Is Acapulco Safe: Why I Believe in This Mexican Beach Town
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Acapulco. Chances are you have. And chances are what you’ve heard is not good.
For the past decade or more, Acapulco, the once-glamorous coastal getaway in the Mexican state of Guerrero, has been entrenched in some serious, heavy duty cartel violence. It’s been the cross-roads of trafficking across Mexico, and as such became a hotbed for corruption, gruesome murders, and lots and lots of nefarious activity…
..well, at least that’s what the media says.
And I’ll be straight with you - the media isn’t entirely wrong. Yes, headlines love to sensationalize problems in Mexico. They make Playa del Carmen out to be a shady destination. (It isn’t.) But when it comes to Acapulco the media is not exaggerating THAT much. There were decapitated heads found a few years ago, and the federal government just stripped the Acapulco police of its guns after discovering they were in bed with the cartels.
But the media also makes Acapulco seem like a constant war-zone, with bullets flying and very little chance of survival, even if you are a tourist. THAT part could not be farther from the truth.
“The media makes it seem like a horrible episode of Narcos, where you’re going to end up ripped up, killed, and missing,” my good buddy Zach Rabinor told me when I asked him to give it to me straight on Acapulco. “It’s not like that.”
Zach is the CEO of Journey Mexico, a very well-respected tour operator based out of Puerto Vallarta. Zach lives in PV full-time with his wife and children and is my consigliere on all things Mexico. I trust his word.
Acapulco was once one of the most glamorous destinations in the world - a haven for the glitterati and the jet-setting elite. Celebrities, millionaires, and a veritable A-list would grace the hotels and real estate market each and every year. But Acapulco fell on hard times, and with it went the international investment. Today it is still very much one of the premier destinations for Mexican vacationers - it’s only a three-hour drive from Mexico City. But whether or not Americans are coming back remains to be seen. As of right now, with the news pouring out of there, and the fact that the state to the north, Michoacan, is, in fact, VERY dangerous, it remains to be seen.
I visited Acapulco for the first time in September - this was pre-disarmament of the police force. And I can’t lie to you - I loved it. I thought it was one of the greatest destinations in all of Mexico. Do you know why? Because there were no Americans.
Acapulco is a Mexican beach town, and I mean that in all of the ways. First, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The bay is stunningly beautiful, ringed in golden sand and backed by my favorite backdrop: jungly mountains. Trails of beautiful homes creep up the hillside, overlooking the glistening Pacific.
Second, it is rough around the edges. What do I mean by that? It’s a little seedy, it’s a little dirty, and that makes it a little mysterious and sensual. No one is speaking to you in English there. It is a Mexican getaway.
Third: It is a bargain. Why? Because Americans aren’t going there. So if you’re going to go, and you should, you should go now. The water is also stunningly beautiful because the majority of cruise ships no longer go there.
Listen, should you move to Acapulco? Probably not. And you likely should not go out in neighborhoods late at night that are away from the beach. And you probably shouldn’t buy drugs. But if you’re going for three to four days along the hotel zone, not only will you be just fine, but you’re going to experience a place that very few people in the United States are experiencing. If you’re looking for real Mexico, well, this is about as close to it as you can get. Just be smart. Be vigilant. And don’t do stupid shit.
“Drug traffic exists everywhere in Mexico,” Zach said. “But the government has taken good, positive steps in Acapulco and I have hopes that this type of action [cleaning out the police] will lead to opportunities to promote it, to create a more secure environment, and to talk about the destination, because I love the destination. It is authentic. It is Mexican.”