect opportunity to declare their separation from the Crown, and most of them did. Some were able to establish their independence with relatively little fighting and bloodshed, but Spain did not give up on Mexico so easily. At the time, Mexico included its present territory, plus Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California, and parts of Colorado and Oregon. So of course, Spain put up a fight.

Miguel Hidalgo

On September 10, 1810, a priest named Manuel Hidalgo started an insurrection against the social injustice that had dispossessed all but Spain-born colonials from holding land or operating an enterprise of any kind. It was a peasant revolution.

The military engagements of 1810-1811 resulted in the capture and execution of Hidalgo by the forces loyal to Spain. General José Maria Morelos took command of the insurgent army, and in 1813, attacked Acapulco’s Fort San Diego. After a siege of five months, the fort fell to Morelos. Acapulco was important to the insurgency, as it was the only port of any consequence on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Then, in 1815, Acapulco fell back into loyalist hands for a while. Eventually, in 1821, the Spanish crown conceded independence in the Treaty of Córdoba. The Plan of Iguala, which was the document on which the treaty was based, mandated independence, a single national religion and social equality for all people.

The now independent Mexico had neither money, know-how nor ships to take up the trade with the Orient again. Acapulco slipped back into its quiet role as a big fishing village on Mexico’s southern coast.

When the Mexican Constitution was drafted in 1824, the state of Guerrero did not yet exist. It was divided up amongst the neighboring states. Finally, on October 27, 1849, the new state was created as part of a liberal reform movement spearheaded by generals Juan Álvarez and Nicolás Bravo, and opposed by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (the same Santa Anna that was ultimately defeated when Texas became independent). Over the years Santa Anna was to become president of Mexico on eleven different, non-consecutive occasions, each one punctuated by corruption and controversy. Chilpancingo was made the state capital. It had been declared the national capital by Morelos in 1813, and boasted a population of 3,000.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910


Though isolated geographically, Acapulco was in the middle of the turmoil of Mexico’s revolution. Emiliano Zapata, who was the main revolutionary figure in the south of Mexico, advocated a system of property rights in which those who worked the land should own it. This was distinctly not the philosophy of the few wealthy caciques (local political bosses), who controlled every move of their peasant underlings. Like feudal overlords, they specified when and what the peasants could plant, and even whether and to whom they should be married. They controlled all the infrastructure of the city of Acapulco and even the roads in and out. Independence, won in the 19th century, had turned to a form of servitude in the 20th.

In 1910, the world’s first socialist revolution took place. Acapulco was still its quiet, fishing-village self, relatively unaffected by the events of the previous 100 years since the trade with Asia had ended. The only international role of Acapulco was its contribution of hundreds and hundreds of young men to the banana plantations of Central America. Ships from the American companies would come by and gather them up and carry them off. Most never returned.

The great skirmishes and mass meetings of the revolutionary era took place elsewhere. Acapulco remained on the sidelines. By the early 1920’s, when most of the fighting had stopped, Acapulco remained remarkably unaffected, except for the vocabulary of socialist ideals, which was very much in vogue at the time. Even the ideological fervor subsided, just as it did in the country’s single, “revolutionary” party, which became a military dictatorship bent on conserving traditional ideals (and the wealthy, governing class).

A key figure in post Revolutionary Acapulco was Juan Escudero. As mayor of Acapulco, he worked hard for a real highway between Acapulco and Mexico City, which, once it was opened, finally made Acapulco accessible to the rest of Mexico and thus to the rest of the world.

Acapulco After the Revolution

It took more than ten years for the revolution to consolidate its political gains in an institutional way. Finally, by the mid-1930’s, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) arose as a unity party for the nation. The many old feuds amongst Acapulco’s political bosses and power brokers seemed to go away.

The 1920’s and 1930’s was also a period when the city seemed to come back to life. Luxury hotels sprang up and tourists began to arrive. The first fancy hotel was The Papagayo, which, sadly, is no more. It stood where “Parque Papagayo” is now. Other landmarks followed, like El Mirador, El Malecon, La Marina and El Club de Pesca. Old-timers still speak of with a nostalgic gleam in the eye. The “Hollywood Set,” including such stars as Lana Turner, Johnny Weismuller and John Wayne, soon made Acapulco their getaway for vacation fun.

Then, when Miguel Alemán came into office in 1946, he really pushed for accelerating the economic development of Acapulco.

The 1960’s and 1970’s were periods of student unrest and social upheaval throughout Mexico. The endemic poverty and gross inequalities of treatment between rich and poor, especially as affected the indigenous peoples, brought about the formation of a few guerrilla groups in the Guerrero countryside. The most famous is the Ejército Popular Revolucionario or EPR, which is still active today in some indigenous pueblos, and which tries to advance a communist ideology. Acapulco has been largely unaffected by such movements, at least so far.

The 1960's was also a time of great expansion. It was then that Acapulco’s “Golden Zone” was opened up, once more thanks in large part to the efforts of now ex-President Miguel Alemán, who, as National Director of Tourism, worked to expand Acapulco’s tourist infrastructure, to make it a modern resort city. Acapulco acquired fame in other countries as a touristic playground, and not just for the rich and famous, but for ordinary people as well.

Today, the tourists still come, but the port is huge now, with well over a million inhabitants, not counting visitors. Many visitors are “second home owners” and prefer to hide behind the high walls of their palatial villas in perfect anonymity. The divide between rich and poor, the new and the traditional -- that dichotomy first illustrated by the struggle of the indigenous peoples against the conquistadores, by the insurgents against the Spanish army, and by the revolutionaries against the vested interests of dictatorship -- that dichotomy continues in Acapulco’s present reality, in which high-rise condominiums soar in front of miserable neighborhoods where most people have no glass in their windows and no potable water.

A Chononlogy of Acapulco History

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To make sense of Acapulco’s geography, you need to take a look at the whole state of Guerrero. Guerrero has an area of 26,000 square miles (somewhat smaller than Austria and larger than Switzerland). The state runs for 250 miles along the coast, and extends inland 140 miles. About 3.3 million people live in Guerrero. Almost 2 million of them live in Acapulco and its immediate environs.

Guerrero is blessed with a wide variety of landscapes – from the lush tropical coast with its beaches and mangrove swamps, to the “Cloud Forest” high in the mountains, overlooking the sheltered valleys below.

Acapulco lies 268 miles directly south of Mexico City. Most of the ride is down hill, as one leaves the temperate climate of the highlands for the tropical environment of Mexico’s Pacific coast. Acapulco lies at 16.8 degrees of latitude, which places it squarely in the tropics. It is at -99 degrees of longitude, which places it a bit farther west than Austin, Texas, and a bit east of San Antonio.

Acapulco’s most spectacular geographical feature is the Sierra Madre del Sur, the mountain range that cradles the city and forms the natural amphitheater which came to be Acapulco’s bay.

El Calvario

The Coast

Guerrero’s coast is divided into two parts. The “Costa Grande” (Big Coast) extends from Acapulco west and north up to the border with the state of Michoacán. The tourist areas of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa are located on the Costa Grande just before the border. The “Costa Chica” (Little Coast) runs from Acapulco south and east down the shoreline to the border with neighboring Oaxaca. The Costa Grande is about 150 miles long, and the Costa Chica is about 100 miles long.

All along both coasts, the shoreline presents large lagoons, interspersed with rocky outcroppings (as the Sierra Madres descend to the sea with sharp ridges). These rock formations, which sometimes resemble a flying buttress from a gothic cathedral, divide up the beaches and form small coves, and sometimes very large bays. The Bay of Acapulco and the Bay of Puerto Marques are the biggest and best examples of the natural design created when mountains join the sea. The lagoons are especially revered for their peacefulness and their varied wildlife. Along the Costa Grande can be found La Laguna de Coyuca, La Laguna Mitla, El Estero Valentín, and La Laguna Valentín. Traveling east you will find La Laguna de Tres Palos (three sticks), La Laguna Tecomate and La Laguna Chautengo.

For a really pleasant excursion, plan a trip to the Laguna de Coyuca. It is right at the beach called Pie de La Cuesta, so that you can have the best of beach and lagoon. You will also find a number of good choices nearby for a place to eat. To make an outing to a place that has been left unaffected by human encroachment, try La Laguna de Mitla, where things seem to be just as they were centuries ago.

The many large, coastal lagoons were formed by water descending from numerous rivers and streams in the mountains. They brought silt with them which, once deposited at the mouth, was pushed back upstream by the ocean waves. This process creates large sand bars. During rainy season, the fresh water flows over them into the ocean, sometimes creating islands and peninsulas along the coastline. During dry season, when the freshwater flow stops, the sea rebuilds the sand bars, and many of the coastal lagoons dry up. The constantly shifting coastline makes it useless to try to erect permanent buildings in many areas. Beach restaurants are therefore either temporary structures or built up on stilts, or both.


Moving inland, north of the lagoons, lies the coastal plain. Most of it has been dedicated to agriculture. This area, which may be anywhere from 15 to 30 miles wide, provides most of the produce found in Acapulco’s open-air markets.

The Mountains

On the other side of the coastal plain are the mountains. In some places (like Acapulco proper), there is no plain, and the mountains come right down to the sea.

This mountain range, the Sierra Madre del Sur, has five peaks that rise to over 10,000 feet. A chain of ragged summits connects Cerro San Marcos (10,170ft) in the East, to Teotepec (12,150ft), which is not far from Acapulco, to Cerro Tejamil (10,460ft) near Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa.

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The whole coastline is pretty much devoted to palm trees. There is the ubiquitous Coconut Palm, one of the best plants that has ever come along. The fruit yields oil, the fiber provides matting, and the leaves offer a great roofing material. It is quite a noble specimen. Other palms include the Royal Palms -- the tall, smooth ones in the middle of the Costera Alemán with green trunks. Look for the Bottle Palm and a favorite, the Travelers Palm, which is more of a relative of the banana. Some of these specimens are native to Acapulco, but several others have been imported. But they all flourish here.

Interspersed with the stands of coconut palms are a few mango groves, which bear fruit from April to June. They are not native to the region, but prosper all over the place. Mangos are magnificent trees. The fruit matures at different speeds in various parts of the same tree.

vegetation & Planlife  in Acapulco, Guerrero

The coastal plain above and around Acapulco is described as a Savanna in the text books. In fact, it is savanna interspersed with large areas of tropical deciduous forest, a good part of which has fallen to the chain saws and machetes of despoilers. In the savanna you will find the gourd tree, whose fruit grows straight out of the trunk, and is about the size of a small melon. It is hollowed out as a water scoop for washing and drinking. The other major feature of the savanna are the mangroves, which grow all around the many lagoons in the area. They are tough, impenetrable and act as a most important protection of the land against the sea. Their exposed roots are an invaluable and impenetrable spawning ground for shrimp, fish, alligators and crocodiles. The trees themselves provide a safe breeding ground for many species of birds.

"Tropical deciduous forest" is informally called "scrub." It is a sort of low jungle that turns brown in the dry season and transforms to a glorious emerald green within a week of the first rains. This terrain requires more rain than savanna.

Chaning Acapulco Landscape

Another style of landscape is also creeping into Acapulco at a fast pace: Lush green Bermuda grass, elegant palms, small sand dunes and, in winter, green oases in the middle of the arid countryside. Men and women in small, electric carts scurry around it. Four or five such areas have sprung up in Acapulco. This new landscaping anomaly is covered here.

As the traveler moves inland, the mountains continue to rise and the scruffy forest gives way to Pines and Oaks.
These can be found beyond Atoyac, provided that poachers have not chopped them down. These areas are more temperate and provide a home to Mexico's 112 oak species -- both evergreen (Encino) and deciduous -- as well as to 39 species of pine, some with 12-inch needles and others with short stubby ones. Look out for the Ayacahuite, which can grow to 100 feet, and the Ocote Macho, almost as tall, with long gray cones and droopy needles.

The intrepid may want to venture beyond the oaks and pines into the cloud forest. This region begins at about 5,500 feet of altitude. Here the clouds (fog) keep everything damp and soggy. The terrain looks like a prehistoric landscape with tree ferns, bromeliads, orchids, begonias -- all of them adrip with moisture and with lichens on every branch. It is a stark contrast to the parched areas just down the hill.

Guerrero Tropical Savanna

A word of warning: Travelers to the cloud forest must pass through bandit country. And a variety of illicit crops are cultivated in the mountains of Guerrero. These fields are guarded very, very zealously. If the sentinels suspect a visit from the drug authorities, life as you know it could come to an end.

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Fun in Acapulco

While the Beatles were about to blow Elvis' musical empire to smithereens and change the world of music forever, Elvis was busy defending his crown making B-movies like the this classic starring a young, beautiful Ursula Andress. (The Beatles actually went to see this movie when they came to the States in 1963.) Like most of Elvis' movies, the production is faux-everything from beginning to end. The movie contains some good numbers. "Bossa Nova Baby" is one, if you overlook that the Bossa Nova was native to a different country, several thousand miles away. Another is "I think I'm Gonna Like It Here." The film is amusing, but with a contrived unbelievable plot. "Elvis attitude" will carry you though to the end.

The movie was filmed at the Villa Vera Spa & Resort. The grand finale takes place at La Quebrada. Apparently, the movie was a challenge for both stars. Andress had not yet learned English. Elvis had to learn some of his lyrics in Spanish. Rumor has it that Elvis never actually visited Acapulco during his lifetime, but shot the entire film on a Hollywood sound stage.

The story begins with Elvis working as a deck hand aboard a boat that has just pulled into the port. Elvis, because he's Elvis, is being hit on by the owner's hot, blonde under-aged daughter whom he wisely rebuffs. When Elvis bumps into her at a local nightclub, and then her father walks in, trouble begins. She blames Elvis for bringing her to club and buying her drinks. He is fired on the spot and left stranded in Acapulco. But does Elvis worry that he's in a foreign country with no money? Not a chance. He's Elvis. This is about the time all the fun starts. Instead of worrying, he starts flirting with a beautiful female matador and breaks into a song.

Elvis is befriended by a young boy, an experienced hustler who persuades Elvis to let him be his manager. Together they team up to get Elvis singing gigs around town at night while Elvis works as a life guard at a luxury hotel during the day. It's during his lifeguard work that he meets the second love-interest, Ursula Andress. She is in Acapulco with her father to escape revolution in Europe. Both were royalty, but now work in the kitchen. Her father, the head chef, immediately dreams that his daughter will marry Elvis so that they can immigrate to the United States. Elvis crosses paths with the head lifeguard, a star cliff diver and boyfriend of Andress. Needless to say, they immediately dislike each other.

The plot thickens as we receive clues about why Elvis's character is afraid of heights - he was once a circus performer who dropped his brother during a performance. The movie goes on with both women hitting on Elvis and and Elvis taking it all in stride, being the true player that he is. Sooner or later, surprise, surprise, Elvis fights the lifeguard, knocking him out and stealing his girlfriend.

The movie ends with Elvis performing a daring cliff dive in the lifeguard's place, defeating his fear of heights, and winning the heart of Andress and the respect of his adversary (who picks up on the female matador). Elvis adopts the young Mexican boy. Total closure and happy ending.

The best part of the movie is to see how Acapulco looked back in 1963. The Golden Zone, as it is today, didn't even exist. It is amazing what 40 years can bring. Anyway, there's lot's of fun to be had in Acapulco to be sure.

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Illegal Border Crosssing

"Sueño Americano" means "American Dream." Maybe it should include "Sueño Canadiense" (Canadian dream), since the dream really amounts to heading north to make money and / or escape a bad situation at home. In Acapulco, it is very common to meet locals that have gone to the U.S. or Canada to work (both legally and illegally). It also seems a large number of the locals you meet have vague plans to do so themselves one day.

Immigration Facts

The myth in the US is that everyone in Mexico would like to be working in the US, and, of course, that is far from true. In fact, most legal visitors to the US from Mexico arrive because they have friends, family, study programs, special skills or abilities, and other legitimate reasons to enter. This fact is not articulated in the horrendous statistics thrown about in the American media. Even more to the point, the press finds it more sensational to make Mexican immigration sound like an uncontrollable plague of locusts. In truth, even those who cross illegally into the US and Canada, eventually return home. Nevertheless, the long border and the proximity of Mexico to the US invariably spawns illegal migration -- in both directions.

  • In a 2002 survey, of the 32.5 million foreign-born U.S. residents, some 30 percent were of Mexican origin.
  • Mexico is the largest source of undocumented immigrants. There were an estimated 9.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States as of March 2002. More than one in every two Mexican immigrants is an illegal, compared with one in about six for other foreign born residents.
  • Mexicans represent 20% of the legal immigrants living in the US, or one in five.


Although publications like the CIA World Factbook state a 2003 Mexican unemployment rate of 3.3%, the methodology used is suspect. Anyone who has spent a day or two in Mexico can see that it is much higher than that. They also understate underemployment at 25%, which is undoubtedly close to double that percentage, or more.

It is also not difficult to understand why the private sector in the US looks the other way. Private businesses
do quite well with a source of low-cost labor. Much of the cost is passed along to taxpayers in the form of lost income and social security taxes and public welfare services.

The US dollars immigrants send home contribute ultimately to help the government service its large foreign debt, estimated at $160 billion (about 20% of GDP). Remittances from Mexican workers in the US -- both legal and illegal -- are Mexico's second largest source of foreign exchange (after petroleum exports). In the financial crisis of 2008-2010, the drop in illegal immigration from Mexico (and the consequential reduction of the inflow of dollars to the economy) contributed to financial austerity at the governmental level. Of course, other factors, like the drop in demand for petroleum, also weighed heavily in creating the adverse situation. Worse still, the very rich in Mexico -- mainly top-level entrepreneurs and politicians -- fled the peso, buying assets denominated in dollars, with the result that the peso depreciated substantially.

Nevertheless, the Mexican government and economy benefits greatly from the export of local labor -- both legal and illegal -- to the US. A 1990 study found that Mexico’s Gross National Product (GNP) rose by between $2.69 and $3.17 for every dollar Mexican households received from workers in the United States. In 2003 alone, Mexican immigrants living in the US sent home some $11 billion.

During the previous Bush administration, the government in Mexico published literature about how to cross the border safely and responsibly, even if illegally. The page to the right contains advice on what to do in case of capture: "Your Rights: To know where you are being held. To ask that you are allowed to communicate with a representative of the nearest Mexican Consulate in order to receive help. Don't make statements on the record or sign any documents, especially if they are in English, without access to a defense lawyer or a representative
of the Mexican Consulate." In Mexico, people that cross illegally are known as mojados (roughly, "wetbacks") because many literally get wet crossing the Rio Grande.

Mexican Immigrants

Mexican Dream

The press has not given much attention to the "Mexican Dream," which describes the growing number of Americans and Canadians who move to Mexico. Many come because their pensions do not give them a dignified existence in the US, but in Mexico one can live comfortably. According to one estimate, the number of US nationals living in Mexico is around 500,000. Another is more conservative, placing it at 150,000. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Many American expatriates apply for formal residence (temporary or permanent), which is readily available for pensioners or investors who can live without taking employment from locals. Many just come and go with 6-month tourist cards, which are easy to arrange at the time of entry.

Most US expatriates in Mexico have settled in Baja California, Guadalajara (especially the temperate Lago Chapala area), Mexico City and environs(like San Miguel de Allende). On the Pacific coast, many more expats live in Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos than in Acapulco. Acapulco has attracted its share of the "upper crust." A large proportion of the multi-million dollar villas in Acapulco's luxurious Las Brisas area are held in special trust arrangements (called "fidecomisos") for wealthy Americans and Canadians.

So, if it is true that Mexicans have made inroads in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the gringos are moving to Baja California and some of Mexico's best colonial and beach areas. This is something you can expect from peaceful, neighboring countries. These trends seem to work in both directions.

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Mexico, glad to say, has modernized its immigration system. Now the rules and requirements are posted on the Immigration Department's website at: A section of the website is in English:

Where do you go in Acapulco?

Acapulco's Immigration Office

Instituto Nacional de Migracion located at Juan Sebastian Elcano #1 Fracc. Costa Azul. It's located across the street from the Cici.

Tourist Visas for Mexico

If your are from one of the larger English-speaking countries (like the US, Canada, UK, Australia or New Zealand) obtaining a tourist visa to enter Mexico is so easy that it is hardly worth fretting over. The tourist visa is called an FMT visa (which stands for Forma Migratoria para Turista). As a tourist planning to stay only a few weeks, all you need to do is show up with a passport. The era of entering Mexico with just a driver’s license and a birth certificate is over.

Citizens of the following countries can show up at a port of entry with a passport, unannounced, and enter: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, EU, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Iceland, Japan, Singapore, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.

Even if you are arriving by land, that is, walking or driving across the border from the US or arriving by international bus, it is recommended to ask for a tourist card. Though the authorities may just wave you through, the tourist card is your proof of lawful entry, and could be useful later on. The card is issued for the length of time you declare to be your intention to stay, up to 180 days.

If you are unsure of how long you want to stay, request politely for the maximum time on your tourist card (FMT visa). This is 180 days. How much time the official gives you on your visa is a matter of complete discretion, so it is best to be presentable and on your best behavior. Whatever the time granted on the visa or tourist card, plan to exit comfortably before the expiration. If you want more time, just re-enter. At some border locations you do not actually have to exit to obtain a new card, but rather, just appear and request a new FMT. Alternatively, you can request a renewal-extension of time at an immigration office inside the country, but extensions are not always granted, and there are fees to pay.

Student Visas for Mexico

While tourist visas are easy to get and largely hassle free, other visas are considerably more complicated. For starters, if you're planning on studying in Mexico, there is a visa especially for students. Sometimes even the school officials advise students to come in as tourists, just to avoid the bureaucratic headache of a student visa. A good strategy is to enter Mexico first as a tourist and then apply for the student visa at a local immigration office. This seems to work more smoothly than trying to make things happen through a Mexican consulate abroad.

The requirements for a student visa are an acceptance letter from a Mexican university; numerous passport photographs; a letter of proof of financial solvency (which is for a student is about $350 USD per month); a passport; possibly a certificate of good health; and possibly a registration (within 30 days) at the National Registry of Foreign Citizens in Mexico City. It is the "Oficina del Registro Nacional de Extranjeros" Instituto Nacional de Migracion, on Av. Chapultepec No. 284 Esq. Glorieta Insurgentes, Colonia Roma,C.P. 06700.

Resident Visas for Mexico FM2 & FM3

For those who want to stay a while, but don’t want the burden of leaving the country every 6 months, there are the FM2 and FM3 visas. Generally you must fist get your FM3, wait five years, then apply for your FM2, but most stop at the FM3 because it has some practical advantages over its higher ranking counterpart.

As the holder of an FM3 you are considered a non-immigrant resident. You can stay without going to the border every 6 months for a new one. You can have a car with foreign plates and you can come and go as you please. The right to have a foreign plated car is great because you don't have to pay the tenencia (the annual car tax which is assessed according to the value of your car), which can be expensive.

In order to obtain an FM3, you need:

You have to renew the FM3 each year for a minimum of five years. At the end of the 5 years, you can upgrade to the FM2 or continue with a new FM3.

For the FM2, you need pretty much the same things that you would for the FM3, but you get a different set of rights. After 5 years of this visa you basically get your Mexican Green card that gives you all the rights of a Mexican citizen save the right to vote. Two big disadvantages are that you must reside in the country a majority of the year and you can no longer have a car with foreign plates. However, you can work in almost any job.

Photograph Requirements

Before processing any paperwork, be careful to confirm the number, size, color and poses of the photographs required. These rules change often. Sometimes the size is "passport" (3.5 cm x 4.5 cm) other times "infantil" (2 cm x 3 cm). The number and poses can vary as well, according to the procedure. Two frontal and one right profile are the minimum requirements, but more may be requested. Color photos are usually required.

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These tips help you avoid a few pitfalls of traveling to and from Mexico.

Take the Minimum

Take the minimum with you. If this is your first trip to a Mexico beach location, you will be astounded at how well you will do with only a couple of bathing suits and tops. Everyone navigates in "flip-flops" (called "chanclas" in Acapulco). If you need a pair, they sell for a dollar or two at the super markets and other stores all over town. There is no need to import a bunch of them. You may want a couple of "nice" changes of clothes for less casual outings, but that's about it. Use the hotel laundry every couple of days, and you will be fine. Unless a formal event has been planned (like a wedding or an upscale business meeting), men will not need a jacket and tie. Women can leave long dresses and high heels behind. The most that even the fancy nightclubs require is "elegant casual" (cocktail dresses for the ladies and neat trousers and crisp shirt for the men). If you are boarding an airplane in a cold climate, try to leave your overcoat in the car and "tough it" to and from the terminal. There's no need to schlep an overcoat all the way to Acapulco and back again. The benefits of minimalist thinking are: less to carry on the way down, and more room for stuff you might buy to take home.

Secure Your Money and Documents

Money and documents need to be secure. Take with you (or buy) a secure bag (with zipper closure) or "waist pack" (called a "cangurera" in Acapulco). Take your passport, a credit card and your bank debit card. Your drivers' license may be useful as an ID, so you can leave the passport under lock and key in the hotel. Take photocopies of everything, front and back, and keep them in a separate place. Be sure to call the credit card company in advance and advise them of your destination and the length of your stay, so they will not decline your charges, thinking the card has been stolen. You should travel with enough cash to get to the hotel safely and a little more besides, just for peace of mind. (Once settled in the hotel, use the bank card to get more cash as you need it. ATM machines (called "cajeros") are plentiful in Acapulco. They accept a broad range of credit and debit cards.) Once you clear customs, consciously put your documents in your secure bag or pack and transfer them to your hotel safe deposit box (or in-room safe) when you arrive at the hotel. You can change a small amount of money at the hotel to pay for taxis, if they are unhappy taking dollars. After that, just withdraw money from the ATM machines (which will give you pesos) to last a couple of days. There is no safer place for your cash than in your bank, and you will receive your money at a more favorable exchange rate than that charged at money exchanges. Pay for things with the credit card whenever possible. You will get an even better exchange rate on credit card charges than on changing dollars to pesos.

Take Your Money With You

Money, plastic and cash can not be left lying around in the hotel room, even in the fanciest hotels. The in-room safes and hotel safety deposit boxes are secure, but nowhere else is. If you use the front desk safe (rather than a safe deposit box), ask for a receipt. If something is stolen from the room, there will not likely be a big investigation. Cash and plastic are more secure on your person than anywhere else except the in-room safes and hotel depositories. If you plan to be on the public beaches or riding the city buses, take a minimum of cash and no plastic with you. Armed robberies are more infrequent in Acapulco than in the larger US cities, but there is no reason to take unnecessary risks on your vacation.

Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen

If you’re not lucky enough to sport a shade of Mexican brown or black on your skin, but rather show the pasty white, dead fish color of the far North, do not venture into the sun for more than five minutes without sunscreen. Also remember to use sunglasses that block all forms of harmful ultraviolet light. Remember, Acapulco is located well inside the Tropic of Cancer. Sunscreen can be bought all over town and on the beach in all types and shades. For the balding or receding hairline, a hat is a must. Even the scalp where the hair is parted can sizzle quickly.

Ten Pesos is Worth a Bit Less than One Dollar

When converting between pesos and US dollars for small purchases, just drop a zero and deduct a bit more. Even though the exchange rate may be at around 11 or 12 pesos to the dollar at the moment, this allows for quick math. If you're from Europe, Britain, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, well, you'll have to do it the old fashioned way and do some real math. At 12 pesos to the dollar, $30 pesos is $2.50, $50 pesos is about $4, and $100 pesos is $8.33.

Always Bargain

Your favorite word should be "demasiado" (day-mah-see-AH-dough), which means "too much". It's a well known fact that there are two prices for just about everything in Mexico; the tourist price and the regular price. The key to getting the latter and avoiding the former is to know what the real price of things is and when you should bargain. With the exception of the supermarkets, restaurants, and "big box" stores, you'll need to bargain for most goods or services. Before entering a taxi, ask what the fare is to where you are going. If the driver sizes you up and says "50 pesos," the fare is probably $40. And so on.

Asking for the Check

When in a restaurant and ready to leave, wave to your attendant and do one of two things: either say (or mime) "la cuenta, por favor" (pronounced la-KWEN-tah-pour-fah-VOHR); or just make a hand gesture as if writing on an imaginary piece of paper. This is universally understood in all of Mexico for "bring the check."

Saying "No" and "Go Away"

In all places, the presence of tourists attracts others looking for an opportunity. The key is to say "no" without being offensive. If someone offers your something you don't want, a polite "no gracias" with a smile will normally do. If the individual persists, a second "no gracias" might be in order, perhaps with just half a smile. If this does not work, say "no gracias" sternly for a third time and use a most useful hand gesture: a slow, side-to-side motion with your index finger (palm down), the way grade school teachers used to do. This is also the best signal to use on the street when a taxi driver or other person out of earshot honks or waves to try to get your attention. Almost always the issue will be resolved at one of these three levels. In extreme cases, change tactics to the more direct "no moleste" (NO mo-LES-tay), or if to more than one person, "no molesten" (NO mo-LES-tayn). Both mean "don't bother me."

Montezuma's Revenge

Most likely if anything is going to go wrong on your trip, other than a bad hangover or a sunburn, this will be it. Montezuma's Revenge can be mild, or it can put you right down in bed with grinding stomach cramps. If you get a really mild case, you can just ignore it. If it threatens to take you out of action, look for Lomotil at a pharmacy. It is a "slow you down" pill that does not require a prescription. For worse cases, see a doctor right away. Early treatment makes for an earlier cure, and salvages more vacation time. You are likely to be advised to take a quinolone antibiotic like ciprofloxacin (Cipro) 500 mg twice daily or levofloxacin (Levaquin) 500 mg once daily for three days.

Just Say No

In Acapulco, the one thing you do not want to be accused of is taking illegal drugs. It is a free-wheeling sort of place, and you might see some people doing things that you might think is tolerated. It is not. Being detained with as little as a joint will spoil your vacation. Getting caught with anything more serious can spoil your whole year or even longer. Given the intense scrutiny for drugs at the borders, departing the US with any illegal substance is idiotic. Buying illegal substances once inside the country is lunacy. Just say "no."

Where to get more info

For more information, stay right here at RealAcapulco, naturally. There is a wealth of info hidden in the nooks and crannies of RealAcapulco that you're likely to find useful. Even it if it's not all that useful, it might be interesting.

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Sunday February 6, 2005 was a historic day. Not only was it super bowl Sunday in the U.S. where the New England Patriots were about to become a football dynasty, but it was also a day when Mexico held a series of state elections with major national significance. Gubernatorial elections were held in three states including the state of Guerrero (the state in which Acapulco represents the largest population center).

The gubernatorial election pitted two former mayors against each other. The ruling PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) fielded the former mayor of the state capital, Chilpancingo, Hector Astudillo Flores. His coalition was organized under the banner of "Todos por Guerrero" and included the the PVE (green party) and PT (workers' party). Against him was arrayed former Acapulco mayor Carlos Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo of the challenger PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática), together with Convergencia and the PRS (socialist party). Their slogan was "Guerrero Será Mejor."


What made this election so important is that the state of Guerrero had been considered one of Mexico's most backward states, stubbornly clinging to a political past of heavy-handed, single-party-rule by the PRI. Indeed, since the Mexican Revolution, there had never been a governor from a party other the PRI in the state of Guerrero. If the PRD were to win, it would not only break the PRI's 76 year stranglehold on the state, but would lead to a shakeup of power and a transfer of wealth from the entrenched elites.

The months leading up to the election were amazing. It was clear that the PRI was doing everything it could to cling to power. Astudillo's campaign propaganda was everywhere. It was impossible to turn on the radio or walk down the street without hearing his voice or seeing his face.

Indeed, most pollsters had the two candidates in a dead heat. The PRI had always excelled at winning tight races by taking just the right steps at the last minute, especially at the polling places. Most pundits were just assuming the PRI would emerge victorious.

Then Zeferino closed his campaign in Acapulco's Zocalo, a week before the election. The enormous crowd created a swell of energy in its massive show of support. Voter after voter explained that 2005 was the year that they would finally "sack the PRI."

Zeferino's campaign used a big Z, made to look like the mark of Zorro (and a lot of people actually showed up in zorro masks and capes). Astudillo used the symbol superman wore on the front of his tights replacing the big S with a Big A. He also used another curious design, a big A in a circle that looked uncomfortably close to an anarchy emblem.

The PRD's message was clear: "The PRI will say and do anything to remain in power. They're corrupt, they've mismanaged the state for decades. The time has come to throw them out."

The PRI's message was not so clear. They ran on some vague plan to reduce people's electricity bills. They had some catchy tunes instead, like "Astudillo más empleo, más empleo Astudillo...")

It was impressive how serious the local population had become about about electoral politics, where the tradition of vote buying had become an art form. Acapulco, the undisputed king of party towns, even respected the ley seca (dry law), which meant that no alcohol could be served or sold from the Saturday night before the Sunday election until the polls closed.

When election day came, it was clear that the PRD was on the way to an impressive victory, and that the PRI was on the way out. The PRI's reliance on the traditional tactics of carrot and stick, rather than on the political message, proved to be a mistake. The handwriting was on the wall, and the populace seemed determined that 2005 would be the year of change. The vote would be, by local standards, relatively clean. There was nothing the PRI could do to change the outcome.

What was supposed to be a close election turned out to be a a bitter defeat for the PRI. Astudillo even lost his home city of Chilpancingo to the Zeferino express. In Acapulco, the PRI was simply overrun by the left-leaning PRD. The PAN (Partido de Acción Nacional), the party of then-president Vicente Fox (Mexico's conservative party somewhat akin to the Republican Party in the US), pulled only 1% of the vote, proving that Guerrero stood firmly on the political left. The final results of the historic election were: PRD 55% (585,000 votes), PRI 42% (447,000 votes), PAN 1% (11,000 votes). The PRD swept the state except for a few traditional areas, like Taxco.

In retrospect, it is no surprise that the polls were so wrong. Many voters felt they had to say in public that they were going to vote for the PRI, as the party had a way of being intimidating. In private the voters would quietly admit that they were really planning to support the PRD.

René Juarez

The PRI's loss in Guerrero was significant. Not only was it in many ways a final step in Mexico's translation to a true multi-party democracy, but the victory paved the way for the PRD in the national elections and for its standard bearer, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The PRD's win in Guerrero could be compared to a win by the Democrats for the statehouse in a southern state, like South Carolina. Of itself, it would be important locally, but its main implication would be that a major political shift was underway, with possible consequences at the national level.

In the political Landscape of Guerrero. There are: 10 Federal Districts, 28 Local Districts, 77 Municipalities, and 2,782 Sections. As of June 2003, there were 1,907,079 registered voters (907,979 men and 999,100 women). Source: Lista Nominal. The total population of Guerrero was 3,079,649, (1,491,287 men and 1,588,362 women). Source: XII Censo General de Población y Vivienda 2000, INEGI.

Election Resuls

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200 pesos

Mexico's currency is the "Peso." It comes in coin denominations of 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 peso, 2 pesos, 5 pesos, 10 pesos, and 20 pesos. Except for the half-peso coin, the "cents" denominations are rare. Folding money comes in $20, $50, $100, $200, $500 and $1,000.

Peso means "weight" in English. It's not hard to see that the peso got its name from the weight of the metal that made up the coin. The Mexican Peso was inspired by colonial Spanish silver bullion, which was cast into coins worth "ocho reales," and became known as "pieces of eight." They were the obsession of the pirates of the day, and the model on which the US silver dollar was based.

As in the the US, Mexico uses the "$" to proceed the peso. Canada uses "C$." This can lead to some confusion over price, particularly because in Acapulco sometimes prices are quoted in US dollars. The recognized code for the Mexican Peso is "MXN."

The $20 and $50 peso notes are indispensable. It is often difficult for stores, taxi cabs and buses to change a $200 peso note, and changing a $500 bill is often impossible. It is also useful to keep a lot of coins in smaller peso denominations: 1, 2, 5 and 10. These work well on the buses, and are important when it comes time to put together a tip.

Be aware that the $500 peso note and the $50 peso note are both of a reddish color and can be confused, especially in the older version of the bills. The $20 (light blue) and $200 (light green) sometimes are confused as well. The smaller denomination bills are of a different size than the larger ones ($100 and up).

The value of the Mexican Peso has been remarkably steady for several years. With Mexico's participation in the North American Free Trade Areas (NAFTA) and its ever-closer relationship to the US economy and currency, Mexico has avoided the unstable fluctuations of the more distant past. The peso weakened somewhat in 2007 with a drop in remittances from abroad, a drop in oil exports, and more capital outflows by Mexico's very rich. It remains at about 12 to the dollar as of 2010, as compared with 10 to the dollar seven years earlier.

By 1993, the Mexican economy had been struggling with high domestic inflation for several years. One adjustment measure was to create a new currency called the "Nuevo Peso," which was worth 1000 of the old pesos. By 1996, the "Nuevo" was dropped. The currency collapse of 1993 was no small matter, as there were fears that it could spread to other counties and to the global economy. This was nicknamed "the Tequila effect." A loan of $20 billion from the United States, though controversial at the time, proved to be effective to keep the Tequila Effect from causing hangovers in Mexico and in the rest of the world.

Exchanging money in Acapulco is simple. Go to any bank or money exchange. Shop around for rates. Each establishment sets them as it pleases. Some banks are chronically more stingy than others. Some of the little exchange houses in the Golden Zone offer good rates, but not all of them do, so shop around. Exchange houses are hard to miss, with their flags blazing and the word "Currency Exchange" plastered all over the front. In Spanish, they're known as "casas de cambio." In Spanish the exchange rate is called the "tipo de cambio" and "divisas" is the word used for foreign currency or its exchange.

There are two different exchange rates for each currency pair: one at which the bank or exchange house sells pesos to you (i.e., they are buying your dollars or whatever; you are "going into" pesos), and a rate at which they buy your pesos from you, paying with US dollars or other currency of your choice (i.e., you are "going out of" pesos, "into" foreign currency). The terms "buy" and "sell" can be confusing because every exchange transaction is simultaneously a sale of money by one party and a purchase of money by the other. To keep this straight, look at the quoted rate: if it is something like $12.50, it means the value, in pesos, of a dollar. The "sale" price quote ("venta") means the number of pesos they will sell you in exchange for a dollar. The "buy" price quote ("compra") means that they purchase the pesos from you, and pay you in dollars. But instead of giving you the dollar price of a peso (which would be $0.08 USD at 12.5 to the dollar), they quote the peso value of the dollar they give you. This makes it much easier to compare the two rates and the "spread" between them. The peso-dollar "sell" rate is always lower than the "buy" rate. The spread is usually in the range of 50 to 80 cents of a peso. Thus, at a bank you might see: "Venta $12.50 / Compra $13.20."

An example will help to clarify: Suppose you have $100 USD and the peso-dollar rate is 12.50 pesos to the dollar. Using their "sell" rate, the bank or exchange will give you $1,250 MXN for your $100 USD. At the end of your trip, suppose you have the same amount left over, $1,250 pesos, and want to convert back to dollars as you leave the country. Also suppose that the exchange rates have not fluctuated since you first bought your pesos. The peso-dollar price used for this second transaction is not the $12.50 "sell rate", but rather the "buy rate," which we can suppose is $13.20. So the same number of pesos that they sold you for $100 USD will now net you only $94.70 in the reverse transaction. The $5.30 that you did not receive back is what the exchange house or bank will put in its own pocket. If the turnaround time on the money was a week, the "house" makes 5.3% a week on its money, or a whopping 1366% per year (assuming all their money goes to work all the time). The exchange houses often boast that they "charge no commission" on their transactions. They do not need to, since they are brokers, buying at one price and selling at another.

Why should you use your credit card whenever possible? You can get the best possible exchange rate if your bank just passes the charges through without piling on extra fees. When you make a peso charge on your dollar-denominated credit card, the Mexican intermediary bank pays your peso obligation to the vendor. Then it bills your bank for that charge, in dollars, through the electronic bank card clearing system. The Mexican intermediary bank must convert the amount of the payment by "going out of pesos into dollars." That implies the higher of the two exchange rates, the "buy" rate. If your bank does not impose extra fees or keep the exchange variation for itself, then you will be receiving, in effect, the dollar purchase rate, the higher one, for the charges in pesos on your credit card. In the example above, you will have spent, say, $1,250 MXN, which is $100 USD worth of pesos (using the "sell" rate). But the charge will appear on you statement as $94.70. The person who pockets the difference between the two rates is you, not the exchange house or bank, (assuming, as always, that your bank is one of the ones that allow the customer to keep the exchange earnings without taking it for itself).

Exchange rates fluctuate. Usually the fluctuation is not drastic over the period of an average vacation, but it can be. Typically, during tourist seasons, the peso strengthens a little, as more dollars come into the market, with the result that the value of the dollar in peso terms slips a little. During off season, the reverse takes place as dollars gradually become relatively more scarce. Lots of other factors affect the rates. Two days after pay day in the US, dollars flow in via wire to local families, who make long lines at the bank to receive their cash. This causes the peso to strengthen ever so slightly. When there is a financial crisis and the rich and powerful flee the peso for the dollar, the peso weakens, as more pesos are chasing fewer dollars in the markets. Knowing if there is a pressure up or down is useful. In a strengthening peso market, it is best to convert early out of dollars. In a weakening peso market, it is best to convert as late as possible. Cash conversions are early: You do the conversion before you spend. Credit card conversions are late: the rate is set when the card clears, which can be some time after the expenditure was made.