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Explore Mexico: Acapulco

Everyone - even if they've not the remotest idea where it is - has heard of ACAPULCO, but few people know what to expect. Truth is that, as long as you don't yearn to get away from it all, you'll find almost anything you want here, from magnificent beaches by day to clubs and discos by night.

What Acapulco undoubtedly has going for it, however, is its stunning bay : a sweeping scythe-stroke of yellow sand backed by the white towers of the high-rise hotels and, behind them, the jungly green foothills of the Sierra. And, even though there are hundreds of thousands of people here throughout the year - the town itself has a population approaching one and a half million and even out of season (busiest months are Dec-Feb) most of the big hotels remain nearly full - it rarely seems oppressively crowded. Certainly there's always space to lie somewhere along the beach, partly because of its sheer size, partly because of the number of rival attractions from hotel pools to parasailing and "romantic" cruises. Hawkers, too, are everywhere - there's no need to go shopping in Acapulco, simply lie on the beach and a string of goods will be paraded in front of you.

Though there's little to show for it now beyond the star-shaped Fuerte de San Diego and a few rusty freighters tied up along the quayside, Acapulco was from the sixteenth century one of Mexico's most important ports, the destination of the famous Nao de China, which brought silks and spices from Manila and returned laden with payment in Mexican silver. Most of the goods were lugged overland to Veracruz and from there shipped onwards to Spain. Mexican Independence, Spain's decline and the direct route around southern Africa combined to kill the trade off, but for nearly three hundred years the shipping route between Acapulco and the Far East was among the most prized and preyed upon in the world, attracting at some time or other (if you believe all the stories) every pirate worth the name. In one such raid, in 1743, Lord Anson (the "Father of the British Navy") picked up silver worth as much as ?400,000 sterling from a single galleon and altogether, with the captured ship and the rest of its cargo and crew, collected booty worth over a million even then.

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