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Hotel Guide

The Traditional Zone

Acapulco was not always a tourist town. In 1920, when it was a village of only a couple thousand inhabitants, Acapulco was visited by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. His glowing reports back home put Acapulco on the map for Europe’s genteel class. This lasted for several years. The first tourist hotel went up in 1933 when phase one of El Mirador, consisting of 12 rooms, came into the skyline above La Quebrada. Then, Texas tycoon Albert B. Pullen came to town and built several other hotels and shops in the oldest section. In 1939 the “La Marina” hotel went up, placed by Carlos Lazo, its designer, to have the natural ventilation of the dominant breezes off the water.

For many years, Acapulco remained essentially a fishing village with a bit of tourism, and a handful of hotels down in the center of town. Then in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, Hollywood discovered the quiet bay. Hotels like Los Flamingos and Hotel Caleta went up in the area between Roqueta Island and the main plaza. Rocky terrain kept development from venturing to the east portion of the bay. The town essentially ended before the place where Parque Papagayo is now. That land, previously a large estate, was for a brief period, the airport.
This part of town today is called the “Traditional Zone” of Acapulco, or “Acapulco Náutico.”

The Golden Zone

By the 1950’s a few developers had dreams to build farther away from downtown towards the other side of the bay. Before the current coastal road was cleared and built, only a few elegant hotels rose up in the exclusive residential areas far away from town, on “the other side” of Parque Papagayo. One of the most notable was the hotel Villa Vera. Today the “old coastal road” passes in front of it, and it sits high on the slope looking out to the bay in what is now the “Club Deportivo” neighborhood. In earlier days it was a refuge, an almost private hotel where some Hollywood stars, like Elizabeth Taylor and Bridgette Bardot, would come to be free from crowds of noisy fans. Down below the Villa Vera, near the water, the Hotel El Presidente went up in newly reclaimed land in what today is the “Golden Zone.” This marked the beginning of a boom in tourism for Acapulco, taking it into the decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Farther down the coastal road the Hotel Elcano went up, followed by another, yet more distant neighbor, the Tropicano in what is now Costa Azul.

Thus, the “Golden Zone” extends from Parque Papagayo in the central part of the bay to the Naval Base at the extreme eastern edge of the bay. From there, the road climbs up and over the ridge to Puerto Marqués and newer developments on the other side.

Las Brisas

The area of transition from the “Golden Zone” to the other side is called “Las Brisas.” This is because, years earlier, even before the boom in the “Golden Zone,” local architect Jorge Madrigal conceived an ambitious project to build a luxury resort there, which he called “Las Brisas.” He designed the (then) single-level resort to conform to the topography of the cliffs above the bay. Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house for that area (but it was never built), and many other prominent architects constructed elaborate villas for the wealthy. Later, the Shah of Iran would build two of them there. Since then, several other hotels have joined Las Brisas in this beautiful zone of the city, some with views to old Acapulco, and others looking out towards Puerto Marqués: Hotel Encanto, Camino Real and Hotel Park Royal.

The Diamond Zone

Billionaire John Paul Getty came to Acapulco and bought land along the coast, away from the Traditional Zone, away from the Golden Zone, and even remote from Puerto Marqués. After his death, the property was purchased by the company that has become the Fairmont Hotel chain. They built two golf courses and two top-level hotels on the land: The Acapulco Princess and the Pierre Marques. In 2010 the group added a third hotel, the Fairmont Pearl, and completely re-engineered one of the golf courses. A number of other luxury resorts sprung up around the Fairmont center, most notably the Grand Mayan, which, together with a large number of related properties (mainly time-share developments), dominates the coastline to the east of the Fairmont properties. Beyond lies the International Airport and the road down the coast to Barra Vieja and beyond.

This area came to be known as the “Diamond Zone” – implying an upgrade from the “Golden Zone.” The toll road from Mexico City to Acapulco has an extension that brings visitors directly to the Diamond Zone without having to drive through the older parts of Acapulco. Thus, the area has taken on a personality of its own, characterized largely by high-end tourism, centered on the several hotels spread out down Revolcadero beach.

Three Kinds of Plans

No matter which zone your hotel is in, it will probably specify a “plan” as part of the room rate. Here is what that means:

  • European Plan: You get the room and nothing more. All meals, drinks and activities are extra.
  • American Plan: Also called Full Pension or Full Board, this is the room, plus three meals a day at no additional charge. Drinks and activities are extra. The “Modified American Plan” offers two meals along with the room: breakfast and either lunch or dinner. In Europe this is called “Half Pension” or “Half Board.”
  • All-Inclusive Plan: This is the room, plus all drinks, meals, taxes, tips and activities. Usually motorized water sports (like skiing and diving) are excluded from the package.

The System of Stars

Mexican Hotels often provide guests with their ranking according to a number of stars, diamonds or circles, from 1 to 5. (Sometimes a half star is added to indicate that the place is a bit better than the other hotels of the same ranking, but still not into the next higher category. Also, sometimes a “sixth star” is added by claiming that the hotel is “Grand Turismo.”) Be sure to notice the claim made for the hotel on the website, in the publication, or on the premises of the hotel itself. Then consider what this is supposed to mean. Do not take the ranking at face value. In Mexico, stars, circles or diamonds have several different meanings:

  • Self-Awarded. Virtually all hotels in the three-star category and upwards will award themselves a star rating, usually four or five, and publish it on their website and in the promotional literature. These stars do not represent an independent judgment of anybody. Therefore, they deserve to be regarded skeptically.
  • Website-Awarded. Almost as self-serving as the self-awarded stars are those given by some websites. If they are set up to take reservations, they might have given stars to the hotels they work with in order to steer traffic in their direction and hence generate a commission. Not all such sites behave this way, but the traveler should be wary. Sites mainly structured to be informational rather than commercial may assign ratings somewhat more reliably. They might base the number of stars on guest feedback, for example, or on its own (long-distance) assessment of how “good” the hotel seems to be from the basic write-up. It is not an eye-witness report. Be wary of “authorities” who hide the fact that the rating system is their own or what goes into it.
  • “Official” Certifications. In Mexico, the official tourism authorities (mainly SECTUR, the “Secretary of Tourism”) monitor hotels and periodically publish data on them. Since 1992, the government has been out of the quality rating business. They merely report volume of business (in pesos) and occupancy percentages. A non-profit entity called Calidad Mexicana Certificada, AC (nicknamed “Calmecac”) certifies hotels with a system of “Star’s and Diamond’s” [sic]. Stars are for physical plant and diamonds are for service. This is an independent organization, and their certification system is consistent and reliable throughout Mexico. Hotels seeking classification pay the fees and costs of the process and are then subjected to a series of rigorous audits and inspections to determine their ranking. The lowest is “uncertified” and then certified hotels go upwards with from 1 to 5 stars and 1 to 5 diamonds. The criteria for each will be explained on the Calmecac website ( as soon as they manage to put the page up. Certifications already given to Acapulco hotels can be found at As of mid-2010, just 3 Acapulco hotels have gone to the trouble of completing certification: Alba Towers Suites and Bungalows, Torres Gemelas, and Casa Inn (which earned 4 stars and 3 diamonds). Las Brisas and Camino Real have been “pre-classified,” each with 5 stars and three diamonds. Most hotels do not want to request classification, evidently content to boast their self-awarded stars without being called to task by potential customers.
  • World-wide Travel Organization Ratings. Unlike Calmecac, which works with hotels to attain a high level of classification, the world-wide travel organizations, notably AAA and Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil Travel Guide), simply “recognize” accommodations with some number of stars or diamonds, from 1 to 5. Do not confuse them with Michelin, Fodor, Zagat and others, which rank restaurants, but do not give formal grades to hotels, even though they review them. The AAA ratings are the most widely known, with criteria made known to the public. The Forbes Travel Guide does not disclose its criteria to the traveler.
    To become AAA Approved, the hotel must pass a test in 27 basic categories of comfort, safety and cleanliness. If approved, raters are sent out anonymously to experience the hotel and rate it from 1 to 5. About 32,000 hotels have AAA diamond ratings in North America and the Caribbean (including Mexico). Fewer than 100 have 5 diamonds. The AAA gradations are the most specific. Other systems are more subjective, but all of them make distinctions something like the following:
    ***** Luxury hotels, distinguished by the best of personal service, elegance and a style that sets it apart from chains and franchises. They are full-service accommodations with stylish and comfortable rooms or suites, a selection of fine restaurants, and all the guest amenities and facilities one would expect, including pools, gym and spa, and meeting and banquet facilities.
    **** Upscale hotels with an emphasis on service, convenience and comfort, including more than one offering for dining, a separate bar, facilities for swimming and exercise, and support for business services, including meetings and conferences. Rooms and public areas should be spacious, tastefully designed and decorated, well-maintained and clean. Guests can expect amenities of high quality and personalized service from the staff.
    *** Hotels that provide secure, clean and agreeable accommodation with basic amenities. Décor and presentation should be pleasing to the eye. Internet access and other business services should be available, as well as a restaurant for breakfast and dinner. Room rates offer good value.
    ** Hotels offering secure and clean accommodations with limited amenities and acceptable physical plant in terms of layout, quality of furnishings and décor. An on-site restaurant or snack bar provides meals on a limited basis.
    * Hotels with little to offer other than a comfortable night’s sleep. Cleanliness is a requirement. No on-site restaurant. Limited or no amenities.

The credibility of the ranking depends, of course, on the person or entity publishing it. For example, J.D. Power and Associates interprets the stars (or, in their case, circles) as follows:

  • 5 is among the best;
  • 4 is better than most;
  • 3 is about average; and
  • 2 or below is “all the rest.”

How to Look For Good Deals

In Acapulco, hotels are able to charge their premium rates during the high tourist season and holiday times. Thus, the first rule for finding good deals is to plan to come when the occupancy rate will be relatively low. The high season runs from mid-November to mid-April. Christmas-New Year’s and the weeks before and after Easter are the most coveted periods of all. In the summer, from early to mid-July until mid-August, school is out, and occupancy goes up at that time. The same is true for the long weekends created by national holidays (like September 16 and November 21).
What happens during periods of low occupancy is that the reservations clerk or front desk manager may offer a sizeable discount, especially for stays of several days or a week, and may throw in some free incentives, like a room upgrade, meal and drink tickets, or a visit to their spa.

If you do not mind running a risk, you might try showing up late in the day, without a reservation, and offering to pay cash (to save the credit card fee). The reservation clerk (over the phone or on the Web) will not have as much authority as the front desk manager to set a bargain rate. If that person is convinced that you will go somewhere else if you do not make your deal, he or she will do whatever is possible to keep you as a guest, rather than let the room go vacant.

In Acapulco, the weekend rates are almost always higher than the weekday rates. If you are going to be in town for several days, ask about a “week” rate. It may be a better deal.
Shopping on the Web for hotel rooms can be confusing and time-consuming. The hotels associated with RealAcapulco provide us with their best rates. And because we can work with a lean commission structure, the customer reaps the benefit of the best rates available over the Internet.

Confirm the Whole Price

When the rate is quoted to you, be sure that it includes all taxes. Acapulco’s hotel tax is 17%, which theoretically you can reclaim at the border when you leave. The quoted rate should include taxes, but some hotels and lodging companies conveniently publish the price without taxes, to make it seem cheaper. Make sure that no other fees and charges will be added to your bill. Some hotels may charge separately for the Internet connection or phone calls, and those prices can be steep. As a precaution, get the quoted rate in writing, either via e-mail or at the time of check-in. It may be useful when you check out.

Time Share Presentations

Some hotels encourage, and others tolerate, time-share companies that offer free breakfasts or a night’s lodging or some other incentive in exchange for a couple of hours of your time at a time-share presentation. If the offered deal is explicit, you can decide for yourself whether it is worth accepting. But many such salesmen are not honest about the offer, so you may wind up feeling trapped into taking the tour and sitting through the presentation. The moral: Ask up front if the offered deal is really a time-share presentation, and take it from there.

Check Out the Bill Before Checking Out of the Hotel

With so many different rates and deals in the air, it is no surprise that hotels often make a mistake in the bill at check-out time. If the rate or rates in the bill do not reflect the rate quoted to you, show them your rate confirmation (which you received by e-mail or at the time of check-in). If the cashier is not willing to adjust the bill, ask to see the manager. Be sure that extra charges did not show up other than those truly incurred.

Voltage Issues in Acapulco Hotels

Mexico uses 110 volt AC current, like the US and Canada. Three-prong plugs are not widely used, nor are two-prong plugs in which one of them is wider at the tip than the other. In these cases, bring an adapter for the conventional two-prong socket where the prongs are the same size. Most laptop chargers are equipped with protection from voltage surges and variations; however, if this is a concern, be sure to check with the hotel about voltage regulators and surge protectors.