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ACAPULCO's EARLY YEARS
Just four months after the fall of México in 1521, on the feast day of Santa Lucía, Spanish explorers discovered this fishing village on Acapulco Bay - hence its original name, Bahía de Santa Lucía. The village sat at the western end of the finest natural deep-water harbor south of San Francisco; and Hernán Cortés himself established a shipyard there - from which the explorers could launch boats to continue their search for a trade route to the fabled Spice Islands (today, the Moluccas).
There was no problem with sailing west across the Pacific, as Ferdinand Magellan (the Portuguese navigator) had accomplished that in the same year as the Conquest (1521) - unfortunately though, getting back to México proved exceedingly difficult due to the ocean currents and prevailing winds. But in 1565, a Basque sea-captain and friar, Andrés de Urdaneta, finally discovered a return route (tornavuelta); and for the next 250 years Acapulco was the most important maritime port on America's Pacific coast. Acapulco's Fort San Diego, begun in 1614 to protect both the port and the galleons, was largely destroyed in 1776 - but later rebuilt and rechristened Fort San Carlos. The old name stuck, however, and today's restored El Fuerte de San Diego has become a first class museum paying tribute to the galleons which brought Oriental luxuries to the annual Acapulco Fair - where they were exchanged for enormous quantities of Mexican silver.
The yearly voyages of the Manila Galleons ended in 1815 during Mexico's War of Independence; and until World War II - when vacationing in Europe was impossible - Acapulco became largely forgotten.
THE 1940s & 1950s
In the 1940s, when Europe was caught up in World War II, Hollywood stars and moguls discovered Acapulco. In fact, there are some great shots of Acapulco’s beaches in Orson Wells' otherwise forgettable 1947 film, The Lady From Shanghai.
During those years, a group of Hollywood's elite invested in the city's now-legendary Hotel Los Flamingos, perched atop the highest cliffs in town on the Peninsula de las Playas. Today, Los Flamingos is a quiet retreat and a great place to watch an Acapulco sunset - away from all of the action in the city's Golden Zone. Other Hollywood players patronized the Hotel El Mirador - not far from the town square; and it's there that one of them noticed some local boys playing on and diving from the cliffs behind the hotel, where the El Mirador dumped its trash. Eventually, he organized a union for the diver-boys, started paying them to perform, turned the hotel around, and made La Quebrada an internationally-famous Acapulco icon.
Miguel Alemán, a former president of Mexico (1946-1952), had a special love for Acapulco; and he was the force behind the construction of the boulevard which hugs and encircles the bay, now known as the Costera Miguel Alemán. Today, this six-lane thoroughfare runs from Playas Caleta and Caletilla in the southwest corner of the city to where it meets the Scenic Highway (Carretera Escénica) at the naval base out east.
Until the late 1950s, virtually nothing existed east of Fort San Diego - which had by then been used as a bull ring, the city jail, and finally an army barracks; but in the 1960s, everything changed rapidly when three factors caused an almost explosive growth in Acapulco: construction of the Costera Miguel Alemán, movement of the airport from Pie de la Cuesta to a new site southeast of the city, and the inauguration of jet-air service from the United States. New high-rise luxury hotels began to spring up east of Parque Papagayo - such as the Acapulco Hilton, which opened near what is now Playa Condesa - and the rest is history.
THE 1970s & Beyond
It's often said that Acapulco's golden years peaked in the 1970s - and indeed it did; but the city always maintained its ability to draw throngs of national tourists from Mexico City and surrounding states - and has seen somewhat of a resurgence in foreign travelers in recent years.